The Jinx Continues

I participate in an ongoing debate with a colleague of mine. How many visits, we ask each other, should a critic make to a restaurant before judging it? At least three, she insists. That's the only fair way to rate it. A meticulous reviewer will even order the same dish twice to check the kitchen's consistency.

I can see her side of things, and I usually agree, dining -- or lunching -- as many times at a single place as my schedule and budget will allow (though I hardly ever order the same appetizer or entree more than once, especially if the menu is extensive). But I don't think this should be the rule. After all, a diner won't return to a restaurant if the meal was disappointing. There are too many good eateries out there for either a customer or a critic to give a bad one a second chance.

This point became moot, however, during my visit to the Osprey, located on North Federal Highway in Lighthouse Point. The entertainment, service, and most of the fare were so foul at this Continental restaurant, which opened in mid-March, that my party didn't consider returning. We couldn't even get through one meal and left without dessert.

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The Osprey fails in so many ways that it's easier to point out the only thing that's right: the prices. Surf and turf, a filet mignon and half of a Maine lobster, is the restaurant's most expensive item at $16.95. If you prefer your lobster whole, a one-and-a-quarter-pound crustacean is served with soup or salad, potato or rice, and a vegetable, selling for $10.95. Even at that price, however, what was listed on the menu as a "Main" lobster didn't satisfy. The kitchen boiled it so excessively that the meat inside the shell shrank like a mummy in a sarcophagus.

Otherwise, it's difficult to know where to start. I suggest that the owners, a trio of men formerly from Jersey City who until this past January had owned Durty Nellie's in Fort Lauderdale, begin by hiring vocalists who can carry a tune. The duo that warbled outdated ballads with the help of a karaoke machine on a busy weekend night was so off-key that even my tone-deaf husband could tell they weren't hitting the notes. And the fact that the singers are positioned so close to the foyer doesn't bode well for the future of the restaurant. During our visit the balladeers actually interrupted their tunes to thank customers for coming in.

Other classless moments were instigated by the staff. Everybody's very friendly but just a little slovenly; they wear tropical shirts and khaki shorts, but some of the servers let the shirts hang loose over blowsy tank tops, untucked and unbuttoned. We waited for friends at a bar table, ordering drinks from the cocktail waitress who, while better groomed than most, warned me that my wine wouldn't be served in a wine glass owing to the restaurant's busy status. (The 150-seat place was about half full). I was OK with that; after all, I love the little juice glasses used for Chianti in Italian trattorias. But I wasn't too thrilled with the waitress, who insisted on using our table as a place to stash her tray when she wasn't using it. And her handling of my husband's drink order was comically predictable. He'd ordered a dirty martini, but it didn't have enough olive juice in it to suit his taste. So, rather than bring the drink back to the bar to be doctored, she brought the bar to him, tipping the plastic container of green olives floating in their brine into his drink until he said, "When."

The table servers also need to be tutored. Our waitress nodded knowingly when we ordered a bottle of Ecco Domani pinot grigio ($18) from the small but reasonably priced list of Italian and California vintages. But then she brought the bottle of wine and poured it without (a) showing us the label, (b) opening it at the table, or (c) allowing us to taste it. One of the reasons for displaying a bottle of wine first is to make sure it's the one the customer ordered. The next bottle we ordered also was opened before she brought it to the table. As for the water we requested, she never delivered it at all, despite three reminders. We finally got it from the bar ourselves.

With the exception of an off-putting fried shrimp starter, which arrived soaked in Buffalo wing sauce instead of the "hotzy totzy" (I'm not kidding), or Italian, sauce we'd ordered, the appetizers were decent, especially a salad of chopped shrimp, Maine lobster, and calamari marinated in red onion, black olives, roasted peppers, garlic, oil, and vinegar, all spooned over a bed of fresh greens. The tangy concoction, which reminded us of ceviche, was refreshing and light. A pair of crabcakes, featuring more crab than filler, was also pleasing, but the deep-fried cakes were muffled by a blanket of crab-and-artichoke dip, roasted peppers, and melted mozzarella. And a ridiculously large portion of smoked fish dip, ladled into a bread bowl and served with saltines, worked out just fine, even if the waitress couldn't tell us what kind of fish had been used. (The kitchen didn't know either, which led us to believe it had been bought from a purveyor rather than made on the premises.)

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