Italian

This past weekend Spoleto continued the summer fun with Spoleto Fest, a complimentary, two-day culinary celebration for all.  The event began on Saturday with a unique culinary experience where guests enjoyed samplings of Spoleto’s menu items, wine and live music, followed by a family fun day featuring “kids eat free,” raffles, games, face painting and more, on Sunday.

This pasta festival was a fun yet budget-friendly way to feed and entertain the entire family as the kids are about to go back to school after summer.

We loved attending the event and enjoyed the tasty dishes that Spoleto has to offer.  We had a wonderful time and we are looking forward to coming back to Spoleto Fest next year.  Check out our pictures below!

The line for Spoleto Fest – Windermere.  Back in June, they fed 700 people at their Spoleto Fest – Winter Park event.

Free ravioli sample while waiting in line.

Won a bag from the Spoleto prize wheel while waiting in line!

Almost there!  It was worth the wait.

The ingredients are fresh and organic.  After being selected, they get sautéed then tossed in pasta.

Superior customer service – friendly and quick.

My Spoleto creation!

Pasta: Fettuccine Noodles
Sauce: Alfredo
Six ingredients: Broccoli, Truffle Roasted Mushrooms, Roasted Red Onions, Baby Spinach, Kalamata Olives, and Zucchini, Sautéed in Pesto
Garnished with: Minced Cilantro & Red Chili Peppers

Be sure to check out the new Spoleto in Windermere – or check out one near you!

Spoleto – Windermere
4750 The Grove Dr. Windermere, FL 34786
Phone: (407) 217-2756
spoletoitalian.com

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On Tues., March 21The World’s Largest Wine Dinner took place simultaneously across all 244 Carrabba’s restaurants in celebration of its new wine menu. In a single evening, this four-course wine pairing dinner featured:

  • 7,000 guests
  • 4,000 uncorked bottles of wine
  • 28,000 dishes

The dinner consisted of selections from the restaurant’s new wine list, which features 42 distinctive wines curated by Carrabba’s sommelier Brittany Deloach. The list includes three new varietals, four new appellations, pairing suggestions and flavor profiles for each varietal to guide guests.

“Our guests love to explore new and exclusive dining experiences, and there’s no better way to celebrate the spectacular new selections on our wine list than by gathering together for the World’s Largest Wine Dinner,” said Carrabba’s sommelier Brittany Deloach. “We want to inspire guests to try new wines but – even better – we hope they will be inspired to try new dishes, as well.”

For $40 per person, guests of the World’s Largest Wine Dinner experienced a four-course menu featuring made-from-scratch dishes created by head chef Jay Smith with Deloach’s hand-selected wine pairings, including: Chloe Pinot Grigio (Italy), Pieropan Soave (Italy), Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) and Joel Gott Zinfandel (Calif.).

The grilled eggplant and hazelnut-crusted goat cheese added a nice touch to the common greens of the Insalata Fiorucci. This course paired well with the Chloe Pinot Grigio from Northern Italy. This wine is classically crisp and refreshing.

The pasta has a wonderful spicy touch from the Italian peppers in this Calabrian Cavatappi. The basil is a nice touch with the creamy burrata. You can never go wrong with creamy burrata present. This dish is paired with Pieropan Soave from Italy. The wine dates back to the early 1800s and balances well with the spices of the dish.

Veal Marsala is topped with mushrooms that were slightly more salty than desired. However, the veal itself is very tender and seasoned well. Paired with the Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley, California to emphasize finesse and balance, but it matches well with the veal and Lombardo Marsala wine sauce.

The Tuscan-grilled sirloin is topped with mushrooms and the Lombardo Marsala wine sauce similar to the veal. It is made medium, but can be adjusted according to your desires. This dish is also paired with the Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley, California.

Sogno Di Cioccolata “Chocolate Dream” is a rich fudge brownie with chocolate mousse, fresh whipped cream and chocolate sauce. The colder this dish is, the better it will be. The Joel Gott Zinfandel from California was smooth and matched with the dessert. This Zinfandel is not as bold as the Cabernet Sauvignon.

While the World’s Largest Wine Dinner is the official launch of the new wine menu, Carrabba’s will continue to introduce its new wine offering through a limited-time collection of Food & Wine Festival menu features, including:

  • Interesting Gems – New, seasonal selections that allow guests to experience new and notable wines, some of which are exclusive to Carrabba’s; the first edition features Pieropan Soave (Italy) and CasaSmith Barbera (Washington).
  • Festival of Wine Flights – This wine-tasting experience allows guests to explore wines from around the world paired with a small plate. Guests choose from three flights.
  • Signature Pairings – A special menu section that provides wine-pairing recommendations for Carrabba’s made-from-scratch entrées.

Although this event has passed, many wine dinner events are to come at Carrabba’s Italian Grill for your enjoyment.

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This week, Tasty Chomps was invited to BRAVO! Cucina Italiana to try meals from their Summer Fixe Menu, which offers a salad, an entrée and a dessert for each meal. To say the least, our visit was delightful.

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The staff was welcoming, accommodating and genuine from having small talk to offering recommendations for their favorite dishes. Also, when he was available, Chef Matt Grimes came to our table to present our dishes to us. I managed to convince Chef Grimes into taking some portraits.

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While we waited for our dishes, bread was served fresh from the oven with a herb oil dip. The bread was so warm, moist, fluffy, and a little chewy to my liking. How did Bravo! know my preferences? I’m not sure. Needless to say, we had a few baskets of this delicious bread.

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The Chopped Salad included chopped greens, cucumber, red onion, tomatoes, olives, Feta, and red wine vinaigrette. It is the essential and basic salad for a simple choice with very fresh ingredients.

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The Insalata Della Casa consisted of chopped greens, cucumbers, tomatoes, bacon, crispy pasta, and Parmesan dressing. I prefer this salad as the smokey bacon adds more texture, while the Parmesan dressing was tossed with the right amount.

