This is the fifth post in the Weekend Getaway to Orlando series. Other posts include Eating Around the World at Epcot World Showcase, L'Artisan des Glaces (Epcot Center), Via Napoli, and Jiko, the Cooking Place. This post is also the part of the #21PostsInMay Challenge. This meal was provided by the Swan and Dolphin Resort
You might think the last place I would think of visiting while in Florida is a restaurant by Todd English. After all, Todd English started in Boston. He achieved his fame because of his rustic Mediterranean restaurant Olives, which he opened with his then wife Olivia in Charlestown, a cute little town just minutes outside of Boston.
But things have been rocky for Todd English in Boston.
Olives closed because of a fire in 2010. And then when it reopened in 2012, it only lasted about a year before it closed for good.
His other restaurants, like Kingfish Hall in Fanueil Hall or Isabelle’s Curly Cakes in Beacon Hill, also closed in the last few years, partly due to other financial problems the company was having.
In Boston, all that's left of Todd English are Figs, his pizza restaurant, and Bonfire, a restaurant inside Boston Logan International Airport that just licenses his name.
When the folks at the Swan Resort first invited me to dine at BlueZoo, a Todd English restaurant, I was a bit skeptical. Things hadn't gone that well for Todd English in Boston lately, and I wasn't sure how it would be.
However, after reading some reviews, I was intrigued.
BlueZoo is consistently named as one of the top restaurants at which to dine in the Disney World area. People from all over visit Disney World, so it's not like it's just the locals raving about this place. Even the general manager (granted, perhaps he's a bit biased, but still), told me he genuinely thought BlueZoo was Todd English's best restaurant.
BlueZoo is located in the Disney World Dolphin Resort, which is the only affiliate property (i.e. it's owned by Starwood, not Disney) on Disney property. Since we were staying at the Disney World Swan Resort (sister property right next door), it was super convenient for us to just walk over and check it out.
I decided to set my prejudices aside and see what all the fuss was about.
The space at BlueZoo is stunning, with dramatic colorful lights that give the impression that you are in a snazzy location under the sea. There are lamps that resemble bubbles in the ocean. Wall hangings look like schools of fish swimming behind the bartender. It's upscale, trendy, yet whimsical at the same time.
Cocktails are creative. Bryan got the Perfect Storm ($13). BlueZoo's version of the dark & stormy, it uses Rhum Clevent (a 6 year old rum), cinnamon syrup, fresh lime juice, and Fever Tree ginger beer. I got the Antidote ($13), a spin on the classic gin & tonic using St. George Terrior gin, King's ginger, Jack Ridy small batch tonic, and hopped grapefruit bitters topped with a lime foam. Though I personally found the Antidote to be too sweet (I tend to be pretty sensitive to sweet cocktails), Bryan enjoyed his drink.
The menu is not too big, fitting pretty much on two pages. There are appetizers ($14-$18), entrees ($29 - $42), and some nods to New England like the New England Clam Chowder and a raw bar that offers all sorts of items like Maine lobsters, various types of raw oysters, clams, and crudo.
They specifically boast the local Middleneck Clams, a smaller, half dollar-sized clam from Key West Florida. I found these clams to be neither salty nor sweet. They had a predominantly oceany flavor. They were fine, but couldn't really hold water against New England's fresh seafood (I admit it, I'm spoiled. I really am).
We started with a beautiful spring-inspired amuse. A small, bite-sized piece of pan-seared loup de Mer (basically branzino but from France) came on top of English pea purée, fresh shiitake and morel mushrooms, and pea tendrils.
The fish was perfectly cooked, with a lovely crispy skin. The components were refreshingly springlike and overall, it was a lovely way to start the meal.
I love bread baskets with variety (though it's a double edged sword because I inadvertently fill up on bread too early!). Here, we got to pick from onion focaccia, ciabatta, and my favorite, the Parmesan flatbread. We also enjoyed a bottle of the 2012 En Route Les Pommiers Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley.
