Italian in Orlando

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    With stints at Antonio’s La Fiamma in Maitland and Terramia Winebar in Longwood, Adriatico chef Marco Cudazzo has played a significant role in pleasing local palates with a penchant for pasta and rustic dishes from the old country. Now, along with his charming wife Rosetta, Cudazzo brings the flavors of his native Abruzzo, a coastal region shoring the Adriatic, to College Park’s savvy denizens, most of whom are no strangers to authentic Italian cuisine.

    Not surprisingly, Adriatico’s menu slants toward the sea, not the Abruzzo’s mountainous interior, where lamb, mutton and diavolicchio peppers typify the Abruzzese style. No, it’s all about the seafood here, and the calamaretti alla Napoletana ($8.50), ringlets and tentacles of small, tender squid sautéed in a spicy tomato sauce, is an antipasto worth diving into. The meat is faultlessly firm and doesn’t suffer from the rubbery texture that results from overcooking, while the sauce is an ideal lure for the complimentary bread.

    I took great pleasure in listening to my waiter’s thick, rolling lilt, though I’m sure he felt like driving his giant fist into my skull after I asked him to repeat the evening’s special three times. When I finally understood that the white striped bass ($27.50) was pan-fried with portobello mushrooms, and not pot-bellied monsoons, I couldn’t say no. The enormous platter contained a thick fillet garnished with baby romas, yellow tomatoes and two crunchy jumbo shrimp in addition to the ’shrooms, all slicked in a garlic white wine sauce. The flavors worked well, but I would’ve enjoyed the fish more had it not been served tepid.

    Terrestrial items also get a chance to shine, and the indisputable freshness of the creamy tomato soup ($5.50) made it a bowl full of magical slurps, with heavy cream and basil adding texture and pungency to the ruddy orange bisque. Carciofini “mamma mia” ($8.50), baby artichokes sautéed in olive oil, garlic and mint, were tender for the most part though a few stringy stragglers found their way into the garlicky sauce. The astringency of the artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes, unfortunately, overpowered the essence of mint, making the dish a slight disappointment.

     

    A comforting main like gnocchi della casa can be enjoyed with a choice of three sauces: marinara ($11.50), meaty Bolognese ($14.50) or gorgonzola cheese ($16.50). No matter the sauce, the potato dumplings were perfectly pillowy, and if you opt for the gorgonzola, the rich sauce is as aromatic as it is fulfilling. Italian-imported lemon sorbetto ($7) bests house-made tiramisu, partly for its refreshing tang and partly for its lemon-peel shell, though
    either will ensure your meal ends on a sweet note.

    Wine racks, exposed brick walls and the glow of candlelight on fresh linens create an oasis of calm, though the serene ambience also extends outside, where patrons can dine by the light of tiki torches along Edgewater Drive. Service is purposefully friendly and leisured, but can seem a little too leisurely when glasses are left unfilled and when lags create uneven pacing. Nevertheless, the trattoria’s genuine charm ultimately wins over the hearts of diners, and the competent execution of the seafood-leaning menu is sure to make Adriatico a fixture in the neighborhood.

    Pizza without beer? Lasagna without wine? It's unthinkable according to Anthony Marku's standards, but then he's a native of Italy and the owner of Thornton Park's newest restaurant, Anthony's Pizza Cafe.

    Marku feels so strongly about the pairings that he's prepared to start giving away beer and wine at his establishment – and he may have to do just that. Last week, the City Council, acting on the interests of a handful of residents concerned about adding another outlet for alcohol in their neighborhood, once again shot down his appeal for a permit to sell beer and wine.

    Marku feels so strongly about the pairings that he's prepared to start giving away beer and wine at his establishment – and he may have to do just that. Last week, the City Council, acting on the interests of a handful of residents concerned about adding another outlet for alcohol in their neighborhood, once again shot down his appeal for a permit to sell beer and wine.

    For the meantime, the Thornton Park dining district is confusing, with regard to spirits. Customers can belly up to the bar in droves at Dexter's, Chez Jose Mexican and Burton's Bar & Grill. But across the street at Anthony's, you have to bring your own bottle or visit the 7-Eleven.

    For the meantime, the Thornton Park dining district is confusing, with regard to spirits. Customers can belly up to the bar in droves at Dexter's, Chez Jose Mexican and Burton's Bar & Grill. But across the street at Anthony's, you have to bring your own bottle or visit the 7-Eleven.

