Hawaiian Paradise at Roy’s in Orlando, FL

Recommended: YES YES A THOUSAND TIMES YES!

After an amazing trip to Walt Disney World, my boyfriend and I quickly followed up with a celebratory vacation to Universal Studios for his college graduation. I decided to try and step outside of my Disney dining comfort zone and book a few restaurants that came highly recommended either by friends or web reviews. My first choice, in lieu of Disney’s Ohana, was Roy’s Restaurant.

This Hawaiian themed restaurant exuded a hip sophistication from its very professional website, but one thing bothered me. The restaurant has a few locations in large cities around the country, so I worried that it might lose some of its culinary credit since each restaurant had a different chef. However, the website did reassure me that each chef collaborated with the originator of the restaurant. I was still wary.

It was a little complicated to find, but once we were in the right plaza, the location was unmistakeable with its tiki torches adorning the front of an earthy-looking structure. The place looked warm and inviting, and it only took a few minutes to be seated for our reservation (which we were about 5 minutes late to!) The inside had ambient lighting and an expansive dining area that still appeared intimate by the way the space was divided. Also worth mentioning was the friendliness of the waitstaff. Everyone was incredibly helpful and accommodating, especially our waitress, whom I will address later.

The main star OF this restaurant was the food and drink. They had a list of specialty drinks which all included top shelf alcohols, fresh fruits and mixers that made the drinks taste as if they were best suited for whiling away the hours on a sandy beach. And the price is reasonable – both of ours were under $10. Not bad for top shelf alcohol at a fine dining establishment.

Instead of bread, the restaurant offers unlimited edamame to munch on before getting your food. We started off with a sushi roll as an appetizer: the lobster California roll. It’s exactly what it sounds like, and it’s fantastic. The avocado was fresh and a bit of spicy mayo was mixed in with the lobster meat. I had originally requested a bit of spicy mayo on the side, but the roll was delicious on its own. And the 8 pieces are rather large, making it a perfect-sized appetizer.

I ordered the Gorgonzola and Garlic Spinach Crusted Hawaiian Shutome. For those not familiar, shutome is a Hawaiian swordfish with a mild taste and firm texture. The dish is served with some crab meat and a blue crab cream sauce which makes the surrounding ingredients melt seamlessly together with the fish. And the portions are generous to say the least.

Another bonus is that they fly in their tuna fresh from Hawaii daily. I got to try the Roy’s Original Hawaiian Blackened Island Ahi¬†and it was amazing how fresh it tasted. Although the flavors in my opinion didn’t meld as effortlessly as my dish, it was still delicious.

If you’re celebrating a special occasion, be sure to tell them when you call in or go online to make the reservation. We were celebrating a graduation and they personalized our menus and gave us a dessert on the house. The desserts are made fresh at the restaurant, and the chocolate souffle (with a warm, chocolate middle) was delicious. Warm, rich, and delicious.

Finally, our waitress. She made our experience more special than I ever imagined restaurant staff could. They offer to take a picture of guests and print it out as a commemorative souvenir. We were unfortunate in that our photograph was taken just as the ink was running out of the printer. Our waitress was so sweet to take a picture with her iPhone and send it to both of our emails from her phone so we could have the souvenir. In addition to being all-around attentive, she made our night unforgettable.

Overall Rating: 9/10

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Elegant Mediocrity at Garibaldi’s in Savannah, GA

Recommended: Maybe for the experience, but not for the food.

I’d been to Garibaldi’s once before, but I didn’t really have much of a chance to try more than some soup and salad. This time, I had the opportunity to sit down, relax and enjoy the full menu. I think I preferred the soup and salad.

The location of Garibaldi’s is one to be envied: on Congress Street in the heart of downtown Savannah. Making great use of the space, Garibaldi’s has one of the most intimate and sophisticated atmospheres of any restaurant in Savannah. Downstairs, the dim lighting and elegant furnishings set a romantic mood for guests. Upstairs, sophistication rules. High ceilings and a flooding of natural light from the great big windows makes diners feel as they are in a very important place.

Service is equally exceptional. Our waiter was attentive and knowledgeable about the menu, as well as helpful in making decisions about what to order. The manager made rounds throughout the restaurant making sure diners were satisfied. It’s unfortunate that the food doesn’t deserve similar compliments.

I started with a pear and goat cheese salad. The word salad, however, might be a bit of a stress. In reality, it’s a small sprinkling of mixed greens topped by an entire pickled pear sliced and laid on top. It’s not that it’s bad, but it’s overpowering. It would be delicious in a small portion, with a bit more of the other ingredients to balance the flavor. They might as well not even mention the goat cheese since the two fritters it comes with are about the size of a quarter.

And then came the mussels. I only tried one, but it was an overpoweringly fishy flavor basted in a (very) lightly flavored broth that was incapable of masking the fishy flavor. The texture was something between slimy and gummy. They would stick to the shell, but once in your mouth had a texture similar to raw oysters. In fact, when we notified the manager, he tried them and agreed: they were bad.

For my main course, I had been between the scallops and the red snapper special. I chose the scallops because I couldn’t resist the orzo. What a mistake. For $22 I got 3 tiny bay scallops atop a lump of average-tasting orzo. The scallops were chewy and overcooked, with very little seasoning. They were probably the most disappointing scallops I’ve ever had, and scallops are my favorite dish. I will say that I tried a bite of the fried shrimp and they were good. Not great, but the batter was light and a bit sweet. And there were more than 3 of them.

I wouldn’t really recommend this restaurant except for the atmosphere. A soup and salad lunch in that romantic atmosphere with a waiter who follows my every command? Yes, please. But I won’t trust them with much more than greens and dressing.

Overall Rating: 5/10