Each year, in July, the excellent Web site Theme Park Insider announces its awards for excellence in various categories among the country's theme parks. Best theme park restaurant is one of the categories.
This year, all five finalists are in Orlando theme parks, so TPI founder and editor, Robert Niles, has asked me to post my reviews of those restaurants for his readers, as well as readers of the flog here. I don't have a say in selecting the winner, that's up to you. At the end of each review, I'll give you a link to TPI's listing for that restaurant so you can vote or leave a comment. Robert will announce the winner on July 4th.
Next up: Sharks Underwater Grill at SeaWorld.
When you walk into Sharks Underwater Grill at SeaWorld Orlando, it’s easy to see why it would be a favorite restaurant of so many. There aren’t many places in the world where you can dine next to a titanic aquarium while scores of exotic and dangerous sea creatures swim by. (OK, with Epcot’s Coral Reef restaurant we have two such places in Orlando -- we’re special.)
SUG also offers SeaWorld guests a (somewhat) quieter haven from the manic pace of the park and its seemingly inescapable rock music soundtrack. The lower light levels in the restaurant provide a serene respite, as well as better viewing of the deep-blue deep blue on the other side of the glass, and the music in here is a softer jazz.
Also, the staff is friendly and helpful, skilled at serving and knowledgeable about the fish floating by. They help provide an enjoyable and educational experience.
So there you have it. Sharks Underwater Grill is one terrific restaurant.
Oh, wait...I guess we should talk about the food.
Unfortunately, the food is not one of this restaurant’s strong suits. There isn’t anything wrong with the menu, it’s fairly straightforward with a little of something for any taste. But the execution and quality are sub par. And I don’t know why that should be. All it would take, it seems to me, is a desire to do better food.
My guest and I started with the stuffed mushroom trio ($8), a mundane and now trite item that is ironically one of the more interesting among the appetizers. It featured three medium-large mushroom caps sitting on crouton tuffets and filled with little cubes of chorizo sausage. They were doused with habanero cream sauce, ancho chili buerre blanc and tomato citrus sauce -- you'd think one of them would have had some flavor. The tastes and spicing were muted.
My friend chose the pan-seared merluza ($26), a much prettier name than hake, although even hake sounds more exotic than cod, which essentially is what it is. It was a delicate fish with pure white flesh, not a thing wrong with the fillet. The sauce that fairly drowned it was a cranberry and apple buerre blanc. The dish also included flavorless rice and a salad of baby spinach and miniature tomatoes with no dressing.
I selected the Sharks trio ($25), which, it should be noted, does not contain shark. (Indeed there is no shark on the menu; no need to rile the neighbors.) What it did have were two mini salmon cakes, a few grilled shrimp and a cup full of tiny bay scallops. The menu says simply scallops, not designating which type. I’d rather have a couple of nice sea scallops than a bowl of chewy bay scallops. The shrimp were fine, but I wish I had not ordered the trio blackened because all that meant was that “Cajun seasonings,” whatever the heck those are, were sprinkled on.
When you consider the cost, the food should be better than it is. I hope someone hasn’t consciously made the decision that because they offer a killer view (quite literally under the wrong circumstances) they don’t need to try very hard on the food. That would just be wrong.
And if that isn’t the case, then it’s time to put someone in charge of this restaurant who will take pride in the menu. When that happens, this will be a restaurant worth the admission price alone.
To vote for Sharks Underwater Grill as your favorite theme park restaurant, visit Theme Park Insider.