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A Baffling Misfire

A few sparks fly at City Fire, but the overall dining experience is a flameout.

The fish part of Oscar Style Rainbow Trout is a winner, but the rest of the dish flounders.

The fish part of Oscar Style Rainbow Trout is a winner, but the rest of the dish flounders.

Photo By Norma Lopez Molina

I’ll come right out and say it: City Fire confuses me.

The latest creation from the founders of Pebbles, Harvey’s Bistro and Manuel’s on the 28th, City Fire American Oven & Bar is a casual-dining restaurant that swings widely from flawed to faultless, with combinations of ingredients that bring both extremes to an odd middle ground.

Flame and illumination dominate the new addition to Restaurant Row, and yet it’s amazingly dark inside, so watch your step. A massive open-flame oven dominates the semi-visible kitchen while a glowing salamander grill lights the corner, and chandeliers of a dizzying variety hover over the tables and booths, from Jetsons-era stainless steel to Turkish brass and a stained glass immensity that looks like it could have adorned the old Rosie O’Grady’s. The wall behind the large bar is a gorgeous combination of weathered brick, hanging wine glasses and soft light. If only the rest of the space, covered in flocked wallpaper, weathered door panels and sepia-toned photographs, had as much panache—the swing from kitsch to class, unfocused in time or style, left me mystified.

The service is top-notch—rather, the servers are top-notch, attentively professional, friendly without being obsequious and eager to answer any questions. The service itself is fast to the point of being frenzied. Main course dishes arrive while appetizers are still half-eaten; dessert swoops in while you’re still swallowing the entrée. I hate to complain about a speedy kitchen, but somebody should put “slow down!” on City Fire’s to-do list

The schizophrenic style of the room is reflected in the menu. Chicken Thumbits ($7), an old Pebbles staple, show up here as fingertip-sized (think about it) bits of chicken on crusty bread, peppered with roast garlic and pickle slices, and so overseasoned with blackened spices and garlicky chimichurri sauce that it’s impossible to taste the tender, juicy chicken. Escargot ($8) is another Pebbles memory, now with an ungainly twist. To expertly cooked helix pomatia (snails to you) is added a very thick and dark morel mushroom sauce, and an even thicker bottom layer of melted fontina cheese. Whoever designed the dish needed to be told when to stop; the combination of tastes and textures takes the dish from gourmet to Campbell’s Cream of Snail.

I’ve rarely had better fish than the trout part of the Oscar Style Rainbow Trout ($17), but a topping of dry crab meat and a meager drizzle of Hollandaise does not Oscar make. An entrée of boneless short ribs ($18) was the only perfect dish of the evening, with enough flavor to carry the meal, along with a marvelously rustic pile of “smashed” potatoes.

There were small things that felt like money—and time-saving—shortcuts. Finely diced tomatoes garnishing the trout dish were tasteless and seemingly pre-cut. The sliced turkey on the turkey, pear and brie Stoneflat ($9) flatbread could have come from
a supermarket.

City Fire American Oven & Bar
7958 Via Dellagio Way, Orlando
407-722-8888
Entrées: $12-22
cityfirerestaurants.com

Hot item: The insanely popular dessert of choice is Smores ($8), a handful of marshmallows and a pool of chocolate melting on a searing stone slab straight from the oven.

 


 

 

 

 

 

[RECIPE]

Biscotti

Fiorella’s Cucina Toscana
8 oz. butter
12 oz. sugar
2 tsp salt
4 eggs
24 oz. pastry flour
(sifted)
1 tbsp baking soda (sifted)
1 tbsp vanilla paste

Cream together butter, sugar and salt. Then add eggs one at a time. Add pastry flour, baking soda and vanilla. Mix until combined but do not overmix. Separate into 3 equal parts, roll out on floured table into a 2-foot log and bake at 325 degrees for 25 minutes. Allow to cool. Cut 1-inch strips on the bias (diagonally) and place on sides. Bake at 275 degrees for 20 additional minutes.

For chocolate biscotti, substitute 4 oz. cocoa powder for flour.

Fiorella’s Cucina Toscana
Westin Imagine Orlando
9501 Universal Blvd., Orlando
407-233-2950; fiorellasorlando.com

If you’re thinking it’s possible to relive fond memories of Pebbles and Harvey’s here, you may be in for a disappointment. I couldn’t help thinking that the muddled offerings from City Fire’s kitchen could have been so much better.

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