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Review: Todd English’s bluezoo

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.

Atmosphere

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.

bluezooo dining room

Bluezoo chandelier and wall

Lounge Area

The palette is very pleasing and relaxing, and although the restaurant has massive ceilings, the place is actually quite quiet and subdued.

bluezoo seating

Dancing Fish Grill

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!).

Eats

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.

bluezoo bread service

Appetizers
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.

Clam Chowder

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.

Olives Flatbread

Entrees
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!

Heritage Chicken

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.

BBQ Swordfish

Dessert
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

Chocolate Melange

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.

Drinks
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!

Zooberry

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!

Dippin Shots

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.

Pouring dippin shots into a glass

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!

Dehydrated Fruit Sangria

Served Sangria

I can’t wait to go back to the bluezoo lounge to try some more of their “experiments” on this upcoming trip!

Overall

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!

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14 Comments

  1. Brenda says:

    Terrific review – we have always had great meals at Bluezoo whether we dine in the restaurant or in the lounge (for folks who want to keep it more casual you can order from the dining room menu while in the lounge). Last month my hubby and a friend tried their tasting menu and it was quite good – the dessert option included a cheese course paired with beer!!! :-) And as for drinks … the Kirkland is our new favorite – nothing fancy but really refreshing and tasty!

  2. Diane_N says:

    I’m so glad you had a chance to review BlueZoo. Personally, it’s one of my top recommendations for fine dining, not just on Disney property, but in Orlando, in general. Their food and service are consistently excellent, but in a very comfortable, non-pretentious way.

    My husband and I had the chocolate melange back in May, and I still day-dream about it. Definitely one of the most memorable desserts I’ve had in a long while.

    The new mixology lab offerings sound like a lot of fun. We’ll have to try those next time we go. Their bartenders impressed me last time with their ability to turn out some excellent mock-tails. I had a really great fruit-muddled virgin mojito with fresh raspberries in it. Heaven!

  3. Christina R. says:

    That sangria looked really interesting. I’m going to have to try Todd’s Boston restaurant now that I’m moving back. I hope it’s as much as a treat as bluezoo.

  4. Food Luva says:

    Great review. I remember the dehydrated sangria from the Swan & Dolphin Food & Wine Classic and that was delicious! Another great dish I remember from bluezoo was the scallops. Absolutely divine!

    Oh yes, and the Asian-style lobster.

  5. Kelly says:

    Great timing! We’re eating at Bluezoo in 13 (!!) days! Everything looked so good. Question: what’s the dress code like at Bluezoo?

  6. Abby says:

    Wonderful review AJ! Nice timing as I will be eating there in about 3 weeks. I’m very excited…I was eying the dirty south swordfish, now I think you may have convinced me on it!

  7. Galloping Gourmand says:

    I think Bluezoo is about the best seafood you’ll find in central Florida, and I may go so far as to say the most consistently great and adventurous menu in the state. The clam chowder is as good as anything I’ve had in my trips through New England, and that bbq swordfish looks wonderful. I’ve never thought about a bbq-ed fish. I’d have to find the right sauce (or come to think of it probably a rub), but man that’s a great, great idea.

  8. Alan says:

    The Bluezoo is world class all the way around. Food, drinks, presentation and atmosphere are truly spectacular. These are the type of restaurants I want to try while on a WDW vacation. Just a touch of this spread around some of the disappointing restaurants in WDW would be very exciting; something for the food and bev people to think about.

  9. Gator-Chris says:

    Hi AJ,

    Great review. We’ve been to BlueZoo twice, and went away impressed both times. We usually stick to the wine list, but we will have to try the mixology lab now that I have seen what they can do!

  10. chris says:

    Great photos. That place is gorgeous. My good friend went there last week when she was on a business trip and loved it–and she is a total food snob.

    Can’t wait to try it!

  11. UCFfoodie says:

    I just wanted to give an update to this review:

    I close friend of mine works at bluezoo, and informed me that Doug Draper (the former GM and mixologist) & Adam Bagwell (floating manager) left the company back in December to persue other opportunities.

    With that said, I just wanted your readers to be aware, as they will be drastically reducing their ‘mixology’ cocktails and such over the next few months.

    Doug was the one who really was the ‘mad scientist’ around there, so without him, the new GM is revising the cocktails to make them ‘simpler’ and more ‘main-stream.’

    What a shame…we would sometimes get the craving for a night of twisted cocktails and immediately think ‘bluezoo!’ Now, with these changes, I can get a generic ‘Manhattan’ or ‘Cosmo’ anywhere…why make the pilgrimage?

    Seems the Swan and Dolphin are going thru some changes these days, and I would hate to see bluezoo lose steam. I just pray Chef Windus remains in control of that kitchen! Cocktails aside, the food IS the star in this wonderful restaurant!!

  12. AJ says:

    UCFfoodie — Thanks for the update. I’m sorry to hear Doug and Adam have left the company. Any idea where they went?

  13. BZ FAN says:

    I have always loved bluezoo and just found this review last week while plotting my next visit.. I specifically sought out the cocktail menu considering the comments and I can say with great certainty there is nothing missing from their cocktail list. Granted I don’t remember any dipping dots there is a nitro sangria, a flaming burnt orange cocktail, and some other foo foo drinks. There was a whole page dedicated to old school cocktails (blood and sand (my favorite), negronis, and peach infused bourbons) of which I was provided a tasting of many by the bartenders- they also gave me a sample of a drink soon to come- get this- A barrel aged manhattan!! They aged the cocktail in a oak barrel for 7 weeks and it was by far the best manhattan I have ever had and by no means generic. I have been a long time lover of bluezoo and am happy to say they still make some of the best drinks this guy has ever had.

  14. AJ says:

    BZ Fan — Awesome review!! Thanks for the details and the comment! What’s Blood and Sand??

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