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Cuisine Scene: Review
Todd English's bluezoo
Walt Disney World Dolphin
by Debra Martin Koma
AllEars® Senior Writer
This article appeared in the January 20, 2004 Issue #226 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
"Have fun, because that's what a restaurant is supposed to be about -- having fun and eating well!"
And with that, Todd English officially launched his new restaurant, bluezoo, at the Walt Disney World Dolphin, located on the site of the former Coral Cafe.
The restaurant, which opened shortly before Christmas, had its official Grand Opening event last Thursday, January 15, 2004.
The arrival of bluezoo was long awaited, for several reasons. The Coral Cafe space had sat empty for quite a while, leaving a dining gap in the Dolphin's services. But more importantly, English is an exciting Boston-area chef and restaurateur who has won numerous accolades over the past few years, becoming something of a "celebrity chef" in food circles, along the lines of Emeril Lagasse.
The 40-something English has been cooking since he was 15, and now oversees more than a dozen restaurants around the world, including his original effort, Olives in Charlestown, Massachusetts, and, most recently, restaurant Todd English aboard the Queen Mary 2.
English's talents have been recognized on several occasions by the James Beard Foundation, and in 2001 he was named Restaurateur of the Year by Bon Appetit magazine, as well as one of People Magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People. With bluezoo, English is continuing his venture into seafood concepts, combining "the freshest seafood with coastal cuisines."
So, with much fanfare, the Dolphin officially kicked off its newest culinary coup. Upon entering the WDW Dolphin that evening, visitors were greeted by tall curved lights emanating a neon blue glow. Projected on the ceiling of the Dolphin's entryway was a starry sky with the restaurant's name. A deep blue carpet paved the way to the lobby, where greeters pointed us in the direction of the registration area. There, a stunning ice sculpture announcing "bluezoo" welcomed us and we finally made our way downstairs to the new restaurant. Hundreds of folks mingled, while servers brought round Pommery "Pop" champagne in cute soda pop bottles and hors d'oeuvres such as tuna carpaccio. The night's emcee, Gordon Elliott, a former talk show host, current spokesperson for Campbell's Soups and host of a program on the Food Network, could be seen darting amongst the crowd, as could tall, dark, and handsome Todd English himself.
But first, let's talk about the decor. Could it be any more beautiful?
The feel of the new space is both exotic and aquatic -- there is nary a trace of the former occupant. Shades of blue dominate the decor and the swirled pattern of the carpeting, which evokes the feeling of ocean waves. The architect of the new design, Jeffrey Beers, is also responsible for Walt Disney World restaurants Jiko and Boma at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, and it shows in both the boldness of some of the fixtures and in the dark, rather mysterious ambiance that's created.
There's an almost Asian feel to the lounge, with its open, wooden-slatted room dividers. The bar features oversized copper lights overhead, while behind the bar, a metal sculpture undulates along the wall, giving the impression of a school of small fish riding a wave.
The gorgeous raw bar is designed to catch the eye, with bright red boiled lobsters boldly contrasting with the white shaved ice upon which they rest, alternating with rows of oysters, clams and other shellfish, all in front of a multi-hued blue mosaic tile wall. At the far end of the bar, chefs work at an open fire, which features English's patented "Dancing Fish" rotisserie -- whole fish skewered upright, but at a slight angle, rotating slowly as they roast.
The dining room is accentuated with tall pillars covered with shimmering striations of silver, but what's most impressive are the chandeliers, with their large round aqua bases from which are suspended dangling crystals made to resemble bubbles. Little details scattered throughout the space carry out the aquatic motif, like the striking glass sculpture by renowned artist Dale Chihuly, whose works are featured on the Disney Cruise Line. This vibrant artwork sports several goldfish encircling a blue-green swirl of water -- so very pretty.
But enough about the decor -- you want to know about the food, right? Well, the thing about the grand opening is that it was set up more as an open house type of affair, with stations offering samples of various items. And, unfortunately, most of the dishes on offer that evening are NOT on the current menu -- but, obviously, they are representative of the types of food that will be appearing regularly at bluezoo.
The items on the raw bar are pretty standard, and on this night they were presented with varying degrees of success. The littleneck clams (normally $1.25 each) were, unfortunately, slightly gritty -- which I understand is not always under the control of the restaurant. The oysters ($2 each), however, were very fresh and served with a tasty, not overly vinegary, mignonette sauce -- but they were rather lukewarm, when they should have been icy cold.
Of the very many foods sampled that night there were several standouts. The Peking Duck Cannelloni featured sweetly glazed, tender meat wrapped in a thin pasta shell, accented by crunchy curried cashews -- it hit all the right notes. The creamy Goat Cheese and Mushroom Risotto, with its pungent fromage and a hint of grated truffle, could have been a meal by itself, and the Prosciutto-Wrapped Oyster was also excellent -- the saltiness of the thin ham worked well with the freshness of the tender oyster. Prosciutto also featured prominently in one of the savory, crispy flatbreads sampled.
Not quite as impressive was the Lamb Lollipop, a small lamb chop that lacked much flavor, but was served on a crunchy and surprisingly good Artichoke Salad. The Scallop Skewers also were too lightly seasoned to suit my taste, but were served with a creamy Cauliflower Polenta that more than made up for the shellfish's shortcomings.
Gorgeous miniature desserts included everything from little meringues with strawberry jam, to apricot tartlets, to small chocolate gateaux. A native of France, Laurent Branlard is pastry chef for bluezoo, and for all the Dolphin's restaurants, and was the 2002 World Pastry Champion. These little taste treats made it clear why.
After such an auspicious grand opening, it seems that bluezoo is on a course to be another in the chain of Todd English's restaurant successes. We'll certainly be going back for another swim in the bluezoo sea!
Photos of Todd English's bluezoo
EDITOR'S NOTE: If you've dined at Todd English's bluezoo, please write a review -- we'd love to hear your opinions!