Truluck's

The exterior of Truluck's at Galleria mall in Fort Lauderdale. (Truluck's / Courtesy / April 10, 2013)

Truluck's Fort Lauderdale will celebrate its fourth anniversary at the end of June.

Looking around the packed dining room the other night, I wondered where all these diners spent their money before the restaurant arrived.

A good part of Truluck's popularity is on account of its design. Everyone looks good sitting on one of the bright-red, semicircular banquettes. Each table has its own spotlight that somehow creates instant intimacy, despite the busy restaurant all around. The front of the 325-seat dining room is open to a wide patio. Taxidermied fish temper the elegance of the room, because this is, after all, a fish house.


Photos: Miss Florida USA Pageant

But why, we wondered, did it take us a few minutes to get used to the fishy smell? Why would such a gorgeous restaurant open for service when five lighting fixtures needed new bulbs? And why was our section of the dining room so warm? I hated to see so many dolled-up diners fanning themselves with their menus.

Perhaps all this sounds picky. But all kinds of small things left me feeling that Truluck's needs to up its game or lower its prices.

The problem started with the service, which you expect to be as wonderfully old-fashioned as the white jackets the servers wear. But our server opened with a nearly comical recitation about "juicy steaks." The pace of the meal was off, with big gaps between courses. When four of five entrees arrived, the food runner said he didn't have room on his tray for the fifth. Maybe they need bigger trays? Or maybe one of the smartly dressed managers could lend a hand?

And then, there's food. Some of it is outstanding. Some, not so much.

We started with a blue-crab dip ($14), served with toasted baguette rounds. It tasted more like a mixture of fat and dairy than crab. It's the kind of glop I expect from a lower-priced chain. Hot 'n' crunchy shrimp ($14) — four per order — were indeed crunchy, but we would have liked them hot instead of cool. They were such perfect specimens, however, we didn't quibble.

We didn't bother with stone-crab claws ($23/four medium, $30/three large, $23/one jumbo), which Truluck's gets fresh from its own fisheries in Naples. The Fort Lauderdale Truluck's is part of a 10-restaurant chain, with locations in Florida (Boca Raton, Miami, Naples), Texas and California. On Monday nights, it charges $69 for all-you-can-eat medium crabs, including soup, salad and a side.

The salads need work. The Knife and Fork Caesar salad ($9) and the Sonoma greens salad ($9) — with spicy pecans, goat cheese, apples, Kalamata olives and honey vinaigrette — were small and unimpressive. Neither had quite enough dressing or enough attention paid to them.

But then came some of the best seafood I've had in a very long time. Blackened grouper Pontchartrain ($38) is topped with Creole sauce mixed with crawfish tails, shrimp and blue crab. Grilled sea bass ($36) was near perfect in its simplicity. Pan-seared sea scallops ($32) had the nice caramelized edges that come from this cooking method. Seafood portions are adequate, but small. I can't decide if Truluck's wants us to adhere to current dietary guidelines or to its own profit margins.

The center-cut filet ($36/7-ounce, $46/10-ounce) was a beauty. But the $12 Bearnaise Royale accompaniment was skimpy. There might have been two tablespoons of what is billed as a "jumbo lump crab and shrimp with bearnaise." A 16-ounce rib-eye ($45) was overdone. Our server offered to replace it, but sometimes, you'd rather eat an overcooked steak than become the only person eating at the table.

Entrees are served with sides, and I loved the rice pilaf, which had a slight Indian flavor. Asparagus was nicely steamed, but what's with the Szechwan-style green beans? If you've ever been to a Chinese restaurant, you'll recognize that the version served here needs help.

Do leave room for dessert. On top of the carrot cake's ($11) moist four layers and cream-cheese frosting, our server added a drizzle of caramel sauce and a sprinkling of candied pecans. The enormous chocolate sack ($19) will sate the sweet tooth for six. A chocolate bag is filled with a mixture of pound cake, berries, whipped cream, caramel, chocolate chips and chocolate sauce. Somehow, it's not as sweet as you'd expect. I'd heartily recommend it.

There's lots to love and lots to improve on at Truluck's. I'd say it's time for a reboot.

jtanasychuk@SouthFlorida.com or 954-356-4632. Read his blog at SouthFlorida.com/sup and follow him on Twitter at @FloridaEats

Truluck's

2584 E. Sunrise Blvd., the Galleria, Fort Lauderdale

954-396-5656, Trulucks.com