Steakhouse in Orlando

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    You know a restaurant must be doing at least one thing right when it lays claim to being the oldest family-owned steakhouse in Orlando. That one thing would be steaks, and you'll definitely find beef on the menu -- if not a lot of other attractions -- at Linda's La Cantina Steakhouse, which dates back to 1947. It's been in the same location for more than half a century at 4721 E. Colonial Drive.

    In the old days it was called Al and Linda's La Cantina. But it's Linda Seng who runs the place after all these years (she prefers not to discuss the particulars behind the name and ownership transition), and her family joins her in running the restaurant.

    In the old days it was called Al and Linda's La Cantina. But it's Linda Seng who runs the place after all these years (she prefers not to discuss the particulars behind the name and ownership transition), and her family joins her in running the restaurant.

    A casual observer would never guess the restaurant's history: It looks virtually new. That's because the old La Cantina burned to the ground three days after Christmas 1994 and rebuilt by the following summer. The spiffy updated digs include a bilevel dining area and a gleaming new bar that is built around a distinctive "water-fire" fountain -- a pool of water that has an undulating flame as its centerpiece. The whole effect is that of a typical, dimly lit family steakhouse, but more upscale.

    A casual observer would never guess the restaurant's history: It looks virtually new. That's because the old La Cantina burned to the ground three days after Christmas 1994 and rebuilt by the following summer. The spiffy updated digs include a bilevel dining area and a gleaming new bar that is built around a distinctive "water-fire" fountain -- a pool of water that has an undulating flame as its centerpiece. The whole effect is that of a typical, dimly lit family steakhouse, but more upscale.

    We weren't expecting a revolutionary dining experience, so we weren't disappointed. We enjoyed expertly prepared steaks, with the exception of one appetizer -- the too-chewy "bourbon bites" ($5.95) tinged with whiskey and brown sugar. The shrimp cocktail ($6.25) featured a half dozen Gulf shrimp that were simply presented on a bed of greens with chilled, tangy marinara sauce. But for an opener, we preferred the toasty, warm baguette that came with the bread basket.

    We weren't expecting a revolutionary dining experience, so we weren't disappointed. We enjoyed expertly prepared steaks, with the exception of one appetizer -- the too-chewy "bourbon bites" ($5.95) tinged with whiskey and brown sugar. The shrimp cocktail ($6.25) featured a half dozen Gulf shrimp that were simply presented on a bed of greens with chilled, tangy marinara sauce. But for an opener, we preferred the toasty, warm baguette that came with the bread basket.

    My guest's huge "surf and turf" dinner ($28.95) was fantastic and flawless. A 14-ounce snapper fillet was blanketed in Cajun spices (chosen by Seng after excursions to New Orleans). There also was an 8-ounce filet mignon that was sizzled outside and deep-red inside with a silky texture throughout. Juicy, succulent and tender, with hints of smokiness, the mammoth T-bone steaks ($23.45) cover the better part of an oversized dinner plate.

    My guest's huge "surf and turf" dinner ($28.95) was fantastic and flawless. A 14-ounce snapper fillet was blanketed in Cajun spices (chosen by Seng after excursions to New Orleans). There also was an 8-ounce filet mignon that was sizzled outside and deep-red inside with a silky texture throughout. Juicy, succulent and tender, with hints of smokiness, the mammoth T-bone steaks ($23.45) cover the better part of an oversized dinner plate.

    Among the side items, skip the spaghetti; it's lackluster next to such a fabulous cut of meat. Dinners like this call for jumbo baked potatoes smothered with all the trimmings and a simple house salad ladled with freshly made Roquefort "blue cheese" dressing.

    Among the side items, skip the spaghetti; it's lackluster next to such a fabulous cut of meat. Dinners like this call for jumbo baked potatoes smothered with all the trimmings and a simple house salad ladled with freshly made Roquefort "blue cheese" dressing.

    Despite the high-end prices, you won't find any waiters putting on airs here. Service is strictly casual. Linda's La Cantina Steakhouse is just the place to thoroughly relax over a fine steak dinner.

