Big Fin Seafood Kitchen, a highly anticipated eatery on Restaurant Row Orlando, finally opened a couple of weeks ago. You may recall that I wrote briefly about stumbling into Big Fin only to learn they had officially opened only a few hours earlier.
I usually try to put some time between a restaurant’s opening and my visit. There are a lot of issues with opening a restaurant, and things often go wrong in the first weeks as the staff becomes familiar with everything from the menu to the physical plant.
But I figured as long as I was there I’d go ahead and have a bite to eat at Big Fin, opening night or no. And I was visiting with an old friend who was in town, so paying attention to the restaurant was really secondary.
But I have to tell you, things went pretty well and there were a lot of things I liked about Big Fin, not the least of which was the food I sampled. And the problems that did exist had nothing to do with opening night jitters but rather were poor judgement calls.
First, some backstory. Many of you know that Big Fin Seafood Kitchen is owned by Bobby Moore, who also owned Beluga, the Winter Park Village seafood restaurant. In fact, Big Fin originally was intended to be a second Beluga location.
But Beluga closed quite abruptly in May; by June Orange County had slapped a tax lien notice on the closed restaurant. A second Beluga seemed unlikely.
So Moore and his associates created a separate business entity and went ahead with the plans for Big Fin. Frankly, I had my doubts that it would ever open -- especially in this economic climate. But there it is, as big as life. Bigger maybe.
The restaurant is in the Dellagio development and is next-door neighbor to Fleming’s Steakhouse. Guests entering the double glass doors are met with a dazzling array of fish and shellfish on ice behind a glass counter. The entryway leads to a massive main dining room, large enough to feature a huge rotating globe overhead surrounded by the words “fresh seafood.”
There are some large booths along one wall, but most of the seating is at free-standing tables covered with red and white checkered tablecloths under white butcher paper. An alcove off the dining room holds the Trophy Bar, where guests will be encouraged to contribute pictures of them with their prize catches (fish, not dates). There is also an outdoor bar that overlooks Sand Lake Road below. I liked the atmosphere and the decor, with one exception. But I’ll come back to that.
I also liked the staff with one exception. Our waiter was a textbook example of how you can be too effusive and too ever-present. His manner was beyond obsequious, and he always seemed to be buzzing about the table, refilling a glass after one sip. It prompted my guest at one point to quip, “Man, I wish I had a fly-swatter.”
Our server also understood that the menu can be a confusing read, so he decided to read it to us, at one point actually taking the menu out of our hands and turning it over so we could follow along, unwillingly or not.
I would suggest that any menu that needs that kind of explanation might also need rewriting. It’s fine that it’s an unconventional bill of fare -- there is no appetizer section, for instance -- but then be more succinct with the wording and lose phrases such: You’re on a Roll; Chilled Fins (salmon and herring?); Fin Favorites (stuffed dates, housemade potato chips?); squidilicious; and Global Seafood.
We decided to start with the tuna ceviche and a cup of Chef Shawn’s Chowder. At $8.95 the ceviche was a tad precious, but the red chunks of tuna were fresh-tasting, and the dish had a wonderful citrusy tang and an occasional surprise of heat from jalapenos.
It was a good chowder, too, a velvety smooth broth with meaty cubes of potatoes and al dente vegetables.
By the way, I don’t know who Chef Shawn is, but James Slattery, late of Circa in Winter Park and A Land Remembered at Rosen Shingle Creek, has landed at Big Fin.
For our main courses we shared the Cedar Plank BBQ Glazed Salmon, a beautiful piece of fish deftly cooked to retain it moisture, covered with a sweetish barbecue sauce and served with garlic mashed potatoes (very little garlic detected) and fresh green beans. Fairly priced at $16.95.
We also had the Alaskan King crab claws, chilled and served with shell crackers and drawn butter (but none of the creamy mustard that was promised).
Crabs apparently will be a focus of the menu, and that brings us back to the one problem I had with the decor, although I first noticed it printed on the menu. “We’ve got the crabs & lobster too” it reads. That, I thought, was bad enough. But then I looked up, probably making a point of looking away to see if the waiter could pick up on the body language, and saw the same words writ large on one of the walls.
This is just too juvenile and is better situated to a dive oyster bar frequented by college frat boys. It’s out of place in a place that on its own Web site claims to be “classy.” You can not be classy and also make references to pubic lice on your walls and menus. I suppose there are some among the Dr. Phillips-Bay Hill-Windermere crowd that will find the phrase amusing, but I fear too many will not.
But overall I was impressed with my meal at Big Fin Seafood Kitchen, especially given that it was only hours old. I’m sure Slattery and his crew will continue to prepare fine seafood, and the few problems can easily be solved with a little staff training and a can of paint.
Big Fin Seafood Kitchen is at Dellagio Town Center, 8046 Via Dellagio Way, Orlando. It’s open for dinner daily -- late, until 1:30 a.m. The phone number is 407-615-8888. Reservations may also be made through OpenTable.
For more details visit the Big Fin Seafood Kitchen Web site.