Bait and Switch

Roy’s has a reputation for excellent seafood. If only the celebrity chef restaurant could live up to it.

While at a food and wine event this summer, I sampled offerings from some of Orlando’s most acclaimed restaurants, and the dish that stood out was a lobster cake from Roy’s. I hadn’t been to celebrity chef Roy Yamaguchi’s signature restaurant since it opened in 2001, so I was motivated to return for more inspiring cuisine.

In hindsight, I would have been left with fonder memories of Roy’s had our reacquaintance ended with the lobster cake.

The restaurant’s interior hasn’t changed much since I was last in it: Tables and booths fill two rooms, and a large and popular bar takes up the front end. The noise level was so high on our visit that I had to order a glass of wine three times before our server got it right.

There’s a short sushi menu, and Auntie Lei’s Aloha roll ($13.95) sounded appealing, with spicy tuna, cucumber and avocado wrapped in slices of yellowtail and salmon. Radish sprouts gave a wasabe-like kick and was the only real heat to the “spicy” tuna, which had a mushy consistency, much like the layer of rice that barely held a shape. Sushi chefs guard their recipes for rice. This one should be lost.

And so it went: The Kung Pao calamari appetizer ($11.95) came coated in an over-sugared hot and sweet hoisin sauce. The combination of tender fried squid and roasted peanuts would have been good served plain. With sauce, it was reduced to a food court staple.

The kitchen is renowned for seafood served as “Hawaiian fusion cuisine,” so I ordered two “mixed plates” to see its range.
Roy’s Trio ($32.95) promised tuna, salmon and butterfish, prepared in various ways, but I was unprepared for the portions. Presented on a divided dish, the three fish servings looked like minuscule models of real dinners.

The four small slices of yellowfin ahi, seared on one edge, may have been the most unimpressive tuna I’ve eaten outside of StarKist, with a soft, spongy texture and little flavor. It frightens me to think that this is the best tuna Roy’s could find.

The salmon was an amazing bit of fish, fatty and naturally sweet enough to hold up to the high heat and charcoal crust of a hibachi grill, but a drowning in soy sauce did nothing good for the dish.

If you can isolate the incredibly moist and delicate misoyaki butterfish from its pool of miso sauce marinade, it is a superb, mild fish that I quite enjoyed. Overpowered by the sweet and salty miso, the Post-it note-sized sample was totally lost. The bowl of sticky rice that accompanied the Trio was perfect, firm to the tooth and with a slightly nutty flavor. Someone should give some to the sushi chef.

Never was the word “sampler” more appropriate than in the bite-sized shellfish sampler ($35.95). A lone scallop was beautifully seared, with a hint of spice and a tender, rare center, and I wanted more. Alas, all I had was two grilled shrimp, a mediocre crab cake, and a half, petite and overcooked lobster tail. It didn’t take a very large plate to hold them all.

The shellfish sat atop a bright green pesto risotto. Making a rice dish this good, subtly flavored with basil and a hint of macadamia nut, takes thought and time, and it was nice to see it done properly here.

I can’t say for certain if Roy’s had a bad night on my return trip or it has reached that exalted stage where it can survive on a well-regarded reputation it no longer deserves. But I left certain of two things: The food is incredibly overpriced and another 10 years can pass before I return.

Roy’s Restaurant
ADDRESS 7760 W. Sand Lake Road, Orlando
PHONE 407-352-4844
MENU ITEMS $23.95-$39.95

Categories: Dining