I met Chef Windus about a year and a half ago when he cooked with Chefs Kurtis Jantz and Chad Galiano for one of their much-missed "Paradigm" dinners. In fact, I got to spend the night in the kitchen with the chefs, an experience I wrote about in this epic three-part series. After that meal - more specifically, after tasting Chef Windus' ravioli with a liquid corn filling - I declared "One bite and I know where I’m eating next time I’m in Orlando." It took a while, but I finally made good on that vow.
BlueZoo is a posh, swanky place which struck me as more Vegas than Disney (though it's sometimes hard to tell them apart). There's a long bar/raw bar along one side as you walk into the restaurant, with lots of blue mosaic tiles and a metallic school of fish swimming along the back wall. The centerpiece is their "dancing fish" grilling contraption, with spinning skewers circling over an open flame (and for display purposes, a poor fish being mercilessly torched throughout the night, like some piscine auto-da-fé). The main room is dramatically wide open with high ceilings, gigantic pillars and dangling glass sculptures throughout. It's designed by Jeffrey Beers, who is also responsible for the recent refurbishment of the grandiose Fontainebleau in Miami Beach.
The menu has a strong seafood focus - fully three-fourths of the items, both among appetizers and entrées, are aquatic - and yet Chef Windus has an abiding, if incongruous, obsession with charcuterie. After starting us with a beautiful simple amuse bouche of a silky, fatty hamachi crudo, topped with a leaf of perky, tangy red ribbon sorrel, he sent out a sampling of some of his latest cured creations: mangalitsa coppa (I've borrowed the picture below from Chris' twitpics); duck rillettes, wrapped with a strip of mangalitsa lardo (just in case it wasn't rich enough); and a house-made "hot dog," sliced in rounds and topped with some pungent mustard. They were all fantastic, some of the finest cured meat products I've sampled anywhere.
|mangalitsa coppa - picture via bluechefs|
|oysters rockefeller - picture via bluechefs|
Tuna tartare is ubiquitous and played out; and yet it may still occasionally be what you're in the mood to eat, hence its appearance on so many menus. BlueZoo's uses glistening ruby yellowfin, paired with slivered cucumber, a scallion cream and - to liven things up - a sriracha aioli that is frozen into little crumbles tableside via a dose of liquid nitrogen. It makes for a great show, and an intriguing cold and spicy burst of flavor. The New England clam chowder offers no tableside pyrotechnics, only a fine, classically flavored chowder, the broth intense with creamy seafood flavor but light in texture, not leaden or pasty as many cream-based chowders can be. Along the way, Chef Windus also sent out a delicate agnolotti, stuffed with oozy, creamy cheese and topped with a tranche of perfectly seared foie gras. I was reminded once again of that transcendant bite of corn ravioli I'd sampled more than a year ago.
Though I was tempted to search out more parts of that mangalitsa pig for my entrée, we stayed in the water instead. The "Dirty South Swordfish" turned out to be the best swordfish I've ever had. The fish is butchered to yield a large, nearly square block of flesh that stood roughly three inches thick, rather than the more customary inch-thick swordfish steaks. Whether by knife work or cooking technique, it came out perfect: succulent, with that meaty richness that swordfish offers, but not at all dried out, indeed virtually weeping moisture as it was sliced. The fish was rubbed with barbecue spices that played off its inherent meatiness, and plated over a rich, spicy, smoky risotto done with house-made tasso, rock shrimp and littleneck clams. It was a great dish.
We stayed with seafood for the other entrées as well. Pacific king salmon was expertly seared, cooked barely through but with burnished crisp skin. It was served with rice perked up with espelette pepper, but my favorite things on the plate were the gorgeous heirloom carrots and little turnips. BlueZoo works closely with local farmers and clearly brings in some great product.
|turnips - picture via bluechefs|
Only the kids had room for dessert, and there being a warm chocolate cake with liquid center, Frod Jr.'s order was easy enough to predict, while Little Miss F opted for the "Chocolate Melange," which brought various chocolate nibbles in about five different forms, the most dramatic of which was a crème brulée that came out to the table still flaming.
The wine list has something to please just about everyone, but is particularly strong in domestic chardonnays and pinot noirs. I was pleased to see there was a decent selection of half bottles, and we followed on Oregonian theme by going with a Domaine Serene Clos du Soleil Chardonnay and a Ken Wright Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir. (Prices were surprisingly reasonable, with the half-bottle prices just about equivalent to customary retail prices on those wines, indicating about a 2x-retail markup). Service was exceptional throughout the night: aside from being attentive and affable, our server clearly had a real understanding of and passion for the food, which is always nice to see.
BlueZoo may well surprise anyone expecting a typical hotel-dining, Disney-esque experience, or even someone expecting simply an upscale seafood restaurant. There's much more going on here. There's mangalitsa pork from nearby Pasture Prime Family Farm, and gorgeous vegetables from Hammock Hollow Farm. There's old-school charcuterie, as good as any I've had, and contemporary flourishes that work in the context of the dishes and the restaurant as a whole. Regardless of whether Orlando is considered a dining destination, BlueZoo ought to be.
Swan and Dolphin Resort
1500 Epcot Resorts Boulevard
Lake Buena Vista, FL
If not already clear, I was "known to the house" when we dined there.
"Broke Rockefeller" would have been funnier.
"Broke Rockefeller" would have been funnier.