By Kathryn Martin
For The Sun News
Atmosphere - Casual and spacious. Adding to the "big as all outdoors" feeling is a huge vaulted ceiling that rises atleast two stories high. A coffered center section is painted with faux clouds, perhaps suggestive of a night under the Australian sky. Tall windows at one end offer a view of marsh grasses and a small private marina on the Intracoastal Waterway.
The dining room is big, but is oversized furnishings and carefully broken-up space keep it from feeling barn-like. Paintings that appear to be contemporary reproductions of Australian aboriginal art, decorate the dark wood-paneled and stone walls. Alas, those hard wall surfaces tend to add to the noise level, which is considerable when the room is full.
There are many big, roomy booths for those who like them, with deep, upholstered backs and seats so cushy that we initially sank down a little too deeply. A thoughtful hostess solved the dilemma with a pair of leather-covered cushions that brought us back up to table height.
There's even live entertainment of a sort; the big kitchen is separated only by a partial wall of glass that allows a view from virtually any table in the room, That can be particularly exciting when one of the chefs stokes the grill and a head-high tongue of flame shoots up. Food - forget shrimp on the barbie. While offering an occasional nod to the renowned golfer's Aussie roots - Australian beef and lamb, and Aussie beef potpie and a Tasman sea mussels appetizer - the menu has more in common with San Francisco than "Crocodile Dundee."
Call it eclectic Pacific Rim, or maybe just global cuisine. With mostly seafood and beef dishes that combine Asian, continental and Southwestern touches, the menu choices are almost as fun to read as they are to sample. Fried calamari gets paired with chili sauce and red curry aioli; tuna tartare mingles with sesame-cucumber salad and fried coconut rings.
Following our waiter's recommendation, we chose the miso and mirin marinated sea bassand a spicy concoction called Devil's steak. Both came stacked in layers a good 6 inches high. At the base of the sea bass dish was a crispy, fried-rice cake that also included sweet corn and peppers, next came a seared mass of marinated cabbage, and on top was a thick slab of fish. Grilled to a golden brown and lightly flavored with the sweet marinade, it was delicately moist, tender and delicious inside.
The Devil's steak was also a winner. It's a thin-sliced tenderloin flavored with a ginger-barbecue sauce and sizzling habanero peppers, then rolled and tied, and serve atop a fresh baked popover with Asian noodles.
For anything but "well-done" aficionados, the chef has real challenge in such a thin cut of beef. I made it even harder by ordering it rare, but it was letter perfect: lightly charred outside, reddish-pink inside, and fork Tender. The sauce was spicy-hot enough and the portion large enough for two.
Spirits - The restaurant has a full bar and an extensive wine list, big like everything else here. There are more than 100 wines, both American and Australian. Not surprisingly, a number of them are Greg Norman's own vintage.
Dessert - The specialty of the house is called "fallen chocolate cake" but is really a souffle. The bad news is its time-consuming to prepare and needs to be ordered early - before you realize just how big that entrŽe is going to be. The good news is, if you saved room for it, it's a chocoholic's dream come true; a warm cake-like exterior oozing a dark chocolate filling with a tangy raspberry puree gracing the plate.
For those who don't like chocolate there's a selection of other daily specials. The night we visited, these included, a pecan torte, key lime cheesecake, bread pudding, a sorbet and a few flavors of ice cream.
Service - This big operation runs like a well-oiled clock. Our server was attentive, efficient and extremely knowledgeable, right down to knowing just how spicy the sauces were on every dish and the precise way our meal would be cooked. Other staff members from kitchen crew to busboys, provided smooth, well-timed assistance when needed.
Summary - Greg Norman's offers superb, high-quality cuisine and attentive service in a comfortable setting. The price, however is pretty serious splurge for most of us - the sort we save for a really special occasion. But if what you're after is a unique and sophisticated dining experience, this one's the ticket.