When I heard that a popular Gainesville sushi restaurant was opening an outpost on Restaurant Row, I had an immediate picture of what it would be. I had not been to the original Dragonfly, but I supposed it would be your basic compact-sized Japanese restaurant with counter seating and a few booths. Decorations would be the standard paper lanterns and banners with Japanese characters on them; maybe a couple of shoji screens. The menu, of course, would be the standard list of maki rolls and nigirizushi, served, naturally, with a bowl of miso soup.
Boy, did I get it wrong.
The Orlando Dragonfly not only offers an extensive sushi selection, it also has a full menu of dishes featuring meat, including wagyu beef, seafood and chicken, prepared in myriad levels of creativity, and served in a vast space that is modern and stylish.
The food is also first-rate. But the best that I had was arguably the least creative of items from among the menu of nearly a dozen pages: the nigirizushi, the pads of vinegared rice with slices of raw fish laid on top. For a sushi restaurant, there’s little that is more basic -- or more revealing of the quality of the fish and the skill of the chef. The fish slices, an array of salmon, albacore and others, were served at a perfect room temperature that let the freshness of the fish come through. And it was unquestionably fresh, and with a smooth texture that just luxuriated in the mouth. The rice pad, too, was nicely done, not too tightly packed, and the slice of fish adhered to it nicely and did not fall off when flipped over to dip in the soy.
I’m always intrigued by the names sushi restaurants come up with for their special maki rolls. Here you’ll find The Bomb, Euro Trance, Black ‘n Bleu, Union Street Station and Big Boss, among others. I figure the roll a restaurant names after itself has to be really special, so my guests and I ordered the Dragonfly. It featured tuna and albacore that was wrapped with grouper, covered with a sauce and baked, then topped with scallions and eel sauce. Most people don’t associate hot foods with sushi rolls, and purists might take issues with this one in particular, but it was quite good (though, honestly, not something I would probably order again).
One thing you should be aware of when ordering: no artificial crab (krab) is used at Dragonfly, and (OK, two things) all the salmon is wild, not farmed.
Dragonfly also features robata grilling, a popular cooking method in Japan but still fairly uncommon in the U.S. A robata grill uses special charcoal that heats to one thousand degrees (oh, how I wish I could do that on my Weber). The intense heat sears the skewered meats that are leaned against it, which results in tender, juicy bites. We tried the chicken, and it was impressively tender. We also tried the braised short ribs, served with pickled carrots, shiitake and tamago. They weren’t the most tender short ribs I’ve had -- and a bit difficult to pick apart with chopsticks -- but the flavor was very nice.
Dragonfly is in the Dellagio Center on Via Dellagio Way, which translates to Way Dellagio Way. Although the large -- 22 seats -- sushi bar, with its burled wood counter and metal-bead sculptures overhead, is brightly lit, the rest of the restaurant has more dramatic and moody lighting. The music is a bit on the loud side, and as modern as the atmosphere. Lots of dark wood touches accent the decor. Tables are uncovered but set with white cloth napkins and good chopsticks (not the kind you have to break apart). There also is ample outdoor seating -- rare for a sushi restaurant in this area -- on a patio high above Sand Lake Road.
The servers move about swiftly and efficiently, and they all know the menu up and down. The Dragonfly was not what I was expecting, but I am not disappointed with what I found.
The Dragonfly is at 7972 Via Dellagio Way, Orlando. It is open for dinner daily, until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Here’s a link where you can download the menu . And this one will take you to the Web site (although it basically links to the Gainesville restaurant’s Facebook page). The phone number is 407-370-3359.