Written by Joe Lane
Published: August 24, 2004 at 6:17 PM
The Shark Encounter at SeaWorld Orlando is actually three attractions in one: despite being an exhibit dedicated to the 'terrors of the deep', as well as the location for the special Sharks Deep Dive underwater cage experience, it also houses Sharks Underwater Grill, not a totally new-style of dining experience, but unique nonetheless. Two years ago, the restaurant didn't even exist. The current area which houses the fine dining restaurant is the former observation area looking into the massive SWO shark tank.
Inside, the design echos the sleek shark fin motif, along with a sleek look of polished steel and a traditional undersea mood. As a nice touch, the bar top is actually an aquarium of small fish, but it's the big, fifteen foot deep, 125 foot long shark tank that steals the show. It's the same tank that lets guests travel through an enclosed tube underwater. A collection of sharks and fish swim back and forth through the tank, including Atlantic blacktips, sandbar sharks, and even a couple smalltooth sawfish.
But looks don't make the meal--ultimately, the food decides the fate of the restaurant. I'm not an avid seafood fan, but I made an exception for this trip and ordered a distinctly seafood dish, The Sharks Trio (no shark in this meal, though). I also ordered The Pizzeria, an traditional pizza with a gourmet twist.
The pizza itself was an elongated ellipse rather than a full circle pizza. It featured traditional toppings, pepperoni, mushrooms, black olives and mozzarella cheese, but the sauce was a unique roasted tomato and garlic style. The resulting taste was actually a little bland--even compared to traditional fast food pizza, although the dish did eat well. I'm a real sucker for tangy tomato sauce. This pizza didn't have that sweet tang to it.
It took a half hour for my main dish to arrive--somehow, my order got lost in the shuffle. I attributed it to the fact that I'm a sole customer in a restaurant of couples and families--both groups of which tend to get more attention than the single diners.
The Sharks Trio is one of the special dishes of the restaurant, playing hard on the 'Floribbean-style' theme of the food. The dish features herb crusted tuna, scallops and shrimp, either pan-seared and seasoned with rosemary, cilantro, parsley and basil or blackened with Cajun spices. The entire dish is topped off with a mango-papaya sauce.
The tuna, scallops and shrimp? They were wonderful, well-cooked, juicy, full of taste. But there was something about this dish that made me feel nauseated--and it had nothing to do with the quality of the cooked food. There was a specific smell of the dish, part of which came from the mountain of coleslaw in the middle of my plate, that made me feel queasy. It was a fragrance I had smelled once before, though I couldn't recall what, exactly, it was. In any regards, I don't think my upset stomach had anything to do with the food so much as it did the smell of the sauce--possibly the mango-papaya. My waiter couldn't tell me what the mixture was in the coleslaw, so I may never know.
I probably should have ordered the Shrimp and Smoked Chicken Barbeque. My waiter had suggested that dish prior to my ordering and I decided against it--I may return in the following weeks to give the meal another chance.
But not right away. Sharks Underwater Grill is no cheap fair--the Sharks Trio ran at $19.95--the average price of any of the main courses on the menu. The Pizzeria appetizer cost around six dollars. My drink--a coke, with free refills, cost $2.25. My Annual Passport garnered me 10% off my meal, bringing the total to $27.74.
On a TPI scale of 0-10, Sharks Underwater Grill currently gets a 7-Good for its design and execution. They have no fault on the smell of the main dish, although the long delay in getting the meal out does hurt their score. If a return trip promises better results (and a tastier alternate dish), then the restaurant does have the potential for a high 8-Commendable.
If you're a shark fan, you'll downright love it.
Sharks Underwater Grill is open from 11AM until park close. For priority seating, you can contact SeaWorld to make dining reservations by calling (407) 363-2559. For more information, visit SeaWorld.com. Until next time, keep on ridin'.