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    Seeing affogato, a scoop of gelato splashed with a shot of espresso (see 'Bites of spring,â?� Feb. 15, 2007) on the menu at Piccolo, a primo gelato joint in the Whole Foods plaza on Turkey Lake Road, gave me cause for excitement. The combination of hazelnut gelato (made on the premises every day) and a perfectly pulled shot of Lavazza espresso had me swooning ' a thick head of crema made the rich, creamy mixture all the more so ($5.95). But, though affogato is a relatively simple pick-me-up to concoct, aesthetics are key to fully enjoying the dessert-slash-beverage, and the uninteresting presentation motivated me to finish it quickly, rather than savoring it.

    Still, the artisanal gelato here shines ' more than 100 recipes with 24 flavors, from panna cotta and strawberry to basil and zabaglione, available daily ($4.75). You'll also find a selection of crepes (sweet, $4.95; savory, $6.99) and paninis on hand; I loved the meaty portobello with sun-dried tomato pesto and grana padano ($6.99). Lunch specials often combine the sweet with the savory for a piccolo price.

    Still, the artisanal gelato here shines ' more than 100 recipes with 24 flavors, from panna cotta and strawberry to basil and zabaglione, available daily ($4.75). You'll also find a selection of crepes (sweet, $4.95; savory, $6.99) and paninis on hand; I loved the meaty portobello with sun-dried tomato pesto and grana padano ($6.99). Lunch specials often combine the sweet with the savory for a piccolo price.

    I owe many of my favorite meals to my husband's penchant for monster movieplexes with stadium seating. For months, our friend, who happens to be Cuban, had been trying to get us down to his part of town to eat at his favorite Latin place, Pio Pio. The problem was, he lives in a southern part of town I generally refer to as the BFE – the Bad Food Extravaganza. Snobbishly and repeatedly, we refused the invitation.

    Then one night, we were leaving the Cinemark Festival Bay Theater – after watching a loud movie in which humans outsmarted aliens, natural disasters abounded and everything else blew up – and, suddenly, I was hungry. And there it was – Pio Pio (which translates into "Chick Chick"), sequestered in a wasteland of deserted shopping malls off a six-lane highway. Later, I realized my friend was right about this place, to which I would return again and again, like a sequel junkie.

    Pio Pio, a Peruvian and Colombian restaurant, opened its first Orlando location in October 2000. After successfully running four restaurants in New York, the Diego family decided to try their luck here and opened close to a dollar theater near Kissimmee (11236 S. Orange Blossom Trail; 407-438-5677). Months later, another family member opened a location on International Drive near Kirkman Road, strategically situated on our driving route home from the movieplex. This past summer, another site popped up on the southeast side (2500 S. Semoran Blvd., 407-207-2262). Let's hope they have a Godfather-sized family, so they can keep them coming.

    The menu choices are the same at all the Pio Pios, and they are limited; but in my experience, this is exactly what makes them so appealing, because everything is good. The "pollo Pio Pio a las brasas" ($8) is some of the most exquisite rotisserie chicken that has ever crossed my lips; consistently tender and moist, its crispy, herbed skin is the treasure. Juan Diego, owner of Pio Pio on I-Drive, claims the secret is a family recipe. But he agreed that the original marinade, a mixture of spices, vegetables and herbs, does make the difference.

    Their beans and rice ($4) are a homemade Colombian-style mainstay. The beans are plump and supple, seasoned with just the right amount of pepper and garlic, in a brackish broth of their own flavorful juices. I've never tasted rice so consistently tender, devoid of the starchy mushiness that so many restaurants try to pass off as rice. Orders of tostones, maduros and yuca ($3 apiece) are best when dipped in the worship-worthy sauces that come with every meal: tangy garlic, and a green-tinged hot sauce made with jalapeños and habañeros.

    Although chicken is the star at Pio Pio, they serve a very decent grilled steak with french fries for a mere $9.50. Also on the menu: pork chops ($9.50), empanadas ($1), posole-style chicken soup ($3) and saffron rice ($3).