    Even so, only one month after opening, Anthony's is shaping up as a popular dining spot. Located in a former car-repair shop that's been gutted and washed with bronze colors and a Tuscan atmosphere, the two dozen tables inside and on the courtyard are usually filled on Friday nights. This is casual, affordable Italian food at its best, prepared traditionally.

    Even so, only one month after opening, Anthony's is shaping up as a popular dining spot. Located in a former car-repair shop that's been gutted and washed with bronze colors and a Tuscan atmosphere, the two dozen tables inside and on the courtyard are usually filled on Friday nights. This is casual, affordable Italian food at its best, prepared traditionally.

    But don't come here if you're trying to save calories – there's nowhere to hide. The cheesy garlic bread appetizer is out of this world and a steal at $2.25. An Italian baguette is sliced down the middle, lusciously soaked with garlic butter and capped with whole-milk mozzarella cheese. Then it's lightly bronzed under the broiler.

    But don't come here if you're trying to save calories – there's nowhere to hide. The cheesy garlic bread appetizer is out of this world and a steal at $2.25. An Italian baguette is sliced down the middle, lusciously soaked with garlic butter and capped with whole-milk mozzarella cheese. Then it's lightly bronzed under the broiler.

    Lunch and dinner mainly consist of subs, pizzas and pasta entrees. Some of the portions are gargantuan. We asked for a small "special stromboli" ($6.95) and were presented with a virtual football, stuffed with mozzarella, pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, green peppers, onions and ham. The "VIP stuffed pizza" is daunting, too, with a double crust filled with all of the above, plus cappicolla and Genoa salami. Just one slice ($3.50) is the size of most restaurants' personal pizzas, and a large pie ($24) would serve a crowd.

    Lunch and dinner mainly consist of subs, pizzas and pasta entrees. Some of the portions are gargantuan. We asked for a small "special stromboli" ($6.95) and were presented with a virtual football, stuffed with mozzarella, pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, green peppers, onions and ham. The "VIP stuffed pizza" is daunting, too, with a double crust filled with all of the above, plus cappicolla and Genoa salami. Just one slice ($3.50) is the size of most restaurants' personal pizzas, and a large pie ($24) would serve a crowd.

    A lighter choice would be the spinach pizza, topped with white cheeses and spinach ($2.25 slice, $8.95 small pie).

    A lighter choice would be the spinach pizza, topped with white cheeses and spinach ($2.25 slice, $8.95 small pie).

    Pastas are just as good. We tried a heaping portion of delicious spaghetti ($6.25), topped with sweet, basil-infused marinara sauce and meatballs the size of golf balls.

    Pastas are just as good. We tried a heaping portion of delicious spaghetti ($6.25), topped with sweet, basil-infused marinara sauce and meatballs the size of golf balls.

    Even without beer and wine, Anthony's is positioned to become a fixture in the Thornton Park enclave.

    Antonio's Café Downstairs has long been a favorite alternative to its fancier, upstairs sister, though it meant standing in line at the counter to place your order. Now the operation has been jazzed up, with full table service and new menus for both lunch and dinner.

    Before ordering, be sure to check out the specials and look over the salads, meats and cheeses in the deli case. The focaccia topped with herbs, olive oil and tomato ($2.95) is heavenly; the lasagne di vegetali has chunks of fresh vegetables. ($6.25). Try any of the tasty pizzas or calzones, but there can be a wait for these made-to-order specialties.

    Before ordering, be sure to check out the specials and look over the salads, meats and cheeses in the deli case. The focaccia topped with herbs, olive oil and tomato ($2.95) is heavenly; the lasagne di vegetali has chunks of fresh vegetables. ($6.25). Try any of the tasty pizzas or calzones, but there can be a wait for these made-to-order specialties.

    Since Antonio's Café Downstairs also serves as a grocery and wine shop, don't be surprised if your dining space gets invaded by shoppers browsing the gourmet goodies.

    There are plenty of great Italian restaurants in Orlando, but there are few that can manage to be smart and sophisticated without being imposing. Antonio's La Fiamma in Maitland has that wonderful combination of warmth, hospitality and energy.

    This is one restaurant that wouldn't be caught dead relying on accordion music, red-checkered tablecloths or drippy candles in Chianti wine bottles to convey atmosphere. Although it's a popular spot for lunch, twilight is an excellent time to visit. There's a second-floor view of shimmering Lake Lily, framed by sunset skies. The dining area glows with impressions of candlelight, crisp white linens and gleaming china. Service is thoroughly professional, yet fluid and relaxed. It's almost as if the formal dining area were taking its cue from Antonio's Café Downstairs, the lively deli, wine shop and Italian market that occupies the first level.

