Incredible seafood and stylized “under-the-sea” decor is the impression most people have of Todd English’s bluezoo at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort before they go…but there’s a lot more to it than that!
Celebrity Chef Todd English is the nameplate on many restaurants, but is best known for the original “Olives,” opened in Boston in 1989. Since then, he’s gone on to master the gamut of cuisine, from steakhouses to seafood to Italian and more, and even holds court over a restaurant on the Queen Mary II cruise ship.
But as he’s based in Boston, the Swan and Dolphin is lucky to have another incredible Chef overseeing bluezoo — Chef Chris Windus. A rising star in his own right, Chef Windus is still dedicated to the art of food. Through his personal blog and interaction in foodie circles, it’s clear to see that he’s a perfectionist and strives for the ideal plate from ingredient choice to preparation to service. Since I began this blog, it’s been a joy watching how he runs the bluezoo kitchen, and I was eager to head to the restaurant to experience it myself.
Situated across the lake from the Boardwalk Resort — with our table offering a gorgeous evening view of the Boardwalk and the Illuminations fireworks in Epcot — bluezoo is upscale, trendy, and fun. The decor (the restaurant was designed by Jeffrey Beers, who studied glass art under Dale Chihuly) includes stylized schools of fish flowing together through the bar area, intricate glass “bubble” chandeliers, a rippled wave pattern on the walls, and pops of orange against the cool blue of the carpet.
The palette is very pleasing and relaxing, and although the restaurant has massive ceilings, the place is actually quite quiet and subdued.
As with Il Mulino, you don’t need to worry about bringing your kids here. Because you’re within walking distance of two theme parks at bluezoo, you’re going to see kiddos and families as the primary clientele (plus there’s a fantastic kids menu!).
Speaking of menus, Chef Windus truly explores seafood at bluezoo. I was watching his personal blog like a hawk before our recent trip and was excited to see him reveal his ideas for the Fall menu, including a new appetizer — the Broken Rockefeller — which goes to show how hard he works to bring guest suggestions and requests onto the menu. You can see the full dinner menu here.
We started our meal with the standard bread service at bluezoo, which was divine.
Then we moved on to bluezoo’s New England Style Clam Chowder, a thin chowder made with salt-cured bacon and house-made oyster crackers; and Olives Classico Flatbread — a flatbread dish straight from the kitchens of Todd English’s original blockbuster restaurant in Boston.
Well, “house-made oyster crackers” was all you had to say to get my husband to order that chowder. He adores oyster crackers, so gourmet oyster crackers…dude, no way was he passing that up. And as delicious as the crackers were, that chowder was incredible. A brothy version of clam chowder, it was incredibly creamy and not at all “fishy.” The flavor was salty-savory, buttery, and fresh. We loved it.
The flatbread was very good as well. The sauce wasn’t overly sweet, but it did have a tang to it, which I enjoy. The cheese had a strong, fresh flavor, which I love (I hate pansy cheese), and the dough was actually quite rustic and flour-y versus thin. It reminded me of pizzas I’ve had at “mom and pop” restaurants in the Italian countryside — the kind where you don’t actually order anything; they just bring you what they want to serve you. It also reminded me of my dad’s homemade pizza, which is a huge compliment.
I’ll say up front that bluezoo is very well known for its Chef’s Tasting Menu — a five-course menu that garnered raves from everyone who’s tried it. While we didn’t choose it this time, it does come highly recommended. Instead, we decided to try the buttermilk brined heritage chicken with fingerling macaire potato and porcini; and the barbecue rubbed “dirty south swordfish” with house-smoked tasso risotto, rock shrimp, and littleneck clam.
I’ll start with the chicken; it’s the less interesting of the two dishes, even though it was delicious. It was full-flavor, skin-on chicken cooked to be perfectly juicy; while I wasn’t wild about the side dish, I could have easily asked for another gallon of the sauce! I wish I’d tried the shake and bake fries, in retrospect; that would have been a great compliment!
