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Written By Scott Joseph On August 3, 2009

New restaurant occupies former Lee’s Lakeside site

Pesca LakesodeAfter more than four years of lying fallow, the space that once held Lee’s Lakeside has finally been renovated and reopened as Pesca Lakeside, a new concept from local restaurateur Manny Tato (Spice Modern). Lee’s Lakeside was, for decades, one of Orlando’s premier dining spots, a favorite choice for special occasion celebrations for its choice location overlooking Lake Eola and Orlando’s skyline beyond.

Following the death of owner Lee Rose in January of 2003, Lee’s Lakeside began to decline. It finally closed for good in 2005.

I lost count of how many deals were proposed and even signed for the space over the past several years. Construction to redesign the interior had even begun when one of the deals fell through.

Even as his most recent project, Rustic Steak, opened and closed in the former Church Street Station within a matter of months, Tato pressed on with his promise to open in the Lakeside space. Last month, he fulfilled that promise with Pesca.

Pesca does not have all of the space that belonged to Lee’s Lakeside — it was a huge operation with loads of banquet space — but it has a good deal of it, including the expansive main dining room with its panoramic view, now more viewable without the old drapery covering the nearly floor-to-ceiling windows.

The decor, however, is decidedly stark and cold. I’ve seen college dormitory cafeterias with more character. Floors are covered with stonelike tiles that bounce noise up to the high ceiling with nothing to stop or absorb the echoing rebound. The restaurant wasn’t even half full when I visited, yet one large table on the other side of the room was all it took to make conversation at mine difficult.

Gone, thank God, are the worn upholstered rocking and rolling chairs from the old restaurant, but so, too, the cloth covered tables that added a bit of elegance. Booth seating with all the romance of a fast food joint line the windows and conventional tables and chairs fill in the space.

There is a bar now in the main dining room that affords patrons sitting at it a view of the lake, albeit one through the bottles on the shelves in front of the windows.

There is another bar and lounge just inside the front door. Here, apparently, is where the sushi is prepared.

Between that first bar and the main dining room is the most stunning aspect of the redesign: a long and very wide hallway that for all intents and purposes is largely unused. If the cost of the square footage of a restaurant is something to be recouped by the revenue produced by the tables and chairs that occupy it, this would seem to be a horrific waste.

As I alluded above, sushi is a prominent part of the menu. (Pesca means fishing in various languages, though Japanese is not one of them.) Instead of a selection from the appetizer list on the main menu, my guest and I decided to share one of the specialty rolls as a starter course.

We settled on the Red Dragon Roll ($14), which featured spicy tuna and crisply fried tempura, firmly rolled and constructed with rice and topped with shreds of crabmeat.

For an entree, my companion chose the pan-seared red snapper ($26), a delicate-firm fillet with a buttery taste served over delicious couscous flavored with sun-dried tomatoes with a splotch of sauteed spinach. A nicely done fish.

I selected the Crispy Potato Encrusted Flounder ($24). Encrusted was the right word to use because it was a heavy coating that overwhelmed the dainty flounder. As if the winter-coat-thick potato enwrapping the fish wasn’t enough, it was topped with cubed potatoes that were, one supposes, part of the “white clam chowder sauce” that topped it. This one might be a bit too much for even the most die-hard Ore-Ida fans.

Pesca features a long list of martinis on its bar menu. I tried the caipirinha, which is served up in a martini glass instead over ice in a tall glass. It tasted like no caipirinha I’ve had before.

The wine list is comprehensive but has surprisingly few by-the-glass selections.

Service was generally acceptable, but I always find myself shaking my head when servers make common-sense mistakes. On my visit, a server reached in front of a guest to pick up a water glass to refill it (there are two mistakes there, if you’re counting) even though the table allowed him enough room to walk around.

But overall my experience at Pesca was positive. I would especially return to sample more sushi, though I’d choose to sit at the lakeview bar than the one at the beginning of the barren hallway. Who knows, once the economic recovery has begun maybe Tato will line that space with more tables as diners return to downtown Orlando’s former jewel.

Pesca Lakeside is at  431 E. Central Blvd, Orlando. It is open nightly. The phone number is 407-843-6650.

Click here for the restaurant’s Web site.

Click here to see Pesca’s dinner menu

Clicke here to see Pesca’s sushi menu

Click here to see Pesca’s wine list

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