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Rusteak saladWhen I entered RusTeak, a restaurant and wine bar in Ocoee, I had the immediate sensation that I had been there before. Not at RusTeak, but at that location, in a restaurant under a different name. That isn’t so rare -- after 25 years as a restaurant critic in Central Florida, I’ve visited and revisited the same addresses multiple times. At one particular address the ownership was so fleeting that I think the name of the restaurant actually changed while I was having dinner.

But what was strange about this location was that I couldn’t quite remember the name or the concept of what had been there before. That’s also not as unusual as it used to be (see above reference to 25 years), but I knew that it had been just within the last four years that I’d dined there. And even when my server reminded me -- it was Tamboras Grill Cafe -- I found it forgettable still.

RusTeak is a little more memorable. It fancies itself a gastropub, and indeed it has a pubbish atmosphere, casual and convivial.

On the gastro side, the menu features an array of flatbreads and burgers as well as fuller entrees, including pastas and steaks to more involved creations.

Rusteak crabcakeI started with the RusTeak crab cake, which my server said was one of the signature items. She also said that it was made with hardly any filler at all. One bite proved that not to be the case. Don’t get me wrong -- it was a very good crab cake. The meat was in big, succulent chunks, and the outside of the cake had just the level of crispness that I like. And the aioli was a nice accompaniment. But by raising my expectations of there being “hardly any filler,” my server -- who was terrific in just about every other aspect -- had unnecessarily raised my expectations. In fact there was just the right amount of filler, what is required to hold the thing together, no more, no less.

I also had the wedge salad, which was probably a bit superfluous given that the crab cake came with a stack of baby greens, too. The wedge was made with romaine heart topped with smoked bacon and crumbles of blue cheese. A few dried cranberries and some chopped tomatoes were sitting on top, and the lettuce and plate were decorated with balsamic drizzles. Blue cheese dressing was also provided. A good salad.

Rusteak mahiFor my entree I selected the Mahi Out of Control, a kitchen-sink kind of offering that had a grilled fillet of mahi mahi buried beneath sauteed diced shrimp, toasted almonds, cherry tomatoes and broccolini, all of it sitting atop a bed of vegetable and potato hash. It was the sort of dish that could be a huge mess if it didn’t feature quality ingredients, but all of it was first-rate, not the least among them the firm, fresh-tasting mahi.

RusTeak occupies a corner space of a small strip and its public areas splay out in two directions. The ambience is unstuffy and condusive to conversation. On my visit there were several groups at various tables all chatting and chewing and having a good time.

RusTeak is at 1568 Maguire Road (just south of Highway 50), Ocoee. It is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday. Entrees are $17 to $28; sandwiches and flatbreads mostly under $10. Here is a link to rusteakwinebar.com. The phone number is  407-614-3765.

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Saturday, 19th April 2014

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