    This is one restaurant that wouldn't be caught dead relying on accordion music, red-checkered tablecloths or drippy candles in Chianti wine bottles to convey atmosphere. Although it's a popular spot for lunch, twilight is an excellent time to visit. There's a second-floor view of shimmering Lake Lily, framed by sunset skies. The dining area glows with impressions of candlelight, crisp white linens and gleaming china. Service is thoroughly professional, yet fluid and relaxed. It's almost as if the formal dining area were taking its cue from Antonio's Café Downstairs, the lively deli, wine shop and Italian market that occupies the first level.

    The food also is first-rate, we found on a recent visit. The restaurant, which inspired the spin-off Cafe d'Antonio in Celebration, owes its skillful creations to head chef Sebastian Santangelo. Although he is a native Sicilian, his menu is a tour of Italy.

    The food also is first-rate, we found on a recent visit. The restaurant, which inspired the spin-off Cafe d'Antonio in Celebration, owes its skillful creations to head chef Sebastian Santangelo. Although he is a native Sicilian, his menu is a tour of Italy.

    Among the caldi, or hot appetizers, fried calamari ($6.95) were lightly breaded and greaseless – these weren't dainty squiggles, but more like thick calamari steaks, accompanied by a superb sauce of sun-dried tomatoes, garlic and mayonnaise. Also good were the ravioli al funghetto ($5.95), stuffed with shiitake mushrooms in a pink sauce of cream and tomatoes.

    Among the caldi, or hot appetizers, fried calamari ($6.95) were lightly breaded and greaseless – these weren't dainty squiggles, but more like thick calamari steaks, accompanied by a superb sauce of sun-dried tomatoes, garlic and mayonnaise. Also good were the ravioli al funghetto ($5.95), stuffed with shiitake mushrooms in a pink sauce of cream and tomatoes.

    But you could easily cut costs by skipping the starters: The bread basket is a showcase featuring onion-embedded focaccia. The freshness is owed to a baker who arrives at 3 a.m. daily for a baking marathon that continues until 10 a.m. That's when Santangelo arrives to reclaim the kitchen and begin cooking various sauces, which are the restaurant's real bread and butter, he says.

    But you could easily cut costs by skipping the starters: The bread basket is a showcase featuring onion-embedded focaccia. The freshness is owed to a baker who arrives at 3 a.m. daily for a baking marathon that continues until 10 a.m. That's when Santangelo arrives to reclaim the kitchen and begin cooking various sauces, which are the restaurant's real bread and butter, he says.

    There was one in particular that we enjoyed: A Cognac sauce enhanced with lemon and fresh herbs, served with a double-thick, sautéed veal chop. But for a better idea of what a talented chef can accomplish with the simplest ingredients, don't miss zuppa di pesce ($22.95). Preparation is a 7-to-10 minute deal, featuring a tricky, mixed bag of shrimp, calamari, scallops, fish and langostino, a species of prawn with a sweet, delicate meat which rivals shrimp or lobster. Santangelo's version is outstanding, mostly due to a delicate broth of tarragon, basil, garlic and a touch of marinara.

    There was one in particular that we enjoyed: A Cognac sauce enhanced with lemon and fresh herbs, served with a double-thick, sautéed veal chop. But for a better idea of what a talented chef can accomplish with the simplest ingredients, don't miss zuppa di pesce ($22.95). Preparation is a 7-to-10 minute deal, featuring a tricky, mixed bag of shrimp, calamari, scallops, fish and langostino, a species of prawn with a sweet, delicate meat which rivals shrimp or lobster. Santangelo's version is outstanding, mostly due to a delicate broth of tarragon, basil, garlic and a touch of marinara.

    You can usually catch a glimpse of him at work behind the kitchen counter, visible from most seats in the dining area. Or, get a closer look during Festa Italiana, a group cooking class, Italian feast and wine soiree from 4 p.m.-7 p.m. Nov. 15 at the restaurant. The cost is $50 per person in advance, $55 at the door.

    Seemingly everything is imported from Italy, from the glassware to the tile. Drink prices are the usual Sand Lake high, but low traffic to this second-floor restaurant means you'll have the bartender's undivided attention. The bar features a walk-in wine closet and flat-screen TVs, and there's live entertainment on weekends.

