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Thursday, September 15, 2005


Posted on Thu, Sep 15, 2005 at 4:00 AM

I somehow managed to talk my husband, the Impatient Gourmet, into heading to Mount Dora for lunch on a lazy Sunday afternoon. We slowly made our way north on Orange Blossom Trail until we reached the quaint roads that drag one into the heart of this historical town in Lake County.

Our destination was Café Attuare, an Italian café off Donnelly Street in the heart of downtown Mount Dora. The restaurant is located on the second story of a small tower of stores that looked to have been developed in the mid-'80s. It sits back off the road and stands out against a backdrop of early 20th-century storefronts. We climbed the short flight of stairs and walked in. The view out the windows in the airy room was of treetops, making a lovely hideaway. The décor, while fitting, was a cheap version of tasteful, and the smiley Italian hostess running around in leopard-print leggings and a halter top only added to the charm. We were seated next to a burgundy-draped window, beneath the requisite photograph of some destination in Italy.

I opened the menu and immediately made the assessment that this would not be what I call Italian-Italian fare. It seemed more like upstate New York Italian or something from Jersey that you might find on an episode of The Sopranos. In other words, it's the food I used to eat at my maternal grandparents' house back in the '70s. This was the generation when immigrant Italian food had been perfected as its own cuisine, no longer resembling true Italian cooking but possessing a hint of Sicilian sensibility mixed with a lot of modern American appeal.

We started with a sampler of garlic rolls ($2.50), since the menu proclaimed them "a must." They were, in fact, delicious: garlic-laced oil smothering yeasty knots of freshly cooked dough. The bread here is nothing like true Italian bread, which tends to be rustic, with lots of holes, and chewy. Café Attuare's version is nonetheless unique and tasty – slightly sweet, dense and yeasty. The crust had hardened and darkened with cooking, and it tasted more like Amish friendship bread than something from Little Italy.

I also started with a cup of house-made minestrone ($2.50) that had an abundance of fresh vegetables, including huge chunks of fresh garlic that had been stewed to a caramel-like texture.

Both entrees came with salads and an impressive array of homemade dressings. The Impatient Gourmet ordered a Caesar, and the real anchovy mixed into the creamy dressing impressed him greatly. I chose a fresh-looking house salad with a better-than-average Italian dressing spiked with fresh herbs.

The Impatient Gourmet couldn't resist a stromboli ($7.95) from the pizza portion of the menu. Pepperoni, sausage and fresh veggies were rolled up with provolone and baked in the same bread as the garlic knots.

For my entree, I tried shrimp scampi ($14.95) and this dish of linguine topped with sautéed shrimp was a mixed bag. The shrimp were lightly tender, walking a fine line between raw and tough. The wine, however, must have been poured in a downfall, because the shrimp were overly pungent, accenting the fishy smell. The whole thing was poured over the pasta in a watery mess and the flavor didn't cling well to the starch. I added some cheese and took a few bites before returning to nibbling at the stromboli bread. Impressively, Paulette, the owner in the leopard pants who I had noticed running around with a coral-lipstick-outlined smile, promptly noticed my reaction to the scampi and offered another dish.

I decided to save room for dessert instead. I'm glad, because the homemade selections looked outstanding. Tiramisu ($4.50) with white Russian espresso was tempting, but we chose chocolate decadence cake ($4.50), which was a creamy layer of chocolate enhanced with a little amaretto and Bailey's and poured into a buttery crumb crust.

We were so pleased with our meal that we ordered a piece of homemade lasagna ($9.25) to eat later that night while watching the season premiere of Rome, and it was fabulous.


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