Clean Cuisine, Messy Service

That sort of ill-timed service was typical. Things started badly when our waiter approached us for our order about a minute after we received our menus. We weren't ready, so he told us that he would check back, keeping his word by returning about ten minutes after we had placed our menus on the table. It took twice that long to get the check, despite the fact that at the time there were two waiters and a floor manager on hand, and only one other table occupied. (Incidentally there's a 19.17 percent service charge added to the bill. How'd they come up with that number?) And timing wasn't the only problem: There were unfilled water glasses, ignored requests for butter (our waiter finally deigned to comply, but when the logo-emblazoned butter discs arrived, they tasted stale and refrigerated), and a similarly unheeded appeal for more bread. After our second plea for rolls, the waiter explained that they were still soft from baking and needed time to harden. We convinced him that softness was quite acceptable, at which point he brought out hot, crusty rolls that were slightly burned on top (possibly a result of the kitchen crew frantically crisping them under an open flame).

Service at dinner wasn't much better: We waited patiently for plates upon which to place our shared appetizers, and suffered through lengthy intervals between courses. The rolls were even worse this time: old and chewy. I'm puzzled by the reluctance of so many restaurants to order fresh bread daily; instead, they often employ various rejuvenation tricks such as slow-heating in ovens, moistening in steamers, or zapping in microwaves. These "fixes" work only for a short period of time, and if you hold such a roll in your hand, you can sometimes feel it transform into its natural day-old state of decay, a sort of tactile version of the portrait of Dorian Gray. I was wondering what would compel a restaurant supposedly promoting healthy food to offer white-flour rolls in the first place when I spied a basket of dark-brown wheat rolls on another table. I requested the same, but these, too, had the texture of a loofa.

Bad bread aside, the food at dinner ranged from good to sensational. A starter of oysters steamed in a bamboo basket fell into the latter category, the intrinsic salinity of the four fat mollusks balanced by a sprinkling of plum wine and ginger vinaigrette. Minced carrots and peppers dotted the oysters, around which were scattered a smattering of marinated shiitake mushrooms. This dish exemplifies successful spa cuisine: as mouth-watering as it is waist-whittling, a mere 146 calories and two grams of fat.

Salmon carpaccio with squirts of wasabi creme fra”che was also a fresh, if not entirely agreeable, appetizer, but its accompaniments were less than stellar: too-thick "coconut-buckwheat blinis" without a coconuty taste, and a "mango salsa" that was not a salsa, but rather a confetti garnish of diced mango, tomato, yellow pepper, and red onion.

At 991 and 738 calories respectively, the Chinese barbecue strip steak and tea-smoked sugar cane chicken breast weigh in as the menu's two heftiest caloric main courses; perhaps not by coincidence, they're also the best things we tried. The fleshy chicken breast, tied by a tea leaf to a plank of sugar cane, arrived with crunchy water chestnuts and shiny, white, plastic-looking beech mushrooms, which mimic the delicate texture of enokis, all of it adrift in a thin, brothlike brown sauce. The chicken's bold, smoked-tea flavor combined with the cane's sweetness to produce a uniquely delicious taste.

The steak was also something special: a ten-ounce Angus strip soaked for 24 hours in a knock-your-socks-off marinade of honey, hoisin, Chinese chili, black-bean paste, sherry, curry, and four or five other ingredients. Grilled to bursting red perfection, the slices of beef were served over sesame-sauteed julienne vegetables and under a "jade sauce" of fresh herbs, roasted garlic, olive oil, and cayenne that provided a chimichurrilike kick.

Caribbean fish and fruit combos are commonplace in Florida. While I've never been partial to this particular union, the Atrium's grouper en papillote with mango and banana is culinarily correct in every sense: The medallions of fish were flaky and tender as a result of their steaming in parchment; the sweetness of the tropical fruits were tempered by the addition of clovelike spices and Myers's rum; and saffron rice was a fluffy and appropriate accompaniment (and noteworthy for being the only side of starch we encountered). I still didn't care much for the dish, but that's owing to my own personal prejudice.

I had no such negative preconceptions regarding a white-and-dark-chocolate trifle -- two intensely tasty puddings in a glass sans the traditional layer of sponge cake -- or the royal croquanti, four hefty wedges of rich chocolate ganache atop a mocha-flavored Rice Krispies wafer. No dietary information is listed for these desserts, but the sheer size of the latter treat leads me to believe that it contained as many calories as the contents of Rush Limbaugh's lunch box. It was very good, but I gladly would have forgone two of my wedges for an extra lunchtime ladle of crab and corn chowder.

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