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The Pasta Fra Diabolo was made up of a spicy tomato cream sauce, campanile pasta and shrimp. The cream sauce is made by mixing Marinara and Alfredo sauce to obtain its silky smooth texture. The pasta was cooked to perfection and there was a generous number of shrimp. Finding out that I am allergic to shrimp, Chef Grimes offered to make me a portion to try without shrimp and went back into the kitchen to make me some right away – now that is service. I am so glad I was able to try this entrée as it made my day and was my favorite main course item.

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The Chicken Milanese is a Romano-crusted chicken breast with Mozzarella served on a Pomodoro sauce and herb linguini. The Comodoro sauce is mild and does not overpower the flavors of the linguini. The linguini was also prepared correctly and seasoned by herbs for a nice fresh flavor. I believe the chicken was moist, but a bit salty; I suggest eating it with the Pomodoro sauce as a balance.

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Chef Brittany’s Cannoli Crumble is a deconstructed Bravo!’s twist on the traditional cannoli. There’s lightly  sweetened ricotta filling with chocolate chips and cannoli pastry crumble. The filling was smooth, dense, cooling, and delicious. In contrast, the crust crumble provided the opposite texture similar to that of the semisweet chocolate chips. This take is creative, easier to share and less messy than the traditional cannoli.

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The Vanilla Bean Créme Brûlée is a decadent vanilla bean custard with a caramelized sugar crust. I love this dessert because of how creamy, milky and sweet it is and how cooling it is to my palate. It is easy to eat, but dangerous for the same reason after a long day of work where you may devour more than a serving size.

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Along with our meals, we decided to try the Sangria Rose and Cucumber Basil Gimlet to go along with our summer theme. The Sangria Rosa consisted of Sobieski Raspberry Vodka, fresh muddled pineapple and strawberry, Fizz 56 Brachetto d’Acqui, and is served on the rocks. It isn’t overpoweringly sweet and leaves notes of pineapple dancing on your tongue.

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The Cucumber Basil Gimlet is made up of Grey Goose Vodka or Hendricks Gin, fresh basil, crushed cucumber, bitters and fresh lemon and lime juices, served on the rocks. We had it with Grey Goose Vodka and it is a strong drink, but refreshing for the summer at the same time. You know it is truly fresh when you can taste all the ingredients of the basil, cucumber, etc.

Sad to say, but this concludes our visit to BRAVO! Cucina Italiana. Please feel free to browse their website and make a reservation! You will not be disappointed.

 

Primo has a special place in my heart for several reasons.

Many years ago, it was the place, tucked away inside the JW Marriott at Grande Lakes, of one of the first “special” date nights I had with my now-wife, then girlfriend, May. It was a wonderful evening with fond memories of great food and great service, particularly for recent college graduates at the time.

Few in Orlando realize or know that Primo’s philosophy and practices towards simple, seasonal food has helped change Orlando’s food scene for the better – and continues to do so till this day.

Seasonal, fresh, local, and organic” – it’s now hard to remember a time when those terms were relatively still a novel concept in the local restaurant industry. One could argue that the farm to table movement in Orlando started here at Primo.

Chef Melissa Kelly, with her husband, pastry chef Price Kushner, opened the first Primo in Maine in 2000, a second at the JW Marriott Grande Lakes in Orlando in 2003, and a third outpost in Tuscon, Arizona in 2005.

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Chef Melissa Kelly is ever passionate about her food – from sourcing and quality to sustainability – and it shows – in the way she speaks about the food system and her care for her pigs and greens. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and an alumni of the legendary Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse, she is the first female chef to win the James Beard Foundation’s award for Best Chef twice – first in 1999, and most recently again in 2013 for the Northeast.

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Chef Melissa Kelly’s practical and simple advice to up and coming chefs, particularly female chefs who are often overlooked in the kitchens, is to remember to “keep your head down, work hard, have integrity, travel and read as much as you can.

Many of Chef Melissa Kelly’s alumni have taken this advice and nurturing environment and went on to excel in their respective fields in the restaurant industry.

Back in 2003, Primo was the proverbial primordial soup from which some of Orlando’s finest chefs emerged: pioneer chefs like Katherine Blake of The Rusty Spoon (who served as chef de cuisine of Primo from 2003-2008), Julie Petrakis of The Ravenous Pig and Cask and Larder, and Alexia Gawlak of Swine and Sons Provisions.

Primo was one of Lake Meadow Natural farm’s first clients – now their eggs and chicken are found in countless local Orlando restaurants.

Primo’s seasonally changing menu was one of the first to feature ingredients cultivated from an on-site organic garden, and from the resort’s own 7,000-square-foot garden at Whisper Creek Farm, in addition to sourcing from Central Florida’s small organic farms.

Spring is Chef Kelly’s favorite season – she “loves all the alliums and tender wild greens – all the pungent yet delicate flavors.”

And the garden is full of wonderful greens and herbs for the season.

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Named after Chef Kelly’s grandfather, Primo Magnani, Primo’s classical cooking and preparation methods draw strong inspiration from cuisines off the coastal regions of Italy, France and Spain. Chef Kelly grew up around her grandfather’s butcher shop, and learned all the Italian classics from her grandmother.

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Primo’s Chef de Cuisine Mariano Vegel, a native of Buenos Aires, Argentina, grew up cooking in his grandfather’s pizzeria and making fresh pasta from scratch every Sunday evening for family dinners. Chef Vegel joined JW Marriott Orlando shortly after graduating from the Instituto Argentino de Gastronomía in 2006.

On a recent media event, we were invited to sample some of the new as well as classic offerings at Primo, sharing the great things they do with food here.

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Slow Cooked and Grilled Octopus ($16) Lima Beans / Artichokes / Calabrain Pesto / ‘Nduja Sausage (made in house) / Smokey Potato Chips

Octopus is a popular dish in Mediterranean cuisine – and it can be tough to cook well if not given the proper care and technique. Thankfully here at Primo, it’s slow cooked tender for 1.5 hours and then grilled to give it a nice smokey char, quite nice flavors with enjoyably crispy and soft textures. The artichokes, marinated in a sherry vinaigrette, with microgreens, pesto, and house made spicy ‘nduja sausage all go wonderfully together with the octopus. Light and delicious.

