Friday, March 22, 2013

Say hello to Avu-Avu, the new island-themed restaurant replacing Outback at one of Lake Buena Vista's most popular hotels

Okay, I'm really dating myself here, but I remember well my early twenties and clubbing the night away at Pleasure Island. I might start off the evening with dinner and drinks at the Fireworks Factory, then head over to 8-Trax for a bit. Later, a visit to Mannequins was in order. There never was a club like Mannequins in Orlando before, and there may never be. It was awesome. But every once in a while, if I was feeling sleazy, or a little lonely, I'd head over to The Laughing Kookaburra Lounge inside what is now known as the Buena Vista Palace, just across the street from Pleasure Island.

Almost always packed, it was the kind of place everyone eventually ended up at one time or another -- usually late at night. To get to the lounge, you had to pass the Outback Steakhouse adjacent to the club. No, not that Outback. This Outback came first, and some claim was the blueprint for what went on to become that Outback.

Today, the Laughing Kookaburra Lounge is known as The Kook Sports Bar. Sweaty, corduroy-wearing clubbers are long gone. The air is silent of even a single note of C+C Music Factory, Nirvana or Vanilla Ice. And the Outback Steakhouse is gone as well.

Goodbye steaks, boomerangs and Fosters, say hello to Coffee Colada Chicken Breasts, leis and umbrella-topped daiquiris. Outback is now Avu-Avu, an all-you-can-eat, Polynesian-themed restaurant with a "family-style tropical island dinner served right at your table."

Earlier this month, I joined a few local food bloggers for a menu tasting at Avu-Avu and a tour of the restaurant's remodel.

Entering the restaurant is quite dramatic. Just off the convention space area, there's a swooping staircase that lowers you to the tropical dining room wrapped alongside a tropical themed waterfall, or you may take the two-stop glass elevator down to your island get-away. The first thing you'll notice is the open kitchen directly in the center of the dining room. There, Avu-Avu chefs grilled kabob skewers and placed them on river rocks in shallow pans to continue cooking. It's always nice to see what the kitchen staff is up to in an open kitchen.

Once seated, a quick look around the dining room offers glimpses of the old Australian theme still present. Aboriginal drawings take their place amongst new Polynesian additions. The wood paneling and large windows still strike a familiar note from the 1990s.

Avu-Avu is an all-you-can-eat experience priced at $29.95 for adults and $13.95 for children. There's no buffet line, however, all food is served right at the table in courses.

We started the evening with Edamame Dip and Tropical Chips. The dip had a mild, pleasant taste and the various chips (lotus, plantain) were crisp and lightly fried.

Next up was the Monsoon Platter featuring chicken pot stickers and guava chai rib bites. The platter was served with several dipping sauces: mango chili lime, sesame soy caramel and a spicy soy. The pot stickers were firm and very meaty. The ribs were very tender, and, dipped in the sesame soy caramel, wonderfully sweet.

The next course was a boringly named "Salad" with tossed greens, shredded carrots and cabbage, bits of rice crackers, toasted coconut and a carrot ginger vinaigrette. Note to marketing department: How about "South Seas Salad" or "Samoan Salad" or something else with a tropical ring to it?

The salad course was accompanied with stir fried Udon noodles and lemon garlic broccoli. There were some noodle fans at my table, and they seemed to enjoy dipping the noodles in several of the sauces provide with the pot stickers. I'm not a big noodle fan, but, dipped in the spicy soy, they had a nice flavor.

At any time during the meal you can request more of a course you're eating, or more of a previous course. This is an all you can eat experience, after all.

I should also note that alcoholic beverages are not included in the price of the meal. However, as you might expect, the menu is full of reasonably priced Avu-Avu tropical cocktails to quench your thirst. The Avu-Avu Sling ($9) was refreshing with Hendrick's Gin, grenadine, lemon and pineapple juice and topped with a shot of cherry brandy. There's also a small wine list and several beer selections.

The main course featured four rounds of flame grilled skewers served tableside. The process reminded me of Texas de Brazil, as it seemed every few minutes a server would show up with more skewers of meat. Selections included: Coffee Colada Chicken Breast, Root Beer Barbequed Pork, Citrus Ginger Shrimp and Kalibi Marinated Sirloin. I'm not complaining by any means.

The chicken had a sticky-sweet taste, and the meat was on the dry side -- but the Root Bear Barbequed Pork was wonderful. Still sweet, but with a richer flavor, and this time, with meat as moist as could be. The pork was my favorite dish of the night. I couldn't get enough of it.

There was only one dessert offering, a fantastic Carmalized Pineapple Coconut Milk Cake -- think a pineapple flavored tres leche. If I hadn't been so full, I might have eaten another one of these.

Avu-Avu is a family-friendly feast that the whole family will enjoy. If you're in the Disney/Lake Buena Vista area with your family, I say stop by and enjoy a special evening of tropical delights. If you're looking for nightlife, I say drive up to CityWalk at Universal. This hotel ain't what she used to be.

4 1/2 Tikis out of 5

Note: I dined compliments of Avu-Avu.

Avu-Avu Restaurant on Urbanspoon

2 comments: Orlando Food Blog said...


Christie said...

It's Ohana for dinner essentially. Minus the Hawaiian bread.