FOOD- THE EATER- Mixed gumbo: Tiffany's crabcake doesn't delight
PHOTO BY RYAN HOOVER I decided to head to Tiffany's Seafood early on a Wednesday night in mid October. It was one of the first cold days of the season, and I expected a sparse mid-week crowd. At just 5:45, I was shocked to find that most of the seats in the small eatery were packed.
It was largely an over-50 crowd enjoying the weekly all-you-can-eat crab leg special. An electronic bell attached to the door signaled our arrival with a jarring buzz. From that point, we got the sense that we were outsiders, and our waitress seemed uncomfortable in our presence.
Long moored at the University Shopping Center just a few doors down from Tokyo Rose, Tiffany's relocated to Seminole Square a little over two years ago.
The restaurant is long and narrow, and seating is mostly made up of booths. A smoking section is in the back, and diners will have to travel through it to access the restrooms. Walls are pale blue and Tiffany-style lamps hang above the tables, which have a green, faux marble pattern. Nautical accessories, including a marlin and rope netting, adorn the walls. A handful of fish tanks reinforce the theme.
The menu at Tiffany's Seafood is broad but loyal to the description. Seafood platters, entrees, pasta and rice dishes dominate, plus steak and surf-and-turf options with a choice of rib-eye or filet mignon.
On his way out of the restaurant, I overheard one man tell his companion, "That was a nice little steak."
I was slightly surprised to see escargot under the appetizers– but not adventurous enough to try it.
For those who reject surf, turf, and snail, Tiffany's offers a green salad or stir-fried veggies over wild rice. In a pinch, a vegetarian could probably cobble together a meal of sides like baked beans, coleslaw, and rice and leave nearly full. Sandwiches and po boys are also on the menu, but I quickly realized that the shrimp and crab legs are the items that draw in the crowd.
We started our meal with mussels in a garlic and wine sauce, a special that appeared during both of our visits. The shellfish were large, with top shells removed, and arranged in a circular pattern. The thin sauce didn't overpower the mussels, but I would have appreciated some fresh chunks of garlic to freshen up the sauce, which we mopped up with warm, fluffy bread brought by our waitress.
Tiffany's entrees come with choice of salad, coleslaw, or vegetable of the day and baked potato, fries, sweet potato fries, or hushpuppies (excluding rice and pasta entrees).
The salad is old school, made up of iceberg lettuce, rounds of red onion, flecks of shredded carrot, a couple of cherry tomatoes and a slice of green pepper. Topped with croutons, salads are accompanied by traditional dressings served on the side.
Seafood Norfolk, recommended by our waitress, was a combination of crab, scallops, and shrimp sautéed in a butter, wine, and garlic sauce. The dish was yellow, drippy, and bland. The small, veined shrimp were a little bit of a turnoff although the scallops were tender, if small.
Tiffany's crab cakes were another disappointment. They came fried to a dark brown with a thick, tough crust. Inside, the cakes were gooey with the texture and consistency of tuna salad– and heavily seasoned with Old Bay and impossibly salty. It was difficult to take more than tiny bites.
With no actual, visible crab pieces, I wondered what they were made of. If there was filler, it must have been pulverized because the crab cakes had an almost grainy texture.
During our second visit, a Saturday around 7pm, the restaurant was busy but a little less so than on our weekday visit.
We began this meal with soup. The seafood gumbo was rich with chunky vegetables although fell short in the seafood department. Crab bisque, on the other hand, was thick, creamy, and crabby with a tang from sherry and some mellow heat.
Saturday's special was a steamed crab leg and spiced shrimp platter. Based on our last experience, it seemed like the thing to order. Ripping into the crab legs and shrimp was satisfying, and the wreckage left behind was proof of my effort.
The Southern Sauté, which is shrimp, scallops, and crawfish served with linguine and topped with fried oysters, had a distinctive Cajun flavor. Oysters provided crunch to the dish but the portion was small. In lieu of the yeast rolls, our waitress presented us with a basket of cakey cornbread with a little tang from buttermilk or sour cream.
To close our meal, we chose novelty: deep-fried Oreos. They came encased in a puffy, sweet batter and dusted in powdered sugar. At $4.95 for 4 cookies, the price tag seemed steep. The cookies were soft and reminded me of chocolate cake doughnuts rather than Oreos. It satisfied my curiosity, but I'm not sure I would order them again.
At Tiffany's, the service was speedy and casual. Even if uncomfortable, our waitress was friendly and helpful. As with many restaurants today, the service seemed to end as soon as we finished our meal. Moreover, the wait for our check was not short although many tables had already cleared.
However, we were stuffed to the gills by the time we got out. Nautical clichés aside, Tiffany's is fine for traditional platters of steamed seafood. Those with higher expectations for entrées may leave disappointed.