    Tucked away behind a curved bar littered with chicken statues, wine bottles and plants is the giant rotisserie. There is a row of wall hangings at eye level on the bright-orange walls – letters from customers and New York Times reviews – that we had to lean into awkwardly in order to read. The atmosphere is comfortable and complete in its family modesty.

    For dessert, the exceptionally tasty flan ($4) and the tres leches ($4), both made in-house, are recommended. A good flan has no air bubbles and is doused in deep-amber caramelized sugar, and Pio Pio's is flawless. My favorite dessert, by far, is tres leches, dense yellow cake soaked in three milks (condensed, evaporated and half-and-half). Please, skip the crème brûlée – you're at a Latin restaurant, after all, and a good one.

    It's a rare movie – never mind the bombs and brains – that isn't worth a try, when there's Pio Pio waiting afterward.

    When you go to a "restaurant and pizzeria," you don't normally expect two distinct environments. But that's exactly what Positano's has: a front room offering a boisterous, family-oriented pizzeria, and a back room featuring elegant, sophisticated Italian dining.

    This dual identity can be confusing. Entering from the front, we found ourselves awash in family meals, televisions, busy pizza makers and ringing takeout phones. We had to make our way to the "middle" of the space to be transported into a more pleasant fine-dining room full of atmosphere.

    This dual identity can be confusing. Entering from the front, we found ourselves awash in family meals, televisions, busy pizza makers and ringing takeout phones. We had to make our way to the "middle" of the space to be transported into a more pleasant fine-dining room full of atmosphere.

    Management makes the "restaurant" half feel cozy with mood lighting, fine background music and an impressive bar and wine list. The excellent service was friendly and helpful without being intrusive, and we were welcomed with a bread basket of cheese-flavored dinner rolls and a light, fresh-baked Italian roll with surprisingly good cracker crust.

    Management makes the "restaurant" half feel cozy with mood lighting, fine background music and an impressive bar and wine list. The excellent service was friendly and helpful without being intrusive, and we were welcomed with a bread basket of cheese-flavored dinner rolls and a light, fresh-baked Italian roll with surprisingly good cracker crust.

    For appetizers, my guest and I went in opposite directions: she had the "Positano bruschetta" ($6.25), which we found fairly average and lifeless. I had the delicious "warm chicken salad" ($8.95), an Asian-style dish featuring excessive amounts of shiitake mushrooms over a bed of mixed greens, sun-dried tomatoes, arugula, balsamic vinegar and nicely grilled chicken. It was a surprising, refreshing and original treat.

    For appetizers, my guest and I went in opposite directions: she had the "Positano bruschetta" ($6.25), which we found fairly average and lifeless. I had the delicious "warm chicken salad" ($8.95), an Asian-style dish featuring excessive amounts of shiitake mushrooms over a bed of mixed greens, sun-dried tomatoes, arugula, balsamic vinegar and nicely grilled chicken. It was a surprising, refreshing and original treat.

    The shared menu offers a wide selection from seafood and chicken to innumerable sorts of pasta. We ordered both a "fine dining" entree as well as a New York-sized slice of white-cheese pizza ($15 per pie, $2.50 per slice) to sample from each side of this unique restaurant.

    The shared menu offers a wide selection from seafood and chicken to innumerable sorts of pasta. We ordered both a "fine dining" entree as well as a New York-sized slice of white-cheese pizza ($15 per pie, $2.50 per slice) to sample from each side of this unique restaurant.

    The pizza was thin-crusted and hand-rolled. "Pasta fagoli" ($3.50, if ordered separately) was served as a precursor to the entree, though it was more of a Tuscan-style white bean soup (with very little pasta) rather than a real pasta fagoli. We sensed a pattern: "ordinary" dishes were prepared rather matter-of-factly, while "specialties" received more care and attention.

    The pizza was thin-crusted and hand-rolled. "Pasta fagoli" ($3.50, if ordered separately) was served as a precursor to the entree, though it was more of a Tuscan-style white bean soup (with very little pasta) rather than a real pasta fagoli. We sensed a pattern: "ordinary" dishes were prepared rather matter-of-factly, while "specialties" received more care and attention.

