I have to admit that I rolled my eyes a bit when I saw that Spice Modern Steakhouse at Lake Eola had added a sushi bar, essentially in the middle of the dining room. “Great,” I thought to myself, “another non-Japanese restaurant jumping on the sushi bandwagon with no freakin’ idea what they’re doing; this time a steakhouse, for crying out loud.” (Actually, when I’m just thinking to myself I use harsher language, but you get the gist.)
And I probably would have just passed over the sushi menu if manager Justin Shoener hadn’t suggested I try it. I’m glad I did because it was quite good. In fact, all of the food I sampled on my recent visit was impressive. I found myself wondering -- aloud, this time -- when had Spice Modern become such a good restaurant?
My companion and I started with two of the sushi rolls, the caterpillar, a familar “display roll that allows chefs to show some flair, and a more unusual surf and turf offering. The caterpillar roll had avocado, tuna and shrimp fashioned around vinegared rice in an undulating pattern with a couple of sprouts for antenae. The avocado added a nice, soft texture, and the flavors of the fish and shrimp were spot on.
The surf and turf was a fully cooked roll that had shrimp in the center of the rice coins and thinly sliced steak on top. How perfect is that for a steakhouse that offers sushi? It could have been a meal in itself. I also sampled a couple of pieces of nigirizushi, with salmon and tuna, both impossibly fresh tasting and clinging to the pads of rice. They didn’t fall off when flipped to be dipped in soy, a sign of a seasoned chef.
Lobster bisque had a delicate flavor, not over sherried, as so many can be, with a velvety texture.
For entrees the short rib was a generous portion of meat that had been braised into tender submission, served over creamy mashed potatoes and topped with a tower of fried onion rings. I had the blackened mahi mahi, which featureda fine piece of fish and served on some tasty orzo blended with parmesan. The seasonings on the fish, however, were a bit too uneven for my taste. I liked the fresh and al dente zucchini and yellow squash that accompanied the dish, however.
Our server had an appropriate balance of professionalism and conviviality. We sat on the deck overlooking Lake Eola -- is there any spot to dine in downtown Orlando more beautiful than this?
In fact, I used to tell people who asked about the downtown Spice Modern that if they want good atmosphere it was the place to be, but they shouldn’t expect much from the food. After my recent visit my new recommendation will be to go for the terrific food, and don’t overlook the sushi, and, by the way, there’s also a killer view of Lake Eola, the iconic fountain and the Orlando skyline just beyond.
Spice Modern Steakhouse is at 407 E. Central Blvd., Orlando, 407-481-9533; and 326 Park Ave. S., Winter Park, 407-772-8176. Both locations are open for lunch and dinner daily and Sunday brunch. Fridays and Saturdays the restaurants are open until midnight. Click here for the Spice Modern Steakhouse Web site.