But here’s the real winner of the meal: dirty south swordfish! I mean, just look at that! It’s gorgeous! Incredible flavor and not at all too fishy tasting. And you can’t go wrong with risotto as a side dish these days — it’s trendy and hard to screw up ;-). I loved the barbecue rub spices — I’ve never had anything like this.
So many options; we had a very hard time choosing. But the table next to us had ordered a dessert that came, flaming, to the table, so we had to get that.
OK, are you ready? Here’s what came on the plate when we ordered the “chocolate melange:”
- Flambeed milk chocolate malt creme brulee (MALT!!!)
- Hot coriander chocolate truffle
- Cinnamon chocolate sorbet
- Absinthe chocolate cream
- 72% concha chocolate mousse dome
- Hazelnut crunch
I could have eaten that creme brulee forever, and I’m not actually a HUGE creme brulee fan. Put chocolate malt in any form and I’m a goner. Everything else was delectable, interesting, and “outside-the-box” for a group of chocolate desserts. This is one of the better “grouped” desserts on property. Plus, the flaming brulee is pretty cool.
You didn’t think I’d get out of bluezoo without sampling their other claim to fame — the mixology lab — do you? You’ve seen me write about this evening a bit before, so I’ll do a recap here.
I started the evening with a Zooberry — a sweet-tart, satisfying blueberry/vodka drink, and one of bluezoo’s signature cocktails. But what I really had my eye on was some of the restaurant’s molecular mixology experiments I’d heard about while interviewing Swan and Dolphin food and beverage staff during my coverage of the Swan and Dolphin Food & Wine Classic!
I knew there was a lot of time and effort going into the dedicated mixology lab here at the restaurant, but none of the “experiments” were on the menu! I asked our server (who was great) about the drinks and, before we knew it, Doug Draper and Adam Bagwell — restaurant managers with the Swan and Dolphin team — were table side.
Now I know these guys are incredibly busy, and I know they didn’t “know me from Adam.” We’d spoken on the phone, but they had no idea I’d be in the restaurant that evening. Regardless, they did know that a guest was asking about the new drinks, and they were eager to show them off to my great delight!
First up was the new “dippin’ shots.” Patterned after the ice cream treat “dippin’ dots,” these are made by placing drops of a mixed white russian into liquid nitrogen, where they freeze instantly into creamy little spheres that you can eat with a spoon!
Next up was the true “show” — Draper looked around to make sure nobody was nearby, held a strainer beneath the vat of liquid nitrogen, and **POOF** in a cloud of smoke the nitrogen was vaporized and the dots remained in the strainer! The whole restaurant was paying attention at that point — it’s a true crowd pleaser! And delicious.
Then came the “mad scientist” part of the evening! White sangria fruit had been dehydrated with liquid nitrogen and was rehydrated right before our eyes! The smoking glasses were quite a story, and the sangria was incredible! Highly recommended if you find it on the menu!
I can’t wait to go back to the bluezoo lounge to try some more of their “experiments” on this upcoming trip!
Bluezoo has an incredible team behind it. The chef, managers, servers, and the whole Swan and Dolphin food and beverage group strikes me as extremely close-knit, striving for the main goal of pushing the envelope and creating high-quality cuisine the likes of which Orlando has never seen before. They want to set the bar higher and reach farther to ensure they’re setting trends not only in Florida, but across the country. It’s an ambitious goal, but if anyone can do it, they can. These are the folks who have their restaurants running so well that they have time to watch what everyone else is doing, learn from it, and do it better. And that’s the way you run a business well.
Bluezoo is highly recommended, especially for seafood lovers, but the restaurant will be special no matter what your dining persuasion. There’s something here for everyone (again, incredible kids menu), and if you can’t find something you’d like to try, just ask. Bluezoo is known for catering to their guests.
Have you been to or are you going to bluezoo? Let us know what you loved or what you’d like to try in the comments section below!