The people at Urban Life Management Restaurant Group have always appeared to have a goal of bringing a bit of big city life to downtown Orlando. After all, Urban Life is part of the company’s name.
They’ve had varying degrees of success with the likes of Hue, Kres Chophouse and most recently Citrus. Another of their ventures, Central City Market, was to have been part gourmet store with a butcher and part cafe. The restaurant was to have an emphasis on takeout meals for the thousands of hungry young urban professionals who were expected to occupy the various condominium projects scheduled to be constructed.
Very soon after it opened, in 2001, the market part began to fade away. It operated as quite a likable café until Urban Life closed it several months ago.
In its place they’ve opened Cityfish, a neighborhood seafood restaurant fashioned after a typical coastal fish shack. Ironically, it may be the most urban concept the company has come up with yet.
The menu is appropriately unambitious but has balance between casual offerings, such as fish and chips and fried Ipswich clams, and more upscale meals of fresh fish with potatoes and vegetables.
Cityfish’s lobster roll crosses over between the two categories. It is a sandwich, but one with an epicurean ingredient and and a $22. The roll is done in the traditional New England way with the meat prepared as a salad with mayonnaise and served on a toasted white bun. It was a good lobster roll with plenty of sweet meat to fill the roll. It was served with fries and coleslaw, the latter served in a flimsy white paper cup.
I also liked the fish and chips ($10), although it must be mentioned that the fries served with many of the entrees are not very noteworthy. But in this classic pairing the cod more than made up for the deficiency of the chips. The two fillets were lightly battered and deep-fried to a crispy brown and served with tartar sauce.
Broiled sea scallops ($13) featured good-sized scallops deftly broiled and served with a vegetable medley, redskin potatoes and hush puppies. If your entrée comes with fries, ask your server if you can substitute the veggies, because the ones I sampled were nicely done, firm and fresh-tasting.
I tried two of the fresh fish offerings, a wahoo ($14) and grouper ($18). Both were grilled just right, but the wahoo was a better piece of fish and tasted fresher than the grouper.
The best appetizer I had was the shrimp and bacon poppers ($10). You’re probably familiar with the poppers that are deep-fried battered cheese with a pepper inside. These weren’t anything like that. Instead, the shrimp were wrapped with a piece of bacon and skewered, then grilled with a barbecue glaze. They were delicious.
Seafood nachos ($12) wasn’t nearly as frightening as it sounds. The huge stack of tortilla chips was layered with seafood, corn and black bean salsa, shredded cheese, sour cream and pico de gallo. The only problem was that the fish, shrimp and scallops were apparently chopped so finely as to be unidentifiable.
Cityfish also offers fresh oysters, and those I sampled were cool, fresh and expertly shucked. Priced from $2.45 to $3 each, the oysters I tried were Blue Point, Wianno, AmeriPure and Kumamoto.
Desserts were dreadful. A mud pie ($6) seemed little more than a mushy brownie suffocating under whipped cream. Key lime pie ($6) had raspberry sauce drizzled over it rendering it sweet and unlimey.
Service was friendly but tends to follow the more casual style of the restaurant. The wine list has several fitting selections and the by-the-glass list is good.
Liquor is also available, and a long bar dominates one side of the large, open interior dining space. There is also outdoor seating in front of the restaurant and along the side. Walls are painted a steely blue and are decorated with black and white photos of a certain age, with subjects such as a young boy holding a large fish and water-skiers.
That may not sound urban, but that’s my point. The other restaurants have tried to be the sort of place you’d find in New York or Miami. What’s wrong with aiming to be a city restaurant that fits the city you’re in?
Not a thing. And that’s why Cityfish succeeds.