    Trendy Hannibal Square hotspot lures  diverse crowd for primo Italian standbys and wonderfully blistered pizzas, care of a custom-built brick oven. The egg-topped San Giovanni pizza is a crowd fave and ideal for sharing, but don't overlook carpaccio with shaved Parmesan and pear slices. Pastas and secondi are simply presented, and shine because of it. Reservations are strongly recommended.

    Walking up the stairs to the Portofino Bay Hotel's newest restaurant, Bice (pronounced "BEE-chay"), you feel like you've wandered onto a movie set. It's a familiar feeling to most Orlandoans, who often have no choice but to enter a theme park in order to enjoy an upscale restaurant. The hotel purports to be a re-creation of the Italian beach town of Portofino; the sprawling wings enclose a man-made lake upon which gondolas and water taxis float aimlessly. The cobblestone piazza seems genuine enough, but the vintage Vespas with engines removed, chained to lampposts, and the monotonous stucco walls betray the fact that it's a fake. The cruising golf carts don't help the illusion, either.

    Once you're inside, though, the illusion's over. Bice, offering very expensive, very refined comfort food, is just another generic upscale hotel restaurant. It's very nice – muted ivory-toned lighting, frescoed ceiling, enormous flower arrangement – but bland. The one note of personality is the sharp black-and-white lacquered armchairs in the bar; too bad, the bar was populated by cheering football watchers on this night.

    Once we attracted the attention of the waitress, we ordered a glass of 2000 Luigi Righetti ($16) while we waited for our table. The only amarone available by the glass, it was delicious but took no risks. Then the dance of the servicepeople commenced: A host told us our table was ready, a waiter led us there, a different waiter arrived to hand us menus and somewhere, the cocktail waitress was still holding our bar tab and credit card. Once that was sorted out, we made our selections from the huge menu – some of the choices oddly betraying a nouvelle cuisine twist – and settled back on the comfy banquette.

    Before our starters arrived, a busboy brought a basket of bread and bottles of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and dinner was off to an inauspicious beginning. The salty rosemary focaccia and rustic wheat bread were obviously mass-produced, possessed of a uniform crumb instead of the chewy density characteristic of bread baked in small batches. The olive oil was pale and weak, and the vinegar was sour. A glum anticipation settled over the table.

    Beef carpaccio with black truffle dressing and an arugula and mushroom salad ($18) arrived looking like a rosy-petaled sunflower. Sadly, the beautiful pink beef, instead of being silky and earthy, was mushy and tasteless. The salad (arugula, raw cremini mushrooms, shaved Parmesan) was bright, clean, simple, but the taste of black truffle could scarcely be detected in the dressing. Across the table, the lentil soup "with black truffle fondue" was also simple yet expertly prepared, a delicate, peppery puree with, alas, nary a trace of the pungent black truffle in the swirl of olive oil on top.

    Then chef Massimo Esposito knocked one out of the park. Resembling something a very chic caveman would eat, a huge 16-ounce veal chop ($42) arrived, lapped in porcini sauce and snuggled atop a drift of soft polenta. Surrounded by lovely charred fat (hey, don't knock it until you've tried it), the chop was grilled to a perfect medium-rare, as ordered. The polenta, rich with Parmesan, was the kind of dish that inspires compulsive eating – creamy and utterly comforting. The rigatoni alla Siciliana ($17) was less spectacular, though enjoyable. The traditional Sicilian marriage of eggplant, pine nuts, capers and raisins somehow didn't quite work this time around.

    Though not a dessert fan, I splurged on the pistachio and caramel semifreddo ($8) and urged my companion to try the vanilla panna cotta (also $8). This was the best move we made all night. The semifreddo was a bustling playground of tastes and textures: soft, half-frozen cream crunchy with glassy shards of caramel and slivers of roasted almonds, in a pool of almond crème anglaise sprinkled with jade-green chopped pistachios. By contrast, the panna cotta was an elegant, austere dish: a vanilla custard gelatin dusted with black vanilla seeds and ringed with a compote of sweet dried apricots. It was pared down to the essentials, yet clearly created by a virtuoso. With two plates my resistance to dessert was ended.

    Like the staircase we had to climb, our experience at Bice may have started on a low note, but it ended with a fabulous high. My suggestion: Grab a table on the patio, have a glass (or bottle) of wine, sample the desserts and watch the faux gondolas navigate the faux lake. At least the food will be the real thing.