Our first course was an appetizer, Low Country Jumbo Shrimp ($16), which is served with white cheddar grits, pickled okra, and a smoked bacon butter. I loved the Creole flavored sauce, which was bold, vibrant, and full of flavor. The pickled okra offered a nice, tart balance to the richness of the dish. My favorite texture for shrimp is when it's so tender and juicy that it almost "pops" when you bite into it. It's the total opposite of an overcooked mushy piece of shrimp, which I dislike a lot. These weren't overcooked, but they didn't pop either.
The Yellowfin Tuna Tartare ($18) is one of their most popular dishes, likely due to its dramatic presentation. Raw cubes of yellowfin tuna, not unlike poke, are served with miso "caviar" (spherified, of course), scallion cream, a fried shrimp chip, and a "nitro sriracha aioli".
Essentially, a freeze dried solid version of the sriracha aioli is sprinkled on top of the dish tableside. It's a bit gimmicky, but kind of fun, especially if you have kids. The flavors of this dish were solid (how can you go wrong with that combo of ingredients?). The novelty is definitely in the preparation, though as a dish it is still pretty tasty.
For our entree we got the Dirty South Swordfish ($36), a barbecue rubbed swordfish served on top of a house smoked tasso risotto with rock shrimp and littleneck clams. It was Todd English's interpretation of a seafood paella. The risotto was unctuous and the overall flavors were delicious. However, I found the swordfish to be a bit dry.
We also had the Miso Glazed Mero, a twist on a Nobu classic. Hawaiian sea bass is marinated in a miso mirin marinade and grilled to perfection. It's served alongside a shitake-ginger rice, sticky soy sauce, and a fermented black garlic sauce.
I was pleasantly surprised with this dish. Typically I am very suspicious when high-end European restaurants try to create "Asian" dishes. More often than not, I think that the original authentic version is better. In this case, we both really enjoyed the dish. The fermented black garlic sauce added a deep, rich, and almost funky but fantastic dimension to the flavors. The sea bass was melt-in-your-mouth soft (reminded me of Chilean sea bass, actually). We both even loved the unusual shitake-ginger rice, which was deep full of rich, earthy umami from the mushrooms as well as the ginger.
Bryan kept muttering "this is a good dish", which is unusual considering how inexpressive he typically is.
Our server recommended we try the Chickpea Fries, which were downright addictive!
. . . especially when we dipped it in the black truffle aioli (you can see the bits of real black truffles mixed throughout!).
But it gets better. The dessert, which everyone had been raving about (including our server and the general manager, who said it was one of the best desserts he's ever had at the restaurant since its inception) was the Blueberry Dessert.
They were right. It was spectacular.
Usually I shy away from fruit desserts because they are all too sweet to me. This one was not too sweet at all. Instead, a very authentic, deep, and rich blueberry flavor dominated the entire dish.
Components of the dessert include a rice tapioca at the base, a blueberry sugar ball with blueberry sorbet inside, a blueberry ribbon draped across the bowl, crunchy cornflake-like "crunchies" for texture, a tiny bit of cake throughout, and dollops of whipped cream. It was fun to explore the various components, though it was also delicious to take larger bites that incorporated all the different elements.
Honestly, even though the rest of the meal was quite good, this was the most memorable course and likely my favorite from the entire evening.
I was pleasantly surprised by this place, I really was.
Except for the swordfish, which was a bit dry, everything else was quite good and very enjoyable. My favorites would be the miso glazed mero, chickpea fries with black truffle aioli, and the blueberry dessert. The service was excellent, and our server was really, really knowledgeable about the menu (she had worked there for 4 years) and gave us good, honest suggestions.
Is it a destination restaurant? Well, if you're in the Disney resort area, it definitely beats virtually all the restaurants inside the parks. There are a couple other very well-regarded restaurants in other resorts, but the number is pretty finite. I haven't eaten at enough restaurants in Orlando to say definitively that it's the best, but I can say that the food is very good, and it was one of the top few meals of our trip.
Blue Zoo Orlando
This meal was set up for me by the public relations coordinator for the Swan and Dolphin Resort, which is where this restaurant is located. It is also the place where I stayed during my trip. We did not pay for this meal, although we did pay the media rate for our hotel stay. All opinions are my own.