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Cold Smoked Tuna Tartare ($16) Tonnato Sauce / Confit Tomatoes / Mint / Sesame Oil / Bottarga / Crispbreads

This tuna tartare is a classic Italian dish, inspired by Chef Mariano’s Christmas family memories and traditions, made with a creamy, tangy tonnato aioli traditionally made with fish sauce, anchovies, capers, and tuna. There’s big, bold flavors in this dish, made with yellowfin tuna, with care to source fish that are sustainable and regional. To Chef Mariano, this dish represents the intertwining of “happy food memories past,  with dining experiences present together for our guests.”

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Farmer Salad ($15) PRIMO Lettuces / Garlicky Levain Croutons / House Cured Bacon / Soft Poached Whisper Creek Farm Egg / White Balsamic Vinegrette

The Farmer’s salad is hearty enough for a light meal, savory and delectable, topped with house brined and smoked bacon and a perfectly soft poached egg picked fresh daily from the on-site Whisper Creek Farm. The Farmer Salad is one of the most popular dishes served at all three Primo locations, and Chef Melissa Kelly often has this dish as a meal.

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Squid Ink Linguini “Frutti Di Marie” ($34) Calamari / Jonah Crab / Rock Shrimp / Clams / Charred Pepper / Tasso Ham / Pimenton Crumbs

I loved this house made black squid ink linguini pasta – the medley of seafood from the uni and calamari to the jonah crab, rock shrimp, and littleneck clams were all so flavorful, and the charred pepper and salty tasso ham topped with pimenton cheese crumbs made the dish just come together beautifully.

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Citrus Glazed Sea Scallops ($34) Crispy Sunchokes / Wild Mushroom & Black Garlic Carbonara / Truffles / Pickled Vegetables

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Sauteed Scaloppine of Pork Saltimbocca ($36) Sage Infused Mushroom Madeira Jus with Prosciutto / Spinach / Roasted Garlic Mashed Potato

Something that never changes at Primo is their signature hearty pork saltimbocca dish – one of the original dishes inspired by Chef Melissa Kelly’s grandpa. The thick slices of pork sit on a sultry bed of prosciutto, spinach and roasted garlic mashed potato with a sage infused mushroom-madeira jus. It’s down home Italian comfort and soul food on a plate.

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Caramello ($10) Caramel Crusted Pate Choux Filled with Salted Caramel Cremeux / Caramalia Chocolate Ganache / Salted Caramel Popcorn / Caramelized Hazelnut Gelato / Toasted Caramel Marshmallow

For dessert, Primo’s pastry chef brought to us a true work of art – the Caramello, which showcases caramel 6 different ways from hazelnut caramel gelato to toasted caramel marshmallow – a fabulous ending to the meal.

If you’re looking for simple, fresh, seasonal cooking – whether with influences from Spain or Italy or France, Chef Melissa Kelly’s Primo restaurant is definitely a must try for any one serious about the farm to table movement in Orlando. You’ll find the heart is there in the cooking, in the ingredients from the gardens in the farm yard to the kitchens and dining room tables.

PRIMO
at JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes
Open for dinner 6-10 pm
407-393-4444
4040 Cental Florida Parkway
Orlando, FL 32837
GrandeLakes.com/JWMarriott/PRIMO

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For 27 years, The Peabody Orlando hotel was connected to the Orange County Convention Center on International Drive. In late 2010, a $450 million renovation of the hotel added a 32-story wing that doubled the number of rooms and an expansion tower that stands as the second tallest building in Orlando (behind the SunTrust tower in Downtown Orlando).

On October, 1 2013, The Peabody Orlando was sold to Hyatt Hotels and renamed Hyatt Regency Orlando.

With the change to Hyatt Regency, the Peabody’s trademarked Capriccio Grill was transformed into Fiorenzo Italian Steakhouse, with a new menu and a new chef de cuisine.

Fiorenzo, which means blossoming or flourishing in Italian, brings together the flavors an authentic Italian restaurant in Orlando and the tradition of a great American steak house. The restaurant is elegantly decorated, with dark black marble table tops and champagne gold touches accenting the dining room, and an open kitchen with a pizza oven operating to full capacity. The black and gold give it an almost Gatsby-esque feel, dapper for a hotel restaurant, a little old fashioned yet modern at the same time.

Looking inside Fiorenze Italian Kitchen
Looking inside, decor, at the Fiorenzo Italian Steakhouse at the Hyatt Regency Orlando

Chef Jimmy Stafford, the new Chef de Cuisine at Fiorenzo, has been a part of Hyatt Hotels Food and Beverage team for the past nine years. A graduate of Hyatt’s Culinary Training Program, Stafford has served as a chef at Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego, Calif., Chef de Cuisine at Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa, and Sous Chef for Andaz Wall Street in New York, N.Y.

Chef Stafford has created Fiorenzo’s brand new menu with his own creative twist, featuring signature dishes such as chocolate papardelle, 20oz prime bone-in rib eye, and bison carpaccio.

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Chef de Cuisine Jimmy Stafford carving out slices of cured Spanish Iberico ham in the Fiorenzo kitchen

The new menu is composed of prime steaks, seafood entrees, creative pizza and pasta dishes, as well as select wines from an extensive wine cellar.

Our waiter, a Mr. Gokhan, is the definition of great service, offering helpful suggestions and checking up on our dining experience throughout the evening, making sure our drinks were full without being too intrusive. He actually had quite a resume as well, having worked as a head waiter on the Royal Caribbean cruiseline.

We started our dinner with the bison carpaccio and the endive and watercress salad.

Carpaccio is the Italian dish consisting of raw meat or fish (such as beef, veal, venison, salmon or tuna), thinly sliced or pounded thin and seasoned with lemon, or vinegar, olive oil, salt and ground pepper. The dish was named carpaccio after Vittore Carpaccio, the Venetian painter known for the characteristic red and white tones of his work.

