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Written By Scott Joseph On April 30, 2010

CRAVE_lifestyle_1Crave restaurant opened several weeks ago in the former Village Tavern space near the Mall at Millennia. This is the fourth Crave; the others are all in the Minneapolis region where the three-year-old company is headquartered. Other Craves are imminent (isn’t that always the case), with another planned for somewhere in Florida after the fifth restaurant opens this summer in Omaha, of all places.

I had a chance to visit while crews were completing the transformation from Village Tavern into the Craven image, and again at a private grand opening party. But I went back this week to experience the restaurant in full operation. Joining me was Lynn Ayres, Altamonte Springs, who won a contest to have dinner with me to review the restaurant. She brought her friend and co-worker Karen Garcia, Lake Mary. Crave’s general manager, Cedric Cheung, agreed to host us with the knowledge that my guests’ comments — positive or negative — would be used in this review along with mine.

We all met at the restaurant and took our seats at a booth in the big, open main dining room. Both Lynn and Karen commented that the restaurant is “beautiful,” and it is. While Village Tavern wasn’t exactly an unattractive restaurant, the Cravers came in and completely remodeled the interior. There are multiple dining areas, including the bar, a solarium-like room in front of the bar, a sushi bar counter, a patio in front of the restaurant, and a few large booths — referred to as “chef’s tables — that can be closed off with large curtains that closely follow the perimeter of the round seating areas.

The decor makes use of lots of backlit alabaster, tones of burgundy in seat fabrics and a large, glassed wine tower separating the bar from the main dining room. There are three high-top tables inside the glassed tower that make it look sort of like a wine version of the Cone of Silence.

Sushi is a major part of Crave’s offerings, which seems odd for a restaurant whose slogan is “Fresh, Vibrant, American.” We agreed to choose one of the specialty rolls as one of our appetizers and settled on the Godzilla (even more Japanese!). It had spicy tuna, shrimp tempura, cream cheese, avocado, cucumber, seaweed salad and crunchy flakes. If that sounds like a lot, it was — the slices of the roll were nearly too big to eat in one bite. But ample portions are only a negative when the food is not good; this was very good. “It has good texture,” said Lynn, while Karen said, “I like the spicymini_brgers and the crunchy and the presentation.”

(On one of my previous visits, I sampled the Mexican roll, also not very American, which I liked a lot. It had yellowfin and escolar long with cilantro and jalapenos, all of which would horrify sushi purists.)

Our other appetizers were the mini burgers, three thicker-than-sliders patties, nicely cooked but ultimately unremarkable, and pesto shrimp. The pesto was made with pistachios instead of pine nuts and had a wonderfully creamy mouthfeel. The large shrimp were served on toast points and slathered with the pesto, so we weren’t sure if we were supposed to pick them up or eat them with a knife and fork.

Lynn settled on the sea scallop & shrimp fettuccine for her entree and Karen selected the pistachio-crusted salmon. I went with the Tuscan New York strip. The pasta dishes are available in two sizes, an option I like. Lynn chose the smaller, but even so, she remarked at the niggling bit of seafood and vegetables in the dish: two scallops, one shrimp and one piece of zucchini. Still, she liked the seafood — “The scallops are really tender” — and the creamy lobster sauce.

Karen’s salmon was a lovely piece of fish, nicely cooked. The risotto that accompanied it, we all agreed, was too gummy. My steak was a good-sized piece of meat, which the server asked me to cut into right away to ensure it had been cooked to the requested medium-rare. Good thing, too, because it had gone well past that point. But the replacement steak was brought to the table with speed, this time cooked to a lovely bright red center. The strip, topped with grated cheese, was tender, but ultimately it lacked seasoning.

Desserts are made in-house, which has become a lost art. We ordered the apple pie pizza, coconut cake and blondie bar sundae. Lynn’s favorite was the coconut cake. “That melts in your mouth, literally,” she said. Karen and I both preferred the blondie brownie, which had a not-too-sweet butterscotchy taste.

It should be mentioned that this is a rather loud restaurant, due in no small part to the open kitchen. When Karen said she couldn’t quite make out what type of music was playing over the sound system, Lynn commented that she didn’t even know there was music playing. I longed to be seated in the wine room’s Cone of Silence.

Service was affable and efficient. Both of my guests demonstrated their aptitude to be professional critics by observing the other diners throughout the room and noting that everyone seemed to be happy. Indeed they did.

Lynn and Karen both said they enjoyed their visit to Crave and that it was a restaurant they would visit again.

Crave is at 4158 Conroy Road (it’s between TGI Fridays and Best Buy), Orlando. It’s open for lunch and dinner daily, as well as Sunday brunch. Dinner entrees range from $10.95 for a spaghetti option to $34.95 for the steak. Most entrees are in the mid $20 range. The phone number is 407-345-8788.

Click here to visit the Crave Web site. And here are links to downloadable menus:

Lunch menu

Dinner menu

Dessert menu

Sushi menu

Crave on Urbanspoon

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