New World Conceit

"Rio" stuffed flounder fillets, two of them, were filled with a combination of sourdough breadcrumbs, Dijon mustard, feta cheese, roasted pine nuts, and minced artichokes. The zesty filling was fragrant and powerful, the flounder soft and supple. But the tops of these rolled fillets had been burned, and the cilantro-enhanced tomato sauce on which they were served was cold. (Never mind the fact that none of the ingredients seems to have the least bit to do with Rio, or any of South America, for that matter.)

The restaurant lists two chicken dishes, one a breast dipped in egg batter and sauteed with mushrooms and artichokes, the other a more Caribbean-sounding adobo-rubbed breast. The latter plate actually comprised three small breast halves, pan-fried to a crisp yet juicy golden brown. But again there was a problem here -- an overuse of salt that rendered the poultry all but inedible. An interesting garnish of red, yellow, and green jalapenos mixed with guava jelly sugared a rice-and-bean pilaf beneath the chicken, adding a bracing sweetness that countered some of the salt that leached off the main course.

The old-timey roots of the erstwhile Riverwatch were evident in a faultless slice of prime rib that turned out to be the best main course of the night. Served with a baked potato and a sour cream-horseradish dip, the beef was tasty enough to make me wonder whether Ameen and his new executive chef Eddie Williams ought to consider abandoning the New World for the Old.

Desserts definitely need some work. The apricot chiffon cake we ordered was a square of sponge cake dipped in chocolate and refrigerated, which made it look like a petit four. The interior was pure mush, reeking of alcohol. Not exactly a sweet worthy of Gourmet's attention, though it might work for the Wine Spectator.

Though some hotel restaurants succeed when they attempt to impart a little regional flavor, most fail. My high hopes for La Marina were based on the quality of the restaurant it replaced. But despite the playful menu, the restaurant seems to have fallen into the predictable hotel trap: By shooting for the lowest common denominator, Ameen has reduced a vibrant cuisine to garish local color.

La Marina (in the Fort Lauderdale Marina Marriott)
1881 SE 17th St, Fort Lauderdale; 954-463-4000, ext 6783. Breakfast and lunch daily from 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; dinner from 5:00 to 10:00 p.m. (Friday and Saturday until 11:00 p.m.).

Pork burrito
$6.95
Prime rib (ten ounces)
$17.50
Stuffed flounder
$17.95
Banana snapper
$20.75
Apricot chiffon cake
$4.25

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