    We didn't make the connection at first, but anytime you visit Heathrow, the community where frozen-pizza baron Jeno Paulucci has played such a pivotal role for more than a decade, you can assume he's somehow involved. Luigino's Pasta and Steak House is indeed Paulucci's brain child, taking its title from his formal name. (Jeno's Pasta and Steak House definitely would not suit this upscale restaurant.)

    Even though it's set in a shopping plaza and mini-office park, Luigino's initially strikes you with the look and tone of a country club. Enter through the polished glass doors into the mahogany-accented foyer to be led to table in the dining room, which is dominated by expansive waterfront views of palatial homes and golf-course links. Add to that the Continental menu with entrees that top out at $29.95, and this restaurant would seemingly qualify as a selection for special occasions.

    Even though it's set in a shopping plaza and mini-office park, Luigino's initially strikes you with the look and tone of a country club. Enter through the polished glass doors into the mahogany-accented foyer to be led to table in the dining room, which is dominated by expansive waterfront views of palatial homes and golf-course links. Add to that the Continental menu with entrees that top out at $29.95, and this restaurant would seemingly qualify as a selection for special occasions.

    But we quickly got over the imposing setting and relaxed when we found the mood to be lively and casual, with diners dressed in khakis and oxfords. And the couple at the next table felt comfortable enough to engage us in a friendly conversation about what another table had ordered.

    But we quickly got over the imposing setting and relaxed when we found the mood to be lively and casual, with diners dressed in khakis and oxfords. And the couple at the next table felt comfortable enough to engage us in a friendly conversation about what another table had ordered.

    The menu is up to par, as we discovered, beginning with our appetizers. My guest's "antipasto misto" ($8.95) was a delicious presentation of a platter of the best cuts of tender, salty prosciutto, salami slices, ham and mozzarella. A luscious, marinated artichoke was carved open to reveal a firm, meaty center. We also enjoyed "calamari fritti," priced rather low at $5.95. The calamari rings were curiously narrow and slender, but the fried batter was light-tasting with a hint of "pomodoro" sauce.

    The menu is up to par, as we discovered, beginning with our appetizers. My guest's "antipasto misto" ($8.95) was a delicious presentation of a platter of the best cuts of tender, salty prosciutto, salami slices, ham and mozzarella. A luscious, marinated artichoke was carved open to reveal a firm, meaty center. We also enjoyed "calamari fritti," priced rather low at $5.95. The calamari rings were curiously narrow and slender, but the fried batter was light-tasting with a hint of "pomodoro" sauce.

    There is a substantial pasta menu that includes primavera versions of penne dishes and a delicious lobster ravioli ($18.95) that's seasoned with saffron and topped with a pink sauce of shiitake mushrooms. But my guest raved about the frutti di mare ($23.95), which included a sautéed jumble of lobster, shrimp, clams, scallops, mussels and calamari. These were served over a bed of linguine with a surprisingly delicate marinara sauce. We also enjoyed "filet Guiseppe" ($24.95), a dish reminiscent of beef Wellington. The filet mignon was stuffed with prosciutto and cheeses that were a bit too salty, but it was baked in a towering puff pastry and served with bordelaise and béarnaise sauce.

    There is a substantial pasta menu that includes primavera versions of penne dishes and a delicious lobster ravioli ($18.95) that's seasoned with saffron and topped with a pink sauce of shiitake mushrooms. But my guest raved about the frutti di mare ($23.95), which included a sautéed jumble of lobster, shrimp, clams, scallops, mussels and calamari. These were served over a bed of linguine with a surprisingly delicate marinara sauce. We also enjoyed "filet Guiseppe" ($24.95), a dish reminiscent of beef Wellington. The filet mignon was stuffed with prosciutto and cheeses that were a bit too salty, but it was baked in a towering puff pastry and served with bordelaise and béarnaise sauce.

    The wait staff was watchful throughout the meal; water goblets and coffee cups stayed full, and leftovers were discreetly boxed up and presented with the check. Luigino's Pasta and Steak House may not break new culinary ground, but on the north side of town, it stands out for its consistently delicious menu and picturesque setting.

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