Thursday, March 26, 1998

Seasoned Italian

Posted on Thu, Mar 26, 1998 at 4:00 AM

From the outside, Cafe Trastevere seems a little too perfect. It's almost as if a grand, old Italian villa fell out of the sky and landed on Magnolia Avenue, across the street from the First Union office tower.

Yet when we stepped inside this new "Roman Italian kitchen" – the sister establishment of Trastevere Ristorante in Winter Park – on a recent Saturday evening, we found a very casual atmosphere and a smart, postmodern interior.

Seated at one of the last available tables downstairs, we found ourselves nearly elbow-to-elbow with our neighbors. To the left, a group of 40-somethings discussed Winter Park real-estate rumors. To the right, a table of Generation Xers held forth on the latest crop of super-models. The music included old jazz ballads, along the lines of Billie Holiday. Then someone in the kitchen turned on the radio, and we were listening to "Car Wash."

Most items on the dinner menu can be had for $10 to $16. The selection includes some of the finest pasta dishes and classic Italian entrees you'll find in town – chockablock with fresh seasonings and flavors and absolutely delicious. The proof is in the flock of cars usually crowded around the building.

We started with eggplant capponata ($4.95), a dish of chopped eggplant sautéed with onions, garlic, plum tomatoes and capers. It was served with a soup spoon and toast points, which we used to build bruschettas – very saucy, warm and tasty. The traditional paste e fagioli soup ($2.95) was dominated by cannellini beans, but the tomato broth was warm and thick, and quite good.

Among the entrees, filet porcini is highly recommended. At $19.25, it was worth every penny. The filet mignon was butterfly-cut and grilled, and so tender that it hardly required a knife. It was topped with a dark sauce of cabernet and wild porcini mushrooms just rich enough to enhance the meat.

My guest's pesto capellini ($14.95) featured Gulf shrimp seared in garlic, then tossed with angel-hair pasta in a light pesto sauce. Although the flavors were fresh, the shrimp were medium –not jumbo, as the menu advertised.

Cafe Trastevere also has a more spacious dining area upstairs that affords more privacy. But wherever you choose to be seated, expect a great meal in a classy, stimulating atmosphere, without having to spend a fortune.



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