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.

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 The duo that warbled outdated ballads with the help of a karaoke machine on a busy weekend night was so off-key that even my tone-deaf husband could tell they weren't hitting the notes.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.)

The waitress seemed sure of herself when it came to the entrees, however. The egg-battered grouper with a Grand Marnier sauce looked like a beautiful, lightly breaded fillet dressed with cream. But it tasted -- and I do not exaggerate -- like bleach, as if it had been run through the dishwasher with the plates. This was a dangerously bad piece of fish, a victim of either extreme spoilage or an attempt to make it smell more appealing. (Sometimes cooks or purveyors soak fish and meats in a mild bleach solution to "freshen" them.) But the server assured us we didn't like the fish because of the liqueur that had been added to the sauce. Sorry, Grand Marnier tastes like oranges, not kitchen cleanser.

A replacement cheeseburger was brought willingly enough, but the disk of meat was greasy and gristly, and the accompanying French fries half-cooked. A special of the house, the open-faced Osprey steak sandwich, was likewise dripping with fat, the garlic bread covered with sliced filet mignon so dry it had cracked in places like a sidewalk in summer. A garnish of sauteed onions and peppers, a drizzle of gravy, and a lid of melted mozzarella just made the whole thing messier.

If the steak was suffering from drought, then the chicken Parmesan with linguine had just gone through a rainy season. A watery tomato sauce had turned the breading on the pounded fillet mushy, and overcooking had rendered the linguine -- which was actually spaghetti -- lifeless.

The final insult was the bill. After the waitress added incorrectly, she insisted she was on target. "Watch, I'll do it again," she offered, ungraciously. "Why don't you bring your calculator to the table," we suggested, "and we'll all do it with you." Ah, teamwork. As it turned out, she'd overcharged us by $8.

Before visiting the Osprey, I'd been hopeful. The seemingly jinxed location was last occupied by Memphis Barbecue Company -- and about five restaurants before that. But early on, local residents claimed the curse was over. Bright, tropical murals of birds of paradise were added to the walls, and a martini crowd packs the bar. In Lighthouse Point, residents are frequent, rather than fine, diners, so they could use a casual place to eat. But one visit to the Osprey will convince them that casual, at least at this location, is not the way to go.

The Osprey. 3850 N. Federal Hwy., Lighthouse Point, 954-788-7995. Dinner Sunday through Thursday from 4 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday till 11 p.m.

Smoked fish dip
$6.95
Fried shrimp
$7.95
Osprey steak sandwich
$9.95
Chicken Parmesan
$11.95
Grouper Grand Marnier
$13.95

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