    The monolith that is Bravo Cucina Italiana strikes an imposing, if architecturally gauche, posture atop its concrete perch on Sand Lake Road, the stark, garish exterior a Brutalist reminder of everything a trattoria isn't. There's no mistaking this concept chain for a mom-and-pop joint, but there appears to be a market for such larger-than-life dining establishments nonetheless, and what better customer base on which to unleash this prodigious restaurant than the fine folks of Dr. Phillips? Bravo anchors the still-under-construction Dellagio complex, a mixed-use compound that also includes Cantina Laredo (where they make a great tableside guacamole); Fleming's, Urban Flats and Dragonfly Sushi are all slated to open in the coming months. If you've dined at Brio Tuscan Grille, Bravo will seem all too familiar ' the restaurant's parent company, Bravo Development Inc., also runs and operates Brio. Inside, the décor fuses elements of kitsch (Corinthian columns in faux ruin) and comfort (soft lighting, carpeted floors, cozy booths), though al fresco dining enthusiasts will find the outdoor terrace an undeniable draw.

    And like the columns under which we dined, the asparagus, mushroom and tomato flatbread ($5.99) crumbled into ruins. My plate resembled the bottom of a parrot's birdcage after biting into the flatbread's cracker-like crust, but the grilled asparagus proved the better crunch. Beware the complimentary, properly doughy and wonderfully herbed focaccia ' I think it may be laced with some illicit addictive ingredient.

    Italian standards and wood-fired favorites make up a fair chunk of the menu, and like the fare at Brio or Carrabba's Italian Grill, the dishes I sampled didn't exactly wow me, but they gratified nonetheless. Mozzarella-stuffed ravioli ($9.99) were nicely crisped and plated with bowls of humdrum marinara and a creamy horseradish that added a little buck to the starter. Roasted red-pepper cream sauce highlighted the pasta bravo ($13.99), a signature dish of rigatoni tossed with wood-grilled chicken and mushrooms. The filling entree is ideal for those who like their pasta course rich. A sauce lightened with lemons and zested with capers made a winner of the chicken scallopini ($14.99). The flattened cutlets were dressed with portobello mushrooms and smothered with provolone; an accompanying herb linguine was cooked perfectly al dente.

    A dolce trio ($8.99) offers variety in portions that are manageable. Of the three desserts, the torta di cioccolata, topped with a vanilla-bean gelato, and the warm berry cake were finished off first. The overly sweet tiramisu was a distant third.

    Our well-meaning waiter was far too harried and distracted to seem genuinely concerned that we had a good experience. While I was in the middle of ordering appetizers, he started walking away, then had to return to the table when he realized I wasn't finished. Our glasses went unfilled for prolonged periods, and when I got the check, I had been inexplicably charged for a martini. Let's just say that Bravo has nothing on Carrabba's when it comes to service. Still, the colossal eatery is sure to be a draw for its welcoming digs, fair prices and familiar dishes ' just don't expect the flavors to match the restaurant's grandeur.

    We didn't review this location but you can check out the review of the Brio in Winter Park Village.

    Despite the trendy, well-heeled crowds lined up at the door, and despite the lightweight name that sounds like it was pulled from a starlet's bio, there is some substance to Brio, the new, upscale Tuscan grill at Winter Park Village.

    We arrived without reservations on a busy weekend evening, and it was immediately clear we were in for a long wait. Throngs of people milled around. The hostess gave us a palm pager so we could window shop in the immediate area to kill time. It was either that or jockey for a place at the bar, where the members of the salon set were squeezed in so tight that we would have been lucky to find something to lean on, much less sit down.

    We arrived without reservations on a busy weekend evening, and it was immediately clear we were in for a long wait. Throngs of people milled around. The hostess gave us a palm pager so we could window shop in the immediate area to kill time. It was either that or jockey for a place at the bar, where the members of the salon set were squeezed in so tight that we would have been lucky to find something to lean on, much less sit down.

    The inside of the restaurant is spacious and bustling, with a curved layout that wraps around the show kitchen. The dining area is reinforced by pillars and softened by faux antique treatments, and the acoustics are comfortably noisy.

    The inside of the restaurant is spacious and bustling, with a curved layout that wraps around the show kitchen. The dining area is reinforced by pillars and softened by faux antique treatments, and the acoustics are comfortably noisy.

