Mitchell’s is not on Restaurant Row; it’s in the former Beluga space in Winter Park Village. Beluga closed last year and was supposed to open on Restaurant Row but instead became Big Fin Seafood Kitchen. It ain’t easy keeping track of all this stuff, let me tell you.
There is less that is confusing about Mitchell’s Fish House’s menu. It is, it will be no surprise, seafood centric and touts its fresh catches with the slogan, “Fish any fresher would still be in the ocean.” (Don’t get me started on that one.) The restaurant also employs the gimmick of printing its menu not just every day but twice every day. I suppose this is to give the impression of being able to reflect a recent lucky catch and to announce a fish plucked from the sea only moments ago. More likely, it gives them a chance to remove items no longer available.
I started my meal with a cup of little neck clam chowder, a quite delicious New England style soup with a velvety and not-too-thickened creamy broth with cubes of firm potatoes and chewy bits of clam. As good as it was, it was not worth the charge of $4.95 for the oversized thimble. A bowl is priced at $5.95, and I suppose one is meant to do the math and choose the presumably double amount for a dollar more. (It works with the already overpriced drinks in airport lounges, why not here?) Six bucks for a bowl of chowder isn’t so much a bargain, either. How much better it would be for the restaurant to price the portions more fairly and let more people enjoy this good chowder.
For my entree I selected the Shang Hai seafood sampler, and don’t get on my case about the name: the two-word spelling is theirs. Shang Hai, it turns out, denotes the “signature preparation” for various items, including the fresh fish selections. Choosing Shang Hai means the food will be steamed with fresh ginger and scallions, served with sticky rice, spinach, and rice wine soy sauce. The soy sauce really should be moved to the front of the list -- it was the predominant flavor.
In fact, the saltiness of the soy sapped the moisture from my mouth. Two hours and multiple glasses of water after eating, I still had the sensation that my tongue had been painted with sodium.
The seafood? It was fine. There were three each of scallops and shrimp, neither of which would be called large or jumbo. They were alternated around the base of sauteed spinach and rice, atop which sat a fillet of Atlantic salmon. Although it was billed as sticky rice, it was not. It seems that when you put sticky rice in a puddle of soy sauce it becomes unstuck. The entree was $21.95; not an unreasonable charge for the amount of seafood, but ultimately too much for a dish that failed.
My server was very good and seemed to possess that special waiter ability to “read” his table and adjust his service accordingly. I appreciated him even more as I listened to another server at the next table run through what sounded like a rehearsed spiel that included boring her guests with the various dishes that she likes. (She likes a lot -- and, oh look, several of them happen to be the costliest things on the men.)
The decor features lots of wood and blackboards that look as though things are written in white chalk, but I’m pretty sure it’s permanent paint. The display with iced seafood has a tiled wall and Fish Market in bold, metallic letters. I would not call the atmosphere upscale, but it isn’t downmarket, either. If you’re familiar with The Oceanaire (not the Cameron Mitchell restaurant, the one recently bought by Landry’s), that’s what I would compare it to.
Although a manager stopped by my table to ask if I was enjoying my food, no one at the front counter bothered to acknowledge my leaving. Wonder what Mr. Mitchell would think of that.
Mitchell’s Fish Market is at 460 N. Orlando Ave., Winter Park. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. Click this link for Mitchell’s Fish House Web site, and click this one to download the dinner menu . The phone number is 407-339-3474.