    This theory was confirmed with the expertly prepared and presented "veal saltimboca"($17.50). The veal was tender and perfectly done, the prosciutto topping was a nice complement, and the sage seasoning and fabulous white-wine sauce combined to make the dish a real delight.

    This theory was confirmed with the expertly prepared and presented "veal saltimboca"($17.50). The veal was tender and perfectly done, the prosciutto topping was a nice complement, and the sage seasoning and fabulous white-wine sauce combined to make the dish a real delight.

    For dessert, we tried both the chocolate Amaretto cheesecake ($5.50) and the unique "berrimisu," ($4.95), a fruity twist on the traditional tiramisu. The cheesecake relied too much on its toppings, but the "berrimisu" was exquisitely light and tasty -- the perfect complement to the natural "heaviness" of Italian cooking.

    For dessert, we tried both the chocolate Amaretto cheesecake ($5.50) and the unique "berrimisu," ($4.95), a fruity twist on the traditional tiramisu. The cheesecake relied too much on its toppings, but the "berrimisu" was exquisitely light and tasty -- the perfect complement to the natural "heaviness" of Italian cooking.

    Positano's obviously takes great pride in their "specialities," but the "family side" seems a far more average experience. I recommend one-half of Positano's highly.

    It was 8:45 p.m. and the jokes were flying at our table. "You know you're at a restaurant on I-Drive when ... A) You wait an hour for a drink refill. B) You seriously consider going to the restroom for a glass of tap water. C) You actually do this, and the staff doesn't notice.

    Thank God the faucets worked, as my friend said.

    Our group had arrived at New Punjab Indian Restaurant at 7 p.m., and more than 90 minutes later, we were still waiting for our check -- and water refills. The "help wanted" sign out front should have been a tip-off. There was only one waitress in the dining room filled with dozens of customers. We watched as she shifted into high gear and tried in vain to take care of everyone. We couldn't even make eye contact to show our best, most pleading expressions. After dining on curries, hot sauces and peppers, the need for water was more than a nicety -- it was essential.

    We later found out that we just happened to catch the restaurant as it was experiencing a rare fluke, being short-staffed on sudden notice. And that later in the evening, another waitress had arrived to ease the pressure.

    Indian cuisine is so rich and complex, and there is so little of it in Orlando, that I think this I-Drive restaurant remains a strong competitor. A stand-by for Indian food since1988, New Punjab offers an excellent tour of the classics: curries, fried puff breads, chutneys, stewed lentils, tandoor dishes baked in clay ovens and more.

    Filmy curtains obscure the view of the neon-bright, tourist-clogged boulevard outside, and the dulcet strains of sitars float through the softly lit dining area. Its authentic ethnic ambience would be more in line with what you'd expect to find in bohemian Greenwich Village than commercial International Drive.

    We started off with the variety tray ($7.95), which gave a taste of the majors: cracker-crisp papadam bread studded with spicy lentils; bhaji onion fritters and puffy, deep-fried aloo pakora vegetable fritters, enriched with hot spices. Thesamosa pastries were as round and big as tennis balls, stuffed with potatoes and peas -- better yet, order them as a separate appetizer stuffed with chicken ($3.50). The mango chutney ($1.95) was chunky and full-bodied, and we lavished it on the pashwarinan bread ($3.75), sweetened with crushed nuts and raisins.

    A tandoor dish is the litmus test of an Indian restaurant, and Punjab prepares a delicious chicken tikka kebab ($13.95), threaded with gorgeous char-broiled meat, onions, peppers and tomatoes. Another recommendable entree is the superbly creamy "lamb fancy nuts curry" ($14.95), featuring dark lamb meat in a mild, yellow curry sauce with raisins and nuts. All dinners come with unlimited helpings of delicately steamed white rice.

    When we finally recaptured our waitress' attention and got the check, she couldn't have been more gracious and apologetic for the prolonged wait, which went a long way toward smoothing over what was otherwise a satisfying experience.

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