Seafood in East

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    Novelist Ernest Hemingway never owned a restaurant. While he did originate the line, "Paris is a moveable feast," I don't think he was talking about food. Still, he was known to frequent some of the finest restaurants in Italy, France and, of course, Cuba.

    I think he'd be just as likely to be found in the Hurricanes Bar at the sprawling Grand Cypress Resort as he would in the hotel's restaurant that carries his name. (He did say, after all, "I have drunk since I was fifteen and few things have given me more pleasure.")

    I think he'd be just as likely to be found in the Hurricanes Bar at the sprawling Grand Cypress Resort as he would in the hotel's restaurant that carries his name. (He did say, after all, "I have drunk since I was fifteen and few things have given me more pleasure.")

    Yes, Papa might have liked this Hemingways, a Key West-styled eatery overlooking a half-acre pool and surrounded by lush gardens and the enormous, 750-room hotel. (There's a golf course and an equestrian center, too.) One of six restaurants on the grounds, the multilevel and multiroom setup means that almost all of the 140 seats have a glass-walled view of the scenery. It's a comfortable space, with whitewashed walls and high ceilings, although I could have done without the nonstop Jimmy Buffet music. The hotel itself is full of impressive Buddhist and modern art, and it is worth a tour.

    Yes, Papa might have liked this Hemingways, a Key West-styled eatery overlooking a half-acre pool and surrounded by lush gardens and the enormous, 750-room hotel. (There's a golf course and an equestrian center, too.) One of six restaurants on the grounds, the multilevel and multiroom setup means that almost all of the 140 seats have a glass-walled view of the scenery. It's a comfortable space, with whitewashed walls and high ceilings, although I could have done without the nonstop Jimmy Buffet music. The hotel itself is full of impressive Buddhist and modern art, and it is worth a tour.

    Executive chef Kenneth Juran has worked in California, New York and France, and the widely influenced dishes are impressive, if expensive.

    Executive chef Kenneth Juran has worked in California, New York and France, and the widely influenced dishes are impressive, if expensive.

    But this is tourist territory, where prices don't seem to be an issue. A featured appetizer of lobster tail and angel-hair pasta had a subtle combination of flavors; but at $18.50, I was expecting the lobster to be more tender and the pasta less so.

    But this is tourist territory, where prices don't seem to be an issue. A featured appetizer of lobster tail and angel-hair pasta had a subtle combination of flavors; but at $18.50, I was expecting the lobster to be more tender and the pasta less so.

    My first reaction to the lobster and pumpkin bisque ($8) was to shut my eyes and enjoy. Meaty pieces of crustacean were immersed in pureed pumpkin and topped with roasted seeds, the deep tastes switching from sweet to smoky.

    My first reaction to the lobster and pumpkin bisque ($8) was to shut my eyes and enjoy. Meaty pieces of crustacean were immersed in pureed pumpkin and topped with roasted seeds, the deep tastes switching from sweet to smoky.

    Fish (served without any old men) is a specialty, available grilled, broiled or sauced. The red snapper ($26) was the big-gest piece I'd ever seen, yet still tender and flaky. I didn't quite know what to expect of shrimp and sweet-corn ravioli ($29), which turned out to be a wheel of shellfish chunks, corn and red peppers interspersed with less impressive pasta stuffed with a bland shrimp paste.

    Fish (served without any old men) is a specialty, available grilled, broiled or sauced. The red snapper ($26) was the big-gest piece I'd ever seen, yet still tender and flaky. I didn't quite know what to expect of shrimp and sweet-corn ravioli ($29), which turned out to be a wheel of shellfish chunks, corn and red peppers interspersed with less impressive pasta stuffed with a bland shrimp paste.

    A commendation must go to the sous chef who prepared the vegetables. The "smashed" potatoes (tender buds of buttery splendor), crisp broiled asparagus and shredded carrots (with a sweetness that filled the mouth) show an admirable attention to quality of preparation.

    A commendation must go to the sous chef who prepared the vegetables. The "smashed" potatoes (tender buds of buttery splendor), crisp broiled asparagus and shredded carrots (with a sweetness that filled the mouth) show an admirable attention to quality of preparation.

    As Hemingway would say, Let's get to the point. After the evening at Hemingways is over, you'll leave knowing you've had an enjoyable meal.

    To use the word "tacky" to describe the looks of Joe's Crab Shack is underkill. My friend summed it up as soon as we walked through the door of this wildly popular restaurant. "It looks like they have a toy store hanging from the ceiling in here," she said.

