Arnaldo Carreira is one intrepid and durable restaurateur, having opened at various times some of our most interesting establishments, and broken new ground with many of them. First there was Nazare, where many of us had our first taste of Portuguese food. His best known, probably, was Picasso's, much loved when under his direction (not so beloved under later owners) and still mourned by many.
At one time, briefly, there was Bloomingdales, where massive spits of Brazilian barbecues were rolled from table to table -- too far ahead of its time to last. There were others -- some I've forgotten, some I never got to -- and he was even part owner of a fish store on Sargent, where I once bought an octopus, which eventually defeated me when steam puffed it up, forcing it out of the pot I was trying to cook it in.
But for several years now it has been Orlando's, where the January Polar Bear lunch has become an institution, when intrepid souls brave the elements to eat outside, with the proceeds going to charity. But those lunchers couldn't have been more uncomfortable than I was one sweltering night in a dining room with a sputtering air conditioner, and an additional blast of heat from the semi-open kitchen. It was the reason my visits were spaced farther apart than usual -- no way was I going back until the weather turned.
But now that it has turned, the dining room is comfortable again, a polished little bijou a few steps down from the street, with an understated but elegant decor and one astonishing optical illusion -- a entire wall of mirror, so deftly done you have to look twice to realize how tiny the actual space is.
As for the food? Well, with Carreira it has always been mostly about fish, and Orlando's offers one of the largest and best selection in the city.
Of course there is an à la carte menu, with appetizers from $9 to $11, and main courses from $24 to $32. But first I want to emphasize one of the best deals in town, one that isn't limited to a mere month but will continue indefinitely -- a $35 tasting menu that comprises three appetizers, soup/or salad (choose soup; see below) and five entrees. Small portions of each, obviously. You can opt for the chef's surprises with each course or -- they are nothing if not accommodating here -- you can choose almost anything you fancy from the menu.
It was one of the best dinners I've had in ages. We chose two of our appetizers from the regular menu: barbecued octopus -- tiny, crunchy ones, splashed with vinaigrette -- and shrimp Orlando in a delicate lobster-flavoured sauce, both marvellous. The third (the chef's surprise) was slices of tender pork seasoned with sesame seeds -- also delicious. Then came soup, a lobster bisque with a flavour reminiscent of the sauce on the shrimp, so good we scraped every last drop of it from the bowls.
Our main course was slices of ultra-flavourful wild Atlantic salmon, orange roughy in a light shrimp-flavoured sauce, grilled red snapper and a giant prawn -- not one of those misnamed shrimp but the real thing, more like a mini-lobster. We also had a surprisingly sizable serving of rib-eye, and although Orlando's may specialize in fish, that steak was superb -- tender, juicy and incredibly flavourful.
Other appetizers one might either include in the prix fixe dinner, or order à la carte, are barbecued squid -- the whole body, and a rare and terrific treat on one visit, but undercooked on another, or tiny mussels in a tomato sauce that was slightly piquant with piri piri sauce. The choices change constantly, and if you're lucky (I wasn't, sadly) there might be scallops in their shell, or tuna carpaccio, or codfish cakes, or such entrees as the much-praised (by readers) one-pound broiled veal or pork chop. Or, with advance notice, any Portuguese dish you might want.
Most of the cooking is relatively straightforward. Orange roughy seems to be a constant, but other fish are flown in daily -- one night it was sea bass, a big, flavourful slice that could have been wonderful if it hadn't been half raw. Caldeirada is another constant, a heart-warming stew of assorted fish and shellfish with potatoes in a garlicky tomato and onion-based sauce.
I also had a delicious seafood with rice (a kind of paella, actually) that isn't on the current menu, but could be available with a few hours notice.
People who have trouble making choices can order a combo of three barbecued fish.
It's a pity some of the extras, which are included with a la carte entrees, don't live up to the general standard. A savoury spinach and bean soup was excellent, a much better choice than the salads which were wretched on two different visits -- one of mostly head lettuce in a barely detectable dressing, and another that was said to be a caesar but didn't taste like one. The veggie garnishes were also a boring blah: chunks of broccoli that were overdosed with soy sauce on one visit, and unadorned cauliflower. Tomato-flavoured rice was passable, nothing more -- ask for the flavourful potatoes instead.
A few desserts are listed, but the luscious Molotov (Portuguese despite its name) seems to be the only one that is constantly available. Basically a floating island (but without the egg yolk sauce), it's a puff of fluffy meringue, perched on caramelized crisps and paired with a dollop of ice cream.
There's an interesting selection of wines, some of them Portuguese, but none of those, alas, available by the glass. For that matter, there are very few wines by the glass, and a near-triple markup on the bottles. However, some unlisted choices can be had by the glass -- it pays to ask. Service is top-notch -- friendly, knowledgeable and attentive. Dinner daily, from 5 p.m.
Orlando's Seafood Grill
709 Corydon Ave., 477-5899
No wheelchair access
4 1/2 out of five stars