    There were some lapses in service, but our waitress seemed to be doing her best to keep up with the fast pace. Although we waited far too long for appetizers and a bread basket, they were in peak form when they showed up. The crusty Italian rolls had been whisked to our table straight from the oven, still steaming. And the "antipasto sampler" ($12.95) was delicious across the board. We loved the "calamari fritto misto," lightly fried and accented with "pepperoncini," as well as the "Brio bruschetta" topped with marinated tomatoes, seared peppers and mozzarella. The mushroom "ravioli al forno" had an exquisite, creamy sauce.

    There were some lapses in service, but our waitress seemed to be doing her best to keep up with the fast pace. Although we waited far too long for appetizers and a bread basket, they were in peak form when they showed up. The crusty Italian rolls had been whisked to our table straight from the oven, still steaming. And the "antipasto sampler" ($12.95) was delicious across the board. We loved the "calamari fritto misto," lightly fried and accented with "pepperoncini," as well as the "Brio bruschetta" topped with marinated tomatoes, seared peppers and mozzarella. The mushroom "ravioli al forno" had an exquisite, creamy sauce.

    Don't overlook the flatbread pizzas. Toasted in a wood-fired oven, they have crisp, thin crusts that are balanced by light toppings. The wild-mushroom version ($9.95) was slightly moistened with truffle oil and topped with mild, nutty fontina cheese and a few caramelized onions.

    Don't overlook the flatbread pizzas. Toasted in a wood-fired oven, they have crisp, thin crusts that are balanced by light toppings. The wild-mushroom version ($9.95) was slightly moistened with truffle oil and topped with mild, nutty fontina cheese and a few caramelized onions.

    Brio does an able job with pastas such as lasagna with Bolognese meat sauce, but it would be a shame to miss out on wood-grilled steaks, chops and seafood, which are what the kitchen does best. A 14-ounce strip steak ($21.95) was particularly juicy and buttery, and topped with melted gorgonzola. But on the side, the wispy "onion straws" didn't work – they were eclipsed by their overly oily fried batter.

    Brio does an able job with pastas such as lasagna with Bolognese meat sauce, but it would be a shame to miss out on wood-grilled steaks, chops and seafood, which are what the kitchen does best. A 14-ounce strip steak ($21.95) was particularly juicy and buttery, and topped with melted gorgonzola. But on the side, the wispy "onion straws" didn't work – they were eclipsed by their overly oily fried batter.

    Wood-grilled salmon ($21.95) was an exercise in restraint: The firm, pink, succulent flesh of the fish was jazzed with a delicate citrus pesto and accompanied by tomatoes encrusted with Romano cheese.

    Wood-grilled salmon ($21.95) was an exercise in restraint: The firm, pink, succulent flesh of the fish was jazzed with a delicate citrus pesto and accompanied by tomatoes encrusted with Romano cheese.

    The restaurant's next-door Tuscan Bakery is worth a visit on the way out, if only to glimpse the gorgeous profusion of breads and pastries. Brio's stylish atmosphere and well-executed menu make it a successful choice whether for lunch, dinner or the popular "Bellini brunch" on Saturdays and Sundays.

    As Carmelo Gagliano tells it, when his uncle opened his first pizza restaurant at the Brooklyn Shipyards 40 years ago "only Italian people knew what pizza was." The open-air ristorante was authentic to the traditions of Sicily, traditions that are just as important to Gagliano today as he runs his two local locations of Brooklyn Pizza.

    "Authentic Brooklyn-style pizza," he calls it, "just like they made it in the '50s." As a New York boy, I can tell you that Brooklyn Pizza has it nailed. Everything here is handmade, from the ravioli to the simmered sauces – yes, plural: The sauce they use on their pizza is different from the lasagna or meat sauces. What a welcome change.

    "Authentic Brooklyn-style pizza," he calls it, "just like they made it in the '50s." As a New York boy, I can tell you that Brooklyn Pizza has it nailed. Everything here is handmade, from the ravioli to the simmered sauces – yes, plural: The sauce they use on their pizza is different from the lasagna or meat sauces. What a welcome change.

    I'm enthusiastic about Brooklyn Pizza. Some purists insist that the only "real" pizza is the original style invented by the Neapolitans, with a crust more like well-done puff pastry. But the never-ending quest of ex-patriot New Yorkers like me is to find the crunchy, yeasty bread circles we were weaned on. Brooklyn Pizza's pie is just that, a thin, crisp base of dough laden with garlic and fresh cheeses – a tomatoey Siren calling us home.

