Blu on the avenue, the new restaurant from the folks at 310 Park South, has opened next door, taking over the space most recently vacated by the original Spice Modern. There have been many occupants of this space over the years, several that I had forgotten about. Before Spice Modern there was R Bistro, and Village Bistro before that. I have no recollection of either of them. Can’t recall Seaside Grill, either. Gone and forgotten.
But for some reason I remember No Name Bar and Grille. Maybe that’s because it was at the end of my inaugural year as critic for the Orlando Sentinel. Or maybe because if you’re going to remember the name of a restaurant it would be one with No Name? Whatever. Actually, I don’t recall a whole lot about No Name other than its decor, which featured walls covered with thick deep-forest green paint. It almost looked as though it had been troweled on instead of applied with a brush.
Blu’s decor is distinctive, too, but not for the same reason. Instead of being dark and oppressive, it is light and austere. If the walls are indeed blue -- or even blu -- the color might be described as icy blue.
The ceiling is open to the rafters, and there are no sound buffers, a problem that management seems to recognize and will probably address.
But as far as the food goes, Blu on the Avenue is definitely headed in the right direction. In fact, of all the food I sampled the only tweak I would suggest would be for the kitchen to let up on the salt shaker a bit.
But I very much enjoyed the creativity of chef Tony Kreuger’s menu, which is so enticing that I had a hard time deciding what to have.
I settled on the b.l.t. for my appetizer, a deconstructed version of the iconic sandwich that featured house-cured pork belly, bitter watercress greens, a flaky cheddar gougeres (a sort of cheese biscuit) and small plumlike tomatoes with a purple tinge. The pork belly was wonderfully fatty with a texture that just melted on the tongue.
My companion chose the fried oysters, which were a bit on the smallish side but nicely breaded and deftly fried, each sitting in a puddle of bright red tomato relish and prettily garnished with fresh, shaved horseradish, preserved lemon and a single parsley leaf.
For my entree I chose the coffee-cured duck breast with sambuca demi glace. The breast wassliced and served on sweet potato puree. The meat was tender and had a wonderfully dark taste that might be described as arabica.
My friend had the swordfish, a beautifully grilled piece of fish, moist and flaky, served with grilled baby romaine and big caper berries on the side.
Our server was delightful, knowledgeable and easy going. There are several high-top seating options as well as feet-on-the-ground tables. We were first led to a booth behind a high wall, away from the bar area, which dominates the room. We found that too confining -- we wanted to be able to see and be seen. We selected a high-top across from the bar, which features two large mirrors with cascading waterfalls. I wasn’t bothered by this but my friend said it was distracting.
There are certainly tweaks to be made -- blu is new -- but they’re starting out strong, and this could easily become one of the go-to places on the Avenue.
Blu on the Avenue is at 326 Park Ave. S., Winter Park. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. Entrees range from $16 to $34; sandwiches, burgers and panninis from $9 to $16. The website is not yet active. This link will take you to the blu on the avenue Facebook page. The phone number is 407-960-3778.