I've always been fond of Tommy Bahama shirts, even though they are outrageously expensive.
The reasoning I use is that the shirts, which hover around the $100 mark and occasionally drift above it, are of unquestionably high quality. The material is heavy, the stitching sturdy and the patterns boldly elegant in vivid colors that never fade. Truly fine workmanship.
I would expect a restaurant called Tommy Bahama’s Tropical Café to operate under the same standards. The ingredients should be of high quality, the food should demonstrate the workmanship of a skilled chef and the presentations should be colorful tributes to their clothing counterparts. True fashion plates.
At the new Tommy Bahama’s Tropical Café at Pointe Orlando all of those aspects are present at times. But at other times it’s like buying a shirt with a couple of buttons missing or one sleeve shorter than the other. The good news is that when things go wrong at this elegantly casual restaurant the management knows how to make it right. The bad news is that they have so many chances to prove it.
The menu follows the company’s corporate mantra as “purveyor of island lifestyles” with such themed items as Port-Au-Prince pork chop, Trinidad tuna, Tortolla tortilla soup and Sanibel stuffed chicken. There’s a New York strip steak but its inclusion is finessed by calling it a Long Island New York strip.
That bit of whimsy hooked me, so I ordered the $32 entree. The 14-ounce steak was delivered overcooked, and when it was pointed out to the waiter, he immediately removed the steak to have it recooked. The redo, which took 17 minutes, was also overcooked. It may have been because the cut was so thin. But beyond the temperature of the strip the quality was mealy and the taste was of marinades and not meat. It was sort of like ordering a silk shirt and receiving a polyester blend. Even though I did not complain about the second steak, a manager cam by to say the charge would be removed from the bill.
Santiago sea bass ($35), which was, of course, a Chilean sea bass, was delivered to the table undercooked. The fist-sized piece of meat had firm flesh that was a luminescent white. But the center of the fillet was stone cold. Again I pointed out the miscook to the server, who whisked it away. This time the fully cooked fish was delivered by a manager who offered an excuse – a thick piece of fish, no? – but no recompense.
I had no qualms about the opakapaka Haleakala ($29), also known as pink snapper. (The first word is the Hawaiian name for the fish; the second word is the name of a volcano on Maui.) The mildly flavored fish was jacketed with a macadamia nut crust that gave it a buttery crunch. The broccolini that accompanied the fish was cold.
On a lunch visit I had Tommy’s great grouper sandwich and the Habana cabana pork sandwiches. The kitchen doesn’t seem to be overtaxed with the preparation of sandwiches. The grouper was a big fillet and had a delicately crisp beer batter. The soggy honey-roasted onions that topped it were a little cloying but easily removed. The sweetness of the blackberry brandy barbecue sauce was more appropriate with the pulled pork, and so were the crispy battered onions that topped it.
The appetizers were wonderful. I especially liked the crab Calloway ($16), even though the name doesn’t fit the theme. But the two crab cakes were largely comprised of sweet lump meat, and a light fry rendered the coconut crust to a perfect crunch.
I also liked the Loki-Loki tuna poke ($16), a timbale of alternating layers of cubed avocado and ahi tuna spritzed with soy and sesame oil. It was accompanied by flatbread that served as an edible scoop. That the preparation, which required no cooking, took 20 minutes to find its way to my table is a mystery. But again it was delivered by a manager with an “on the house” salute.
Desserts were another high point. Pina colada cake ($9) was a huge slice of vanilla with chopped pineapples and coconut with white chocolate mousse layers. Blackbeard’s butterscotch ($8) was a smooth and rich pudding in an immense vessel. Even the Key lime pie ($7) was impressive, with just the right limey tartness and a flaky bottom crust. The sprinkling of lime zest was a nice touch.
Service is a problem here and I don’t know why. The waiters mainly take orders, while the food is brought out by food runners. Yet the waiters never seem to be around. And the food runners don’t appear to have the necessary training or authorization to grant requests. On a visit when I dined alone I sat for nearly 15 minutes before my server greeted me, and he had the temerity to ask if I was waiting for anyone.
The design of the restaurant is reminiscent of a grand island plantation with faded stenciled wallpaper, ceiling fans and lots of wood appointments. Seating is at booths or tables. Booth tables are uncovered and have hard benches for seating. The individual tables have white cloths and more comfortable chairs. And they’re decorated with orchids. Choose the tables. There is patio seating, but when I chose to sit outside I was overwhelmed by the smell of propane for the not-in-use area heaters and a flurry of flies buzzing about. Choose inside seating.
It should be pointed out that there is no such person as Tommy Bahama. And it may sadden you to know the corporate headquarters are in New York and Seattle instead of, say, Antigua. There is a Tommy Bahama emporium attached to the restaurant. I suggest you stop in at the café, have a couple of appetizers, and instead of dinner, take the money you’d save and treat yourself to a really fine shirt.