The Bison Carpaccio here at Fiorenzo, like many of the dishes crafted by Chef Stafford and his team, are no less a work of art – beautifully red, thinly sliced cuts of bison drizzled with tangy, sweet juniper lemon vinaigrette and topped with a dollop of house-made cucumber yogurt, crispy julienned strips of green apple, kohlrabi cabbage, and fresh horseradish. The bison itself is delightfully refreshing and reminded me a lot of tuna, not too gamey but distinctly different from beef. I also enjoyed the crunchy texture of the green apple when eaten together with the tender bison slices.

BISON CARPACCIO

BISON CARPACCIO
Green Apple, Kohlrabi, Fresh Horseradish, Cucumber Yogurt, Juniper Lemon Vinaigrette – $17

My dining partner similarly enjoyed her endive & watercress salad, a refreshingly creative and unique combination of endive, watercress, golden delicious apple slices, watermelon, feta cheese, and candied pistachios all topped with a sweet pistachio dressing. The salad was at once sweet and tart with the combination of apple and watermelon fruit, and also savory with the nutty pistachios. I would definitely call this one of the best salad dishes here in Orlando today and enjoyed it even more than the bison carpaccio.

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Golden Delicious Apple, Watermelon, Feta Cheese, Candied Pistachios and Pistachio Dressing – $14

Fiorenzo also has a nice selection of cheese and cured meat plates. The cheeses range from Smoked Scamorza, to Gorgonzola Picante, Truffled Pecorino, and Burrata alla Panna while the cured meats include Finocchiona, Bresaola, Wild Boar Salami, and Jamon Iberico.

IMG_1881 CHEESE & CURED MEATS – Served with Condiments & Crostini
Cheese: Smoked Scamorza, Gorgonzola Picante, Truffled Pecorino, Burrata alla Panna
Cured Meats: Finocchiona, Bresaola, Wild Boar Salami, Jamon Iberico

One of the strongest points at Fiorenzo is their list of house made specialty pasta dishes unlike any others found in Orlando. Take the Vesuvio pasta dish, a fabulous dish made with vesuvio pasta served with a Butternut Squash sauce base and topped with fresh sauteed spinach, sweet pear, shaved ricotta salata cheese, and roasted pine nuts. These curvy, spirally, squiggly pasta are shaped to resemble Mount Vesuvius, the famed Italian volcanic mountain, and its sea-shell like shape helps scoop in the delicious butternut squash sauce. The dish really makes Fiorenzo an exciting stand out among all the other Italian restaurants out there.

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VESUVIO PASTA – Butternut Squash, Spinach, Fresh Pear, Ricotta Salata, Roasted Pine Nuts – $12/$22

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RISOTTO OF THE DAY – Local Corn Risotto

My dining partner thoroughly enjoyed her grilled branzino, a European seabass fish, served with roasted cauliflower, parsnip puree, and cured orange salmoriglio, while I chose the more traditional, but no less impressive, 20 ounce prime bone in ribeye steak, grilled to perfection to a requested medium rare.

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GRILLED BRANZINO 
Roasted Cauliflower, Mache, Parsnip Purée, Cured Orange Salmoriglio – $36

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20oz PRIME BONE IN RIB EYE – $57

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We did not get a chance to try the pizzas at Fiorenzo, but the selection looked great and from where we were sitting, we could see the chefs preparing the pizza orders for other patrons at the restaurant that evening, hot and fresh out of the oven.

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PIZZA SELECTIONS 
PEPPERONI – Mozzarella Cheese, Pepperoni, Parmesan Cheese – $15
MARGHERITA – San Marzano Tomatoes, Fresh Mozzarella, Basil, Sea Salt, Olive Oil – $15
FUNGI – Mixed Mushrooms, Arugula Pesto, Truffled Pecorino Cheese – $17
BLANCO – Roasted Garlic, Grilled Zucchini, Smoked Scamorza, Calabrian Chili – $15
SALSICCE – Lamb Sausage, Bitter Greens, Cured Olives, Ricotta, Mint

Chocolate Molten lava cake dessert at Fiorenzo
Chocolate Molten lava cake dessert at Fiorenzo
Mango fruit sorbet with blackberries
Mango fruit sorbet with blackberries

Fiorenzo Italian Steakhouse’s private room accommodates 50-100 people and the main dining room accommodates up to 200. Each month, Fiorenzo also hosts a wine dinner with a four-course menu. My dining partner and I were so impressed that we can not wait to return, especially with a group of our friends for a special occasion.

Patrons of Fiorenzo Italian Steakhouse enjoy complimentary valet parking (valid for visits 4 hours and less). Serving dinner daily from 6p – 10p. To make a reservation call 407-345-4570 or click here.

Fiorenzo Italian Steakhouse at Hyatt Regency Orlando
9801 International Drive,
Orlando, Florida, USA, 32819

Fiorenzo Italian Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

Do you ever crave pasta? I’m talking about a giant bowl of pasta that could feed at least five people. Well, I recently had one of those days and decided to head to Italio in Winter Park. I’ve been to Italio twice in the past but never really paid attention to the food. The past few times were more  “Get food in my stomach and head to wherever in a hurry” instances. However, I never left fully satisfied and wanted to know why.

If you’ve never been to Italio, it’s a visual sensation, showcasing bold red tones and Italian embellishments. The concept is fast casual like Chipotle, but feels slightly nicer. At Italio, you are able to choose a piada (wrap), noodles, or salad bowl. There are three main sauces, and an overwhelming amount of toppings.

If you’re not a control freak, there are prefixed “Chef Selections” to choose from.

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Chef’s Menu 

I ended up making my own pasta bowl, because that’s the true meaning of happiness. The Italio employee asked me to pick between two types of noodles: whole wheat or regular. I obviously opted for the regular. Next, I was asked to pick something from the grill. My options were steak, chicken, chicken fritte (breaded), shrimp, italian sausage, meatball, and veggie. As someone who doesn’t like complicated options, I chose the chicken. Selecting the sauce was a challenge since I had to try all three of them. Here’s what I thought:

1) Basil Pomodoro: Tastes like Tostidos Salsa. Bland and boring.

2) Artisan Alfredo: Creamy but lacks flavor. The claimed “garlic” does not exist in flavor.