    I'm enthusiastic about Brooklyn Pizza. Some purists insist that the only "real" pizza is the original style invented by the Neapolitans, with a crust more like well-done puff pastry. But the never-ending quest of ex-patriot New Yorkers like me is to find the crunchy, yeasty bread circles we were weaned on. Brooklyn Pizza's pie is just that, a thin, crisp base of dough laden with garlic and fresh cheeses – a tomatoey Siren calling us home.

    While the Pershing Avenue location has been around since 1985, the new place on West Fairbanks Avenue (the former Captain Mary's Bar and Grill) in Winter Park only opened late last year. And it's tiny: six tables, two ancient video-game machines and lots of black-and-white pictures of Brooklyn. In fact, the whole place – floors, walls, curtains – is black and white. The kitchen is very visible and busy – and certainly more so than the one on Pershing, which was actually designed to hold only one person.

    While the Pershing Avenue location has been around since 1985, the new place on West Fairbanks Avenue (the former Captain Mary's Bar and Grill) in Winter Park only opened late last year. And it's tiny: six tables, two ancient video-game machines and lots of black-and-white pictures of Brooklyn. In fact, the whole place – floors, walls, curtains – is black and white. The kitchen is very visible and busy – and certainly more so than the one on Pershing, which was actually designed to hold only one person.

    There are enough choices to keep even a jaded pizza-eater interested, including a classic Margherita (fresh tomato, basil and mozzarella, no sauce), an Alfredo chicken pizza, and the killer "white" pie with a layer of ricotta and acres of garlic (the varieties range from $9 to $18.50). But start out with something simple, like a vegetarian pizza, that allows the naturally sweet tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella to shine through.

    There are enough choices to keep even a jaded pizza-eater interested, including a classic Margherita (fresh tomato, basil and mozzarella, no sauce), an Alfredo chicken pizza, and the killer "white" pie with a layer of ricotta and acres of garlic (the varieties range from $9 to $18.50). But start out with something simple, like a vegetarian pizza, that allows the naturally sweet tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella to shine through.

    Other options include the cheese ravioli, stuffed with crumbly and firm ricotta and baked with a rich sauce, which is delightful ($8.25). And the eggplant sub ($6.75) is so full of tender eggplant and roasted peppers that you'll want to linger over it.

    Other options include the cheese ravioli, stuffed with crumbly and firm ricotta and baked with a rich sauce, which is delightful ($8.25). And the eggplant sub ($6.75) is so full of tender eggplant and roasted peppers that you'll want to linger over it.

    Gagliano says he'll be adding traditional dishes from Palermo to the menu, like sausage and rapini, but don't wait. Savor the tradition now.

    We didn't review this location but you can check out the review of Buca di Beppo in Maitland.

    If you want to have a quiet, relaxed Italian dinner for two, stay clear of the new Maitland mecca Buca di Beppo – but I mean that in a good way.

    Only one month after opening on the former Bubble Room site, Buca di Beppo is a neighborhood magnet. Few people know that the name loosely translates as Joe's Basement, but they quickly understand the eatery's eclectic nature: bright and busy, bustling with an army of waiters.

    Only one month after opening on the former Bubble Room site, Buca di Beppo is a neighborhood magnet. Few people know that the name loosely translates as Joe's Basement, but they quickly understand the eatery's eclectic nature: bright and busy, bustling with an army of waiters.

    One oddity is that everyone who enters Buca di Beppo is marched through the kitchen, where a tag team of chefs is in constant motion. The dining area is busy in a different way. Much like the Bubble Room before it, every inch is garishly festooned with Christmas lights and souvenirs, including a reproduction of the Mona Lisa in neon curlers.

    One oddity is that everyone who enters Buca di Beppo is marched through the kitchen, where a tag team of chefs is in constant motion. The dining area is busy in a different way. Much like the Bubble Room before it, every inch is garishly festooned with Christmas lights and souvenirs, including a reproduction of the Mona Lisa in neon curlers.

    Visitors are encouraged to roam around the dining room to check out the billboard-style menus. (Regular ones are provided as well.) Also like the Bubble Room, be careful not to over order. The kitchen turns out pizzas as big as counter tops and meatballs the size of baseballs. We ordered an appetizer, two dinners and dessert, and ended up carting leftovers home in a grocery sack with handles. "Thank you for shopping with us," manager Tim Dean sometimes says as the full waddle out.