    It was true. It looked like a decorating team with multiple-personality disorders had swept through. Every square inch was plastered with dangling skateboards, dolls, Frisbees, in-line skates, teddy bears, model airplanes, Barbies and toy trains. A life-size replica of Jaws was suspended over the middle of the restaurant. The theme carried through to loud top-40 music and an army of waiters who were trained to drop everything and do the Hustle every so often -- many of them wearing T-shirts bearing the mantra "Peace, Love and Crabs."

    It was true. It looked like a decorating team with multiple-personality disorders had swept through. Every square inch was plastered with dangling skateboards, dolls, Frisbees, in-line skates, teddy bears, model airplanes, Barbies and toy trains. A life-size replica of Jaws was suspended over the middle of the restaurant. The theme carried through to loud top-40 music and an army of waiters who were trained to drop everything and do the Hustle every so often -- many of them wearing T-shirts bearing the mantra "Peace, Love and Crabs."

    "Come on, folks, have a good time!" seemed to be the message they were screaming. And the capacity crowd -- packed into booths and lined up out the door and into the parking lot -- was eating it up.

    "Come on, folks, have a good time!" seemed to be the message they were screaming. And the capacity crowd -- packed into booths and lined up out the door and into the parking lot -- was eating it up.

    Despite the decorative disarray, the kitchen is focused when it comes to delivering moderately priced chow fests on the double. There are more hits than misses on the menu -- presented in such a rambling fashion that it's like reading the classifieds -- and Joe's Crab Shack is probably the best choice for seafood if you're in the South Semoran Boulevard area, considering they stock many sea species.

    Despite the decorative disarray, the kitchen is focused when it comes to delivering moderately priced chow fests on the double. There are more hits than misses on the menu -- presented in such a rambling fashion that it's like reading the classifieds -- and Joe's Crab Shack is probably the best choice for seafood if you're in the South Semoran Boulevard area, considering they stock many sea species.

    There's shrimp (popcorn, rock, jumbo) and yellowfin tuna, lobster tail, north Atlantic salmon, mahi mahi, grouper, calamari and clams. And, as the menu reads, theres "crabs, crabs and more crabs" in the form of "crab balls," crab fingers, crab cakes and soft-shell crabs. Then you got your crab legs: snow, Alaskan king, Dungeness. Despite the sheer volume, dining adventurers won't find much to explore. Everything is safely fried, steamed, grilled and broiled, with little in the way of funky sauces or presentations to mess things up.

    There's shrimp (popcorn, rock, jumbo) and yellowfin tuna, lobster tail, north Atlantic salmon, mahi mahi, grouper, calamari and clams. And, as the menu reads, theres "crabs, crabs and more crabs" in the form of "crab balls," crab fingers, crab cakes and soft-shell crabs. Then you got your crab legs: snow, Alaskan king, Dungeness. Despite the sheer volume, dining adventurers won't find much to explore. Everything is safely fried, steamed, grilled and broiled, with little in the way of funky sauces or presentations to mess things up.

    "Crab balls" fritters ($4.99) have potential, but the ones we were served were too heavily breaded. A much better appetizer is the jumbo crab cake ($6.99), packed with lump meat and a hint of spices.

    "Crab balls" fritters ($4.99) have potential, but the ones we were served were too heavily breaded. A much better appetizer is the jumbo crab cake ($6.99), packed with lump meat and a hint of spices.

    Seafood mixed grill ($13.99) offers an adequate skewer of grilled shrimp, but you can get perfectly adequate shrimp at a hundred other restaurants. The garlic-steamed snow crab legs were more alluring, packed with tender white meat and plenty of clean flavor. But the main thing this plate has going for it is a moist, delicate salmon fillet -- ask for it to be prepared with the lemon-pepper seasoning.

    Seafood mixed grill ($13.99) offers an adequate skewer of grilled shrimp, but you can get perfectly adequate shrimp at a hundred other restaurants. The garlic-steamed snow crab legs were more alluring, packed with tender white meat and plenty of clean flavor. But the main thing this plate has going for it is a moist, delicate salmon fillet -- ask for it to be prepared with the lemon-pepper seasoning.

    The shrimp platter ($12.99) offers a big, messy tumble of the staple, the best of which are jumbo sized, fried in a shredded-coconut batter and served with barely sweet plum sauce. The medium-size fried Gulf shrimp and popcorn shrimp are fine, but they pale in comparison. Skip the snoozy shrimp cocktail in favor of the coconut-shrimp dinner ($9.99), which is cheaper.