3) Spicy Prima Rosa: This sauce is neither spicy or creamy, so it completely failed the taste test.
I ended up going with the Artisan Alfredo since it stood out from the rest.

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For the toppings, I ended up selecting mushroom, roasted red peppers, chickpeas, roasted garlic, and mozzarella.

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Here’s the honest truth, and this is from eating here a total of three times:

– The food is NEVER hot; it’s always an awkward lukewarm. It would be great if my pasta was steaming!

-The Alfredo sauce is devastatingly boring. I tried using the roasted garlic and mozzarella to give it more flavor but it didn’t work. The sauce reminded me of my first time trying to make Alfredo when I was seven. 

– The assortment of toppings is amazing. I’m going to try a salad next time. Maybe it’ll be dynamic.

– The bowl is huge, so you will get full but you won’t walk out extremely impressed. However, the concept is fast casual and not a fine Italian restaurant. Don’t set your expectations high. 

– The staff makes me sad. When I asked to try the sauces, they acted like it was a huge burden.

 

On the bright side, Italio has one treasure I’ll keep coming back for.

CANNOLI. CHIPS. WOW. WOW. WOW. 

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I’m not a cannoli person by any means. but their take on filled cannolis is really amazing. They are in the form of chips and are served with a creamy cannoli dip. The combination is mind blowing. However, the dip was slightly powder sugary on my  latest visit. Maybe it’s hit or miss? Either way, try the cannoli chips if anything!

Italio – Winter Park
276 S Orlando Ave, Winter Park, FL 32789
(407) 960-1860
www.italiokitchen.com

Olive Garden consists of 800 restaurants inspired by the foods and wines of Italy. They’re known for their warmth and caring family of hosts, waiters and waitresses. On April 9th, I was able to experience their warmth and was treated as family when I paid a visit after hearing rumors of a new menu for 2014.

Although the people of Olive Garden were great, I can’t say the same about all of the new food menu – some were hits, and some were real misses. The lighting was also very dim, which provided a nice relaxing atmosphere to enjoy after a long day of work. However, I have a feeling that the dim lighting was also to conceal how the food was not presentable and didn’t make me say: “YES! I’m excited to try this!”

THE BEST

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The dinner menu features a number of things and started out well with the greatly known breadsticks that were moist, warm and full of flavor!

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Polenta Shrimp alla Greca was nicely presented with a refreshing taste. The shrimp were made just right, but make sure you take the tail off before consuming.

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The Spicy Calabrian Wings were my favorite dish of the evening! It was zesty and just to my liking! I could eat this all day. Note: if you are sensitive to hot and spicy food, you may want to take your time and test one before ordering a large number.

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The Crispy Risotto Bites consisted of a dense and creamy risotto with bits of mozzarella fried to have a crunchy outer shell to provide a nice contrast to the texture.

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As you enjoy your appetizers, you can get your hands on a Peach Bellini frozen cocktail consisting of a blend of Zonin Prosecco and fresh peaches. This cocktail is nice to have on a hot day and is one of my favorites.

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If you’re not in the mood for a frozen cocktail, maybe you can try a Strawberry-Limoncello Martini. This martini consists of Smirnoff Citrus Vodka, Caravella Limoncello and strawberries. This drink has a strong alcohol taste, but it is minimized a tad with the help of fresh strawberries.

THE REST

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The Antipasti Italian Meats and Cheese had a mixture of vegetables, meats and cheese that is usually served in Italy. From a healthy standpoint, you may pass on this, as the vegetables present won’t provide much nutrition and the deli meat toppers will probably raise your sodium levels and cholesterol. The dish came as seen in the photo and seem as though it was put together in a hurry and cut right out of their individual packaging.

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The Roasted Tomato Caprese is a lighter salad. I like this better than the Antipasti Italian Meats and Cheese. The kale is crunchy, the salad is colorful and the mozzarella bites are a delight. Each vegetable provided a different texture and different taste to your palate. The roasted tomatoes were scarce and those that were found were bitter. The dressing they used for this salad was the same for the other salad; both had Italian dressing.

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Smashed Chicken Meatball Sandwich

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The Smashed Chicken Meatball Sandwich is nicely presented with a side of fries with a garlic seasoning sprinkled on top. The sandwich had fluffy buns that were rich in flavor. The chicken patty itself did not have a texture you’d imagine chicken to have as though it was over-processed and synthetic. The fries were limp and cold to eat.

The “Cucina Mia” section will allow you to create your own entrée out of six different pastas and five different sauces. Although they say the sauces are “made-from-scratch”, they tasted like any other sauce you can buy in your local grocery store at any brand.

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The Large Paccheri with Creamy Sun-Dried Tomato and Chicken Meatballs was bland, had only a hint of sauce and had what it said in the name: a single, small “sun-dried tomato”.

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When taken apart, the meatball doesn’t look appealing; its taste wasn’t pleasant either and reminded me of the texture of cat food. The large paccheri were rolled up tight or suctioned together to one another. The “creamy” sauce noted on the menu description didn’t exist. It was more of a drop of sauce given that didn’t even provide emollient between the paccheri.

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All I have to say about the Vegetable Penne Primavera is that it is very bland, maybe more than Chef Boyardee from the can.

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The Chicken Abruzzi was nicely presented and can be greatly paired with a Pinot Grigio or any white wine. I like the Pinot Grigio because of how smooth it is and is easy on the taste.

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The Pappardelle Pescatore consisted of fresh seafood and asparagus. Yet, that doesn’t make up for how watery and flavorless the sauce and pappardelle was.

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The Chicken Primavera with Giant Fusilli was overpowered by a heavy hand of basil. Other than that, it did not have much flavor. Although the lightness demonstrates “Leggeri,” which means “lighter Italian fare,” the moist chicken tasted very gelatinous.

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The Wild Berry Layer Cake was very refreshing and moist. I believe the actual cake was soaked into sweet milk and reminded me of the Tres Leches cake that can be traced back to Central America and Mexico. If you have a major sweet tooth, you can try this cake!

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The Caffè Mocha Latte (above) and Caramel Hazelnut Macchiato (not shown) were very watery and did not have very much coffee inside.