    Visitors are encouraged to roam around the dining room to check out the billboard-style menus. (Regular ones are provided as well.) Also like the Bubble Room, be careful not to over order. The kitchen turns out pizzas as big as counter tops and meatballs the size of baseballs. We ordered an appetizer, two dinners and dessert, and ended up carting leftovers home in a grocery sack with handles. "Thank you for shopping with us," manager Tim Dean sometimes says as the full waddle out.

    Bruschetta ($6.95) is a fine meal-starter, created from a loaf of country bread sliced in half and broiled with garlic vinaigrette. The bread has a puffy, crispy, oily quality that is tantalizing, especially when topped with the lush mixture of tomatoes and red onions.

    Bruschetta ($6.95) is a fine meal-starter, created from a loaf of country bread sliced in half and broiled with garlic vinaigrette. The bread has a puffy, crispy, oily quality that is tantalizing, especially when topped with the lush mixture of tomatoes and red onions.

    Nine-layer lasagna is such a big deal to prepare that it's presented as a special event every week or two. (It's worth calling ahead to time a visit accordingly.) At $21.95 and nearly a foot in length, the Buca version sizzles with secret seasonings in the marinara and is loaded with meat, ricotta and provolone cheeses; super-fresh basil adds further appeal.

    Nine-layer lasagna is such a big deal to prepare that it's presented as a special event every week or two. (It's worth calling ahead to time a visit accordingly.) At $21.95 and nearly a foot in length, the Buca version sizzles with secret seasonings in the marinara and is loaded with meat, ricotta and provolone cheeses; super-fresh basil adds further appeal.

    One of the favorite pizzas is the "arrabbiata" ($18.95), featuring a 2-foot-long cracker crust brushed with spicy oil, topped with thick slices of tangy fennel sausage, pepperoni and caramelized onions.

    One of the favorite pizzas is the "arrabbiata" ($18.95), featuring a 2-foot-long cracker crust brushed with spicy oil, topped with thick slices of tangy fennel sausage, pepperoni and caramelized onions.

    They were out of the "Buca bread pudding caramello" ($8.95), studded with chocolate chips, raisins and cinnamon cream, and smothered with caramel sauce. So we diverted our attention to a trio of "chocolate cannoli" ($8.95) packed with chocolate chips and candied pistachio nuts, and served in a puddle of chocolate-licorice sauce.

    They were out of the "Buca bread pudding caramello" ($8.95), studded with chocolate chips, raisins and cinnamon cream, and smothered with caramel sauce. So we diverted our attention to a trio of "chocolate cannoli" ($8.95) packed with chocolate chips and candied pistachio nuts, and served in a puddle of chocolate-licorice sauce.

    For now, Buca di Beppo is open only for dinner. On weekends, reservations are not just a good idea, they're essential – unless you don't mind spending an hour or two in the equally animated bar.

    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.

    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.

    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."

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    Until recently, Apopka was a town with an erratic dining scene, not exactly a place where you would go in search of an epicurean adventure, Italian or otherwise. Now two years old, Caffe Positano reflects the changing face of Apopka, with its fine food prepared with passion, appreciation and flair.

    Situated in an ordinary shopping plaza on Semoran Boulevard, Caffe Positano hums at lunchtime with sounds from the clamorous kitchen and echoes from customers filling up tables. Businessmen whip out cell phones while waiting for their orders, co-workers split pizzas, and suspended over it all is the aroma of spices, marinaras and thick, fresh-baked Italian loaves.

    Situated in an ordinary shopping plaza on Semoran Boulevard, Caffe Positano hums at lunchtime with sounds from the clamorous kitchen and echoes from customers filling up tables. Businessmen whip out cell phones while waiting for their orders, co-workers split pizzas, and suspended over it all is the aroma of spices, marinaras and thick, fresh-baked Italian loaves.

    The menu items were consistently excellent on our visit. The pasta e fagioli soup ($4) had a silky quality, spiked with cannellini beans and bits of pasta. We loved the aggressive, meaty flavor in the thick broth.

    The menu items were consistently excellent on our visit. The pasta e fagioli soup ($4) had a silky quality, spiked with cannellini beans and bits of pasta. We loved the aggressive, meaty flavor in the thick broth.

    An array of "pizzettes" may be one of Apopka's best-kept secrets. The "white pizzetta" ($6.25) was a standout with a touch of fresh garlic, and a fluffy bed of melted mozzarella and ricotta cheeses. We asked for spinach and broