Don't Eat It Raw

Fish sandwiches are frequently fried, but the kitchen was happy to broil me a piece of grouper, which turned out to be a hefty fillet, a good value at $4.95. The fish was tender and flaky. I requested yellow rice instead of the chips listed on the menu, but still got chips only. Another request for the rice yielded a dish of greasy and unappealing yellow kernels.

We hit bottom with the wine list, a skimpy offering of very few (and even fewer good) vintages. Beer selection is better and includes some microbrews from around the country. Just don't count on the table tent that advertises Pete's Wicked Ale: The bartender confided that O.C.'s no longer carries it.

Desserts were uniform slices of wasted calories. Key lime pie was tart to the point of bitter, and a chocolate cake had too much butter cream where fudge might have done better. But the Reese's peanut butter pie was something to phone home about; it was excellent and had a frothy, mousselike texture.

O.C.'s has the potential and the opportunity to rise a notch or two above mediocre. Some of the difficulties we encountered -- the cold food, the server's ignorance of the menu -- can be attributed to the newness of the place. Problems such as patronizing service can be corrected with proper training and good management. And failing that? Well, as Erin reminded us, hurricane season has barely begun.

Side Dish
When it comes to learning about wine, I've always passed along the advice that was given to me years ago: Forget courses, seminars, and tastings. Just experiment and drink the stuff. Note what you like, then drink it again. Over time you'll develop a reliable repertoire of favorite vineyards and vintages. Only problem is, if you're not a) an alcoholic, b) wealthy, or c) living somewhere other than the tropics, where wine is often improperly stored, that's a fairly long route.

Recently I discovered a terrifically helpful new educational tool: Vino! The Exciting Game of Wine, a trivia board game. The object is to enter the chateau in the middle of the board and be acknowledged as the "ultimate connoisseur." Getting there first is the trick. Questions range from the number of chateaus in France (more than 3000) to the most popular grape used for jelly in America (Concord) to the type of champagne served at British royal weddings (Bollinger). And those are the easy ones. It's lots of fun and you really do learn plenty. If you've got $40 to spare, you can order Vino! by calling 800-846-6386.

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