    The shrimp platter ($12.99) offers a big, messy tumble of the staple, the best of which are jumbo sized, fried in a shredded-coconut batter and served with barely sweet plum sauce. The medium-size fried Gulf shrimp and popcorn shrimp are fine, but they pale in comparison. Skip the snoozy shrimp cocktail in favor of the coconut-shrimp dinner ($9.99), which is cheaper.

    Service was friendly, but it was so sporadic that we finally resorted to flagging down a staff member who wasn't our waiter in order to ask for the check.

    Service was friendly, but it was so sporadic that we finally resorted to flagging down a staff member who wasn't our waiter in order to ask for the check.

    As we exited into the night, we knew our table wouldn't stay empty for long. Joe's Crab Shack may come up short in a couple of areas, but a lack of customers is definitely not one of them.

    While on the way to Toscana at Avalon Park, make sure you have a cell phone handy. Because, aside from enjoying a pleasant conversation with the nice folks in the restaurant, it is unbelievably easy to get lost in the wilds of east Orlando. And if you're like me, you'll probably pick the wrong entrance into the burgeoning development and end up driving through eerily half-constructed neighborhoods.

    The part of "town" that Toscana inhabits is a more welcoming place -- once you find it. In a residential/business center along the lines of downtown Celebration, the restaurant lives under the clock tower, and the relatively small but comfortable space has an upscale air of earth tones and gold d?cor. I fully expected the menu's prices to reflect the atmosphere and was pleasantly surprised.

    The part of "town" that Toscana inhabits is a more welcoming place -- once you find it. In a residential/business center along the lines of downtown Celebration, the restaurant lives under the clock tower, and the relatively small but comfortable space has an upscale air of earth tones and gold d?cor. I fully expected the menu's prices to reflect the atmosphere and was pleasantly surprised.

    Staff is attentive and involved, as in the case of several dishes prepared tableside, such as the Caesar salad ($6.50 per person) with real anchovies, crisp greens and a definite flair for wrist-tossing. Steak tartare ($9.95) is uncooked ground beef folded meticulously with egg, onions and lovely little capers. My choice among the appetizers, the Prince Edward Island mussels ($6.75), was a bit unusual, sautéed in red-pepper-seasoned butter, so the bowl is empty of the accustomed broth. At first offering, the mussels were unappetizingly undercooked. A second try revealed firm shellfish with a rich and somewhat salty taste.

    Staff is attentive and involved, as in the case of several dishes prepared tableside, such as the Caesar salad ($6.50 per person) with real anchovies, crisp greens and a definite flair for wrist-tossing. Steak tartare ($9.95) is uncooked ground beef folded meticulously with egg, onions and lovely little capers. My choice among the appetizers, the Prince Edward Island mussels ($6.75), was a bit unusual, sautéed in red-pepper-seasoned butter, so the bowl is empty of the accustomed broth. At first offering, the mussels were unappetizingly undercooked. A second try revealed firm shellfish with a rich and somewhat salty taste.

    My companion asked me to try her lobster bisque ($5.75), and a sample revealed, under the sweet lobster bits and crab base, a taste that we could only describe as "cream of mushroom soup." While I'm sure nary a can of Campbell's would be found in the kitchen, they've managed to duplicate the flavor.

    My companion asked me to try her lobster bisque ($5.75), and a sample revealed, under the sweet lobster bits and crab base, a taste that we could only describe as "cream of mushroom soup." While I'm sure nary a can of Campbell's would be found in the kitchen, they've managed to duplicate the flavor.

    Entrees fared better; splendidly, in fact. A red snapper almondine ($22.95) brought wonderfully Asian flavors to the flaky white fish, coated in pan-roasted nuts and served with a delightfully un-sweet, chunky mango chutney -- dark and light flavors complementing each other.

    Entrees fared better; splendidly, in fact. A red snapper almondine ($22.95) brought wonderfully Asian flavors to the flaky white fish, coated in pan-roasted nuts and served with a delightfully un-sweet, chunky mango chutney -- dark and light flavors complementing each other.

    Most enjoyable was a relatively simple pasta dish of farfalle, saut&eacurte;ed shrimp and two superlative lobster bits, the butterfly pasta wonderfully al dente and coated in creamy white wine sauce, a delight at every fork ($25.95).

    Most enjoyable was a relatively simple pasta dish of farfalle, saut&eacurte;ed shrimp and two superlative lobster bits, the butterfly pasta wonderfully al dente and coated in creamy white wine sauce, a delight at every fork ($25.95).

    The cordial manager kept us busy before and after dinner with an amuse-bouche of teeny clams in coconut curry, and a smooth and fruity blueberry mousselet. It was these off-menu items that impressed me as much as anything served; if they were experiments, I'd suggest Toscana starts serving them right away. They match the surroundings.

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