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CityWalk – NBA City

What: American casual cuisine
Where: Across the waterway
Price Range: $$ - $$$
Hours: Sunday through Thursday 11:00 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday to 11:30 p.m. During busy times they will stay open later.
Reservations: 407-363-5919 or OpenTable.com
Web: www.nbacity.com

This modern mélange of weathered brick, steel, glass, and concrete is almost dwarfed by the statue of a dribbling basketball player that graces its entrance. Both the building and its interior evoke the ambiance and mystique of a classic 1940s-era basketball arena, and devotees of the game will find much to enjoy here.

The two-level dining area, dubbed the CityWalk Cage, seems intimate but it holds nearly 375 people at capacity. The floor is that of a highly polished basketball court filled with tables. In fact, this is a regulation half court that can be cleared of tables and booths so that visiting NBA stars can hold clinics with eager youngsters, while fans watch from the upper level. Two massive projection screens flank the hoop and multiple monitors dot the walls. A constant stream of taped highlights from championship seasons past plays during your meal, with the volume thoughtfully turned up for the hard of hearing. There is the occasional nod toward women’s professional basketball, but the emphasis is plainly on the guys.

This is hardly the place for a quiet business discussion or a romantic tête-à-tête. But if your idea of a good time is watching your hoop heroes’ finest moments while you drop food into your lap, you’ll love it here.

If you'd like some relief from the general din, try the Skybox Lounge, a bar and lounge on the second level, to the front of the building. Its decor is that of a posh sports club with cushy sofas and banquettes. If you wish, they will serve your meal here. The Skybox Lounge also offers an extensive menu of pricey specialty drinks, with a daily happy hour (4:00 to 7:00 p.m.) to make them more affordable. The drinks, as well as a modest wine list ($25 to $55), are available in the main restaurant. There is another quiet refuge on the second level, a glassed-in wedge of a dining area that is sometimes set aside for VIPs and private parties, but you can ask for it and see. The cuisine might be described as upscale sports bar, and the portions seem to have been designed to fill up those eight-foot-tall basketball behemoths. Eating a starter and an entree may well force you to skip the scrumptious desserts. Many people will find a starter plenty big enough for a satisfying meal.

Appetizers ($9 to $16) include such standards as chicken wings, flatbreads, and quesadillas. The Parmesan Chicken Tenders could make a full meal, with a biting mustard sauce worthy of the name. For the lighter appetite, entree salads ($12 to $15) are offered, with side salads ($5) also available.e.

The main entrees ($16 to $29) lean heavily to hearty meat and fish dishes like pork chops, steak, and salmon. Pastas ($14 to $18) tend to feature chicken and fish, with shrimp priced slightly higher. Sandwich offerings ($10 to $12) include a Philly Cheesesteak and a Caribbean-spiced grilled mahi mahi. Ten-inch personal pizzas ($11 to $13) round out the menu. A "Rookie Menu" for kids features a small choice of entrees and a drink for $7 to $9.

Among the desserts ($6 to $9), the star is an NBA City original, the Cinnamon Berries. Exquisitely ripe strawberries are dipped in batter, flash fried, coated in cinnamon sugar, and elegantly displayed in a circle on a bed of vanilla cream filigreed with strawberry sauce; a dollop of vanilla ice cream in a cinnamon tortilla cup topped with another fresh strawberry forms the centerpiece. It may sound a little weird but it's delicious.

Tip: The food and drink are only part of the fun here. In fact, you don't have to have a meal to enjoy NBA City. The entrance is flanked by a display of bronze basketballs bearing the handprints of basketball greats. If you've ever wondered why you're not in the NBA, losing your own hand in these massive prints will give you a hint. Inside, before you enter the dining room, you'll find the NBA City Playground, a place where you can test your free-throw skills and, if you're good enough, get some fleeting fame on the electronic scoreboard. There is also a shop filled with NBA-branded clothing, personalized jerseys, and novelty items. This area stays open for about an hour after the restaurant stops serving.

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Universal Orlando 2011


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