Sea Change

Eddie V’s makes a formidable mark on Restaurant Row with superb seafood, steaks and service.



DARDEN RESTAURANTS

How to explain our relationship  with chain restaurants? We praise the virtues of small, single-chef establishments serving locally sourced ingredients, but swarm to fast food or worse locations in ever-increasing numbers. Fortunately, somewhere in between, there are places that benefit from the staying power of corporations while understanding that diners might want to be a little pampered.Ultimately, it comes down to the food. I’ve always been impressed by the consistent quality of the dishes coming out of Darden’s Seasons 52 kitchens. Now we can enjoy a similar level of quality at Eddie V’s, the newest addition to the local restaurant behemoth’s larder, located on a Restaurant Row parcel once occupied by Timpano’s Italian Chophouse. The Eddie V’s chain, which originated in Texas in 2000, was acquired by Darden in 2011.

I really liked the styling, service and fare at Timpano’s when it first opened, but a series of ownership changes did nothing good for the restaurant. So I was sad but not surprised to see it shutter. From the rubble next to Little Sand Lake rose—literally—the new Eddie V’s, and if a location can be said to have a spirit, then it remained long enough to inhabit this new seafood “casual fine dining” establishment with a good vibe. The white jacket-clad servers, attentive yet discreet, never leave a water glass unfilled or emptied plate ignored for long, yet work around an ongoing conversation without interruption.

The first thing you’ll notice is the shellfish bar, a wall of market-value oysters and lobster just begging for a splash of lemon. The visible kitchen hums with an efficient flair. Chef Eric Enrique designs the menu items for the growing chain, and simplicity and execution seem to be his watchwords.

You don’t have to (indeed, you shouldn’t) do much to the scallops dredged from the continental shelf of Georges Bank off the coast of New England. Large, tender, sautéed in brown butter and brightened with bits of citrus, the shellfish is cooked to the edge of perfection and worthy of savoring ($29). Seafood is the focus of the kitchen, with moist Florida grouper simply sautéed in garlic ($30) given the same attention as an intricate lemon sole ($29) coated in a rustic Parmesan crust. Influences are from far and wide: lobster tacos ($18) are a Maine-by-way-of-Texas treat; the Maryland-style crab cakes ($18) is a mass of sweet lump crab barely contained in a cake shape and dressed in a tangy remoulade à la New Orleans.

There might be a healthy sibling rivalry between Eddie V’s and Capital Grille, Darden’s steak-themed brand; the EV logo says “Prime Seafood,” but the steaks are as good as any I’ve had at Capital. An 8-ounce center-cut filet mignon ($48) served with fragrant lemon- and garlic-dressed shrimp and deep green asparagus, practically fell apart at the mere suggestion of a knife, and the massive charred ribeye (22 ounces, $48) would make any steak lover gaze in admiration—before digging in, of course.

The side dish menu would do well as its own upscale restaurant, and two in particular stand out. Crab fried rice is an entrée in itself, ribbons of savory crabmeat and roasted mushrooms accenting slightly spicy firm rice, accented with chopped scallions. And that murmur you hear is people talking about the truffled macaroni and cheese, pasta twists enveloped in a rich cream and parmesan béchamel and the earthy musk of truffles (all sides $6 small, $9 large).

I also like that jazz is treated with equal respect instead of relegating music to the background; the “V Lounge” bar features great local players nightly (the location in Tampa has become a genuine jazz hotspot).

Eddie V’s is upscale, in a casual yet swanky way, with a multi-leveled floor plan, chocolate-colored walls and fine white linens that suggests a stylish exclusivity without being snooty. I’d pick it for a special event dinner … but I wouldn’t mind having that killer mac ’n cheese while listening to jazz at the bar.  


WINE WITH DINNER

George Miliotes—one of only 211 master sommeliers in the world—splits his time among Seasons 52, Capital Grille and Eddie V’s, hand-picking vintages from around the world, even custom blending wines for the 200-strong EV bottle list. The wines are displayed in a towering glass “cellar,” many of them available by the glass.


Second Helping

Black Bean Deli’s tiny walk-in, order, walk-out location on 17-92 in Winter Park has never had dazzle and shine; the focus is the food—consistently good versions of classic Cuban fare. But the second location, open a few months now in Colonialtown, is different:  BBD 2.0, housed in the former Vega’s Café location, is a homey eatery for the new millennia with polished concrete floors and counters, a small but noteworthy selection of wine and beer, and blonde wood tabletops and banquettes—actual places to sit, which is good, because the food deserves a casual dalliance.

The justly-famed Cuban sandwich ($5.25-$6.25) is generous in its ham, roast pork and cheese servings, and I like the papas rellenas ($8.50), mashed potatoes wrapped around beef or adobo-spiced chicken, served with a fresh salad, rice and beans and sweet fried plantains. Get there before or after the crazy crowded lunch and dinner hours, order a house-baked flan and a delightfully sweetcafé con leche, and watch the traffic go by.   

Black Bean Deli, 1835 E. Colonial Drive, Orlando. 407-203-0922. blackbeandeli.com

—J.H.

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