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To have any hint of coffee/espresso/caffeine, Lavazza Espresso was added. Each specialty coffee was paired with sweet biscotti that I like with or without the coffee.

All in all, the new menu is a great effort from the Olive Garden, however it falls far short of its goal. The best dish to get would be the spicy calabrian wings.

Olive Garden on Urbanspoon

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Although most readers may be familiar with A Land Remembered, one of my favorite places for steak in town – nearby Cala Bella – also located at Rosen Shingle Creek – is not on most people’s radars even though it is one of the few AAA Four Diamond rated restaurants in town.

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Cala Bella is Rosen Shingle Creek’s upscale Italian restaurant features inspired Italian classics with a Mediterranean and American twist, accompanied by an extensive wine list.

The inspiration of the name Cala Bella, or “Beautiful Creek” in English, comes from owner Mr. Harris Rosen’s celebration of Florida’s history and the unique history of Shingle Creek itself.

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Visitors can sit in the main dining room and enjoy the sunset over the golf course outside or view the open kitchen and watch the chefs prepare dishes over open flames.

The Cala Bella sampler platter is a good start, a hearty platter filled with house made meatballs, calamari fritte, bruschetta Cala Bella, and antipasto.

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My dining partner, a seafood lover, ordered the Cala Bella seafood pescatore – a must try, slightly spicy, very flavorful and earthy saffron tomato broth serves as the base for this dish in which Australian lobster tail, Little Neck clams, mussels, shrimp, and scallops are braised.

Cala Bella seafood pescatore
Cala Bella seafood pescatore

I ordered the hefty, succulent rack of marinated herb roasted Cala Bella New Zealand lamb chops with pickled garlic, shallots, and rosemary minted marsala, accompanied with a side of the daily risotto. Fantastic.

 Cala Bella New Zealand lamb chops
Cala Bella New Zealand lamb chops

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Prices are geared more towards the expense account carriers out there, but locals can have a good bargain by going on Restaurant.com and getting a discounted gift certificate to Cala Bella to make it more budget friendly.

Cala Bella Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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Siro Italian Urban Orlando

On Saturday January 26, 2013, Orlando World Center Marriott opened their newest restaurant, Siro: Urban Italian Kitchen, which takes the place of their previous Italian restaurant Ristorante Tuscany. I recently re-visited the restaurant through a contest that I won via twitter and was delighted that my first impressions were still correct this second time around.

From artisan cured meats and cheeses, small plates (“Assadare” (shearable) style) and fresh market vegetables, dishes served on oversized wooden planks, thin-crust pizzas and house-made pastas to various meats and fish selections, Siro has made a strong emphasis on quality sourced food.

This is immediately evident in the quality and the freshness of the vegetables and ingredients used in the dishes we tried this evening – everything was like it was picked today straight off a farm from the corn to the arugula in the salads.

The meal, overall, was fantastic. Photos follow —

 

 

Siro Italian Urban Orlando
Brudo’s Famous Veal Meatballs in Pomodoro tomato sauce

Siro Italian Urban Orlando
Tuna two ways – Ahi Tuna Crudo

Siro Italian Urban Orlando
Octopus Salad with Garbanzo Beans – perfectly sliced and prepared

Siro Italian Urban Orlando
Siro’s Seasonal fresh salad

Siro Italian Urban Orlando
Bone Marrow with toasted bread – nutritious, tasty and soft, reminiscent of the texture of egg and oysters

Siro Italian Urban Orlando

Local Catch of the Day – Corvina in lemon caper sauce

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Ricotta Gnudi – Braised Local Chicken Ragu

Siro Italian Urban Orlando

Beef tenderloin roast of the day with potato fries

Siro Italian Urban Orlando

This young gentlemen chef came from New Orleans and brought a very unique technique from his experience there in preparing the potato fries that give it a very special airy puff – the potatoes are cut very thin and then blanched and quickly fried, allowing for a crunchy, airy potato fry.

Siro Italian Urban Orlando

Dessert spread – Zeppoles, Italian cookies, cannoli, gelato, tiramisu

Tiramisu
Tiramisu

Siro Italian Urban Orlando

The view of the grotto pool at the Marriott Orlando World Center – beautiful!

 Big thank you to the folks at the Orlando World Center Marriott for the wonderful stay and the fantastic chefs at Siro for a lovely meal.

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Free Food Day – Grand opening of Italio’s Winter Park location on Wednesday March 6th –

Enjoy a free entree and sample one of Italio’s fast, fresh Italian piadinas, pasta bowls, or salads. Offer good on March 6, 2013. Only one entrée per person. Valid only at the following location: 276 South Orlando Ave., Winter Park, FL 32789. Must be present.

Beware of long lines…

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I was recently invited to a special preview of Italio and had a chance to taste and experience some of the restaurant’s concepts. The concept, for those who are familiar with Chipotle, is fast-casual. Order up at the front counter where the staff prepare the dish items to your “customization”. It’s a great concept for those of us who are in a hurry but don’t want the typical “fast food” experience….and it’s executed fairly well here at Italio. I can foresee a great future for the chain, with already one opened in Boca and another scheduled to open in Ft. Lauderdale this summer. The Italio on US 17-92 just north of Fairbanks Avenue in Winter Park is the first in Central Florida.

When first walking into Italio, I noticed how immaculately clean and sharp everything looked, from the exterior design to the interior’s marble-like tables and fanciful lighting. Definitely a well designed restaurant, with key red color accents known to psychologically trigger guests hungry.

At the counter, you can order a piadina (a type of Italian wrap) or bowl (in pasta or salad form). Then, you can add your traditional or whole wheat pasta, add your protein choice (steak, chicken, fried chicken, shrimp, sausage, or veggie), sauce, and toppings. The sauces are basil pomodoro, alfredo, or spicy prima rosa (a mix of pomodoro and alfredo). Toppings range from black olives to arugula, pancetta and parmesan cheeses.

You can also order calamari misto ( a favorite), italio sticks ( made with piadina wraps) with your choice of cheese, pepperoni, or spinach & artichoke.. Desserts come as cannoli chips or tiramisu cake.

Overall, my impressions were positive. For a fast casual place, the food was rather fresh and surprisingly didn’t leave me feeling too heavy/guilty after wards. I particularly enjoyed the piadina wrap, a wrap that reminded me of the textures of roti or scallion pancakes, thin and chewy and buttery. A brief look at its history shows us that the piadina has been around for a while — since 1371 to be exact. It was typically prepared in the northern region of Italy called Romagn and was an “ancient” form of flatbread

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Italio on Urbanspoon

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On Saturday January 26, 2013, Orlando World Center Marriott opened their newest restaurant, Siro: Urban Italian Kitchen, which takes the place of their previous Italian restaurant Ristorante Tuscany. I was recently invited by the team at Siro’s to sample some of their dishes during a media event. The space has undergone major renovations, now highlighting a more warm, wooded and industrial atmosphere…which reminded me of a particular favorite restaurant of mine in Winter Park.

I was delighted to find that the new philosophy for the restaurant was an emphasis on seasonal, local ingredients. More and more restaurants are turning toward local and seasonal and I wholeheartedly support this movement, particularly because the food tastes so much better when it isn’t being shipped from halfway across the world.

The list of local farms and ingredients include:

Lake Meadow Farms – eggs and honey
Harvest Moon – produce
Seely’s Ark – chicken thighs
Dansk Farms – honey
Waterkist Farms – heirloom tomatoes
Cedar Creek farms –little neck clams
Infusion Tea- hot tea
Oyster Island mushroom company- asst. mushrooms
Monroe Ashby- pig
Coffee Roasters’ Alliance -coffee
Two Doves Organic Farm- lettuce, Swiss chard, kale.
Cigar City Brewing – craft beer

They will start using Palm Ridge whiskey in the next few weeks as well.

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Aged Italia – Breckenridge bourbon, blood orange aged balsamic, blackberry syrup

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Beer flights featuring craft beer and imports

From artisan cured meats and cheeses, small plates and fresh market vegetables, dishes served on oversized wooden planks, thin-crust pizzas and house-made pastas to various meats and fish selections, Siro has made a strong emphasis on quality sourced food.  Some of my favorites included the  Green, eggs & ham pizza with arugula, prosciutto, sunny side egg, the housemade burger, Chef Burdo’s veal meatballs, and the zeppole donuts for dessert.

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Executive Chef Burdo at the helm of Siro: Urban Italian Kitchen

These signature dishes enhance the restaurant’s extensive drink menu, as bartenders and mixologists prepare handcrafted Italian classics from the Negroni and Aperol Spritz to the “The Artisan,” Lemoncello Martini – complete with fresh squeezed juices and fragrant herbs.

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Chef Burdo’s Famous Veal meatballs in a pomodoro tomato sauce

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Siro’s Charcuterie boards of cheeses, olives, and cured meats

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Eggplant Caponata served with whipped ricotta cheese on bakehouse bread

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Arborio fritters, made with rice robiola, black garlic, and a spicy arrabiata sauce

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Margherita Pizza

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Bucatini pasta with the red lead, a traditional sunday gravy

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The BuRGeR – oWC bakehouse bun, house pickles

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Preparing the whole Grilled Grouper, served with braised fennel, peperonato

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Braised pork shank on top of white beans

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Aged Italia
Breckenridge bourbon, blood
orange aged balsamic,
blackberry syrup

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Desserts, like this panna cotta – milk chocolate, berries, are led by award winning pastry chef Ramon Perez

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Chocolate Cake

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Siro accommodates 199 guests – 143 in the main dining room and 56 on the patio – for everyday dining and special events. The early-evening menu, from 4 – 6 pm, features Antipasti, small plates, pizza and blackboard specials, in addition to a full bar. Dinner, from 6 – 11 pm, features a full menu.

For additional information on Siro, call Orlando World Center Marriott at 407-239-4200 or visit www.marriottworldcenter.com and www.siroorlando.com.

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Anna of the Zimmerman Agency with Mark Baratelli of TheDailyCity.com and Rachelle Lucas of Visit Florida Dining and TheTravelBite.com

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The wonderful staff and chefs of Siro: Urban Italian Kitchen at Orlando World Center Marriott

Siro: Urban Italian Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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Founded by the creative team from Luma on Park, Executive Chef Brandon McGlamery and featuring Chef de cuisine Matt Cargo, has brought to life Prato, the new Park Avenue hotspot with a menu that brings out the flavors of Italy with a local flair. The menu here, changing seasonally, celebrates cuisine from Italy’s rich culinary landscape, blending Italian classics with modern techniques and seasonal ingredients.

Prato winter park restaurant

The ambiance is one of a rustic farmhouse blended with a modern, communal lounge feel, complete with a long u-shaped bar, high ceilings, and large window-paned doors. The waiters here, all attentive and gracious, are dressed in plaid shirts like they just got off the farm – the theme continues. Water is served in half-glass bottles along with complimentary bread. Towards the back of the restaurant is the open kitchen, where patrons  sitting back there can see all the action like an episode of one of those reality cooking shows on Bravo.  The restaurant is all anchored around two imported Acunto wood-burning ovens from Naples, Italy, lightly touching each baked dish with a signature, smoky finish.

Prato Winter Park Wood burning ovens

Imported Acunto wood-burning ovens from Naples, Italy

Fresh, creative salads, pizzas, pastas, and entrees dominate the menu, utilizing locally sourced produce, responsibly farmed meats, and sustainable seafood. Start with the red snapper crudo, a refreshing plate of slices of raw red snapper, drizzled with a pistachio-currant vinaigrette and served with sliced radishes. Squash blossoms stuffed with ricotta, roasted chiles, and almonds or roasted butternut squash salads with burrata mozzarella and field greens are all fantastic when in season.

 

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The widowmaker pizza, consisting of fennel sausage, arugula, toscano, romesco sauce, and a local farm egg, over easy, baked in the center. The golden yolk is just perfect for dipping and sharing – which is what I did on several recent visits to Prato with friends. The signature Prato meatballs, available only at dinner (they are served as a sandwich item at lunch), are made and ground in house with veal, pork, beef and a host of other wonderful ingredients and served in a roasted tomato sauce with cippolini onions agrodolce – perfecto.

The pastas, also hand made in house are delightful: ranging from the duck ragu bolognese rigatoni to the laughing bird shrimp ravioli, one of my favorites here. Entree items also include popular dishes like the chicken leg candito served with apricot mostarda and marble potato and the short rib “brasato”, served with soffritto on garlic crostini and topped with a poached farm egg.

Save room for dessert: the chocolate sea salt hazelnut budino pudding and the luscious tiramisu in a jar are surely worth the few extra calories. An extensive bar menu is also available with wines from Spain and Italy, craft beers from Cigar City Brewing, and delicious cocktails like the amalfi sunset, made with limoncello, house grenadine, fresh orange juice and cherries.

Prices are very reasonable for the quality of food that you get, there are even half-order options for those who who desire smaller carb loads.

Prato has a lot of heart and you can feel it vibrating through those wood ovens, the waiters, pizzas, and pastas, in all the ingredients. It’s one of the reasons why I can see myself going back there again and again. It’s probably why a lot of the people who crowd Prato in the weekend evenings do so, too. Make sure to have a reservation if you go.

 

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snapper crudo

 Red Snapper Crudo, a refreshing plate of slices of raw red snapper, drizzled with a pistachio-currant vinaigrette and served with sliced radishes

 

butternut squash salad

 Roasted butternut squash salad with burrata mozzarella and field greens

 

duck bolognese bigoli pasta prato

 Duck bolognese bigoli pasta

 

widow maker pizza prato egg

Widowmaker pizza – fennel sausage, arugula, toscano, romesco sauce, and a local farm egg, over easy, baked in the center.

 

braised short rib prato egg

Short rib “brasato”, served with soffritto on garlic crostini and topped with a poached farm egg.

 

laughing bird shrimp ravioli

 Laughing bird shrimp ravioli

 

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tiramisu in a jar

House made Tiramisu in a jar

Prato on Urbanspoon

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La Luce, Italian for the Light

Beautifully haunting scenes created with chalk hang inside the restaurant at La Luce inside the Hilton Orlando at Bonnet Creek. A fountain, a street scene, all images that will be swept away in a few months. The changing art of Edson Campos and Kathleen Brodeur capture the seasonality of the ever changing cuisine at La Luce, transforming every couple of months to something new and strikingly beautiful.

La Luce

Art made from chalk at La Luce

Hilton Bonnet creek

We don’t often get the chance to go out to the hotel restaurants in our area to try their culinary offerings. Usually, it’s either due to budget constraints (where the corporate account card comes in handy for hotel visitors) or because they are often located far away in never, never land (where the tourists go). However, often times, because of the high traffic volume and the constancy of the crowds and their appetites, some of the best food in Orlando, arguably, can be found in these hotels. La Luce by Donna Scala inside the new Hilton at Bonnet Creek is one of them.

The story of how Bonnet Creek’s Wyndham, Waldorf Astoria, and Hilton hotels came to be is actually quite interesting. The pocket of land known as Bonnet Creek, though located well inside the Disney World complex, is actually not a part of Disney World. It’s kind of a rebel outpost, if you will. The owners of the land, so the story goes, never answered when Walt came by years ago to buy up the land. The land was never sold, until recently, when hotel developers came and made them an offer. I would imagine it was a considerable sum, an offer that they could not refuse. And so if you are driving to find the Bonnet Creek hotels, you will find nary a sign indicating how to find it inside Disney.

Back to La Luce.

La Luce’s Chef Donna Scala (of Napa Valley’s Bistro Don Giovanni), has earned a reputation throughout the culinary community as a food purist, with dishes that are prepared with the freshest local ingredients. An extremely passionate and very lively chef in person, Chef Donna recently visited Orlando to talk about her new seasonal items and answered questions.

Her favorite thing to cook? Pastas, she loves to make salads and pizzas but pasta is her favorite.

“People don’t take it (pasta) as seriously as they do in Italy, it is the heart of everything you do,” Donna said.

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The menu at La Luce melds together Italian traditions and Napa Valley’s unique approach to fresh cuisine. Thin pizzas, lasagnas, fresh Italian cuisine prepared “the way it was meant to be: hearty, yet not overwhelming”.

While Chef Donna Scala is away in Napa Valley, Chef Alexander Rodrigues is Executive Chef for La Luce and Chef Ed Gee is Executive Pastry Chef. One of the chefs at La Luce, Chef Alberto Navarette has spent 19 years working alongside Donna Scala, developing his signature pasta dishes with a love for Italian ingredients. He started as a dishwasher and moved to every station until he came to where he is today.

Samplings of the menu at La Luce follow:

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Spaghetti with clams, cherry tomatoes, saffron, calabria peppers

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Cabernet sauvignon from Scala

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Roasted Chicken and Pork on top of Pan-fried Faro
The chicken skin is cooked in duck fat, giving it a lovely, crispy duck flavor. The faro, an ancient Tuscan grain similar to barley, and a favorite of Donna’s, is toasted in the oven.

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Affogato – espresso with ice cream, roasted hazelnuts, and cocoa powder

A creation of Francis Metais, Food and Beverage Director at Hilton Bonnet Creek, a Pastry Chef by training, this was my first time ever having this wonderful European style dessert made with pouring some espresso on top of the ice cream and roasted hazelnuts. Wonderful.

What I liked the most about the food at La Luce was how “light” everything felt, like the dishes at Seasons 52, where the fresh ingredients and cooking methods cause the dishes to taste so much more healthier without compromising the great, hearty flavor found in Italian cuisine. This often contrasts with a lot of the dishes out there today and what I think is so unique about La Luce. I can see why they recently won Best Hotel Restaurant in the Orlando Sentinel Foodies Awards 2011 and the great team for the Hilton Bonnet Creek’s Food and Beverage recently received top scores in excellence. Keep on shining!

La Luce By Donna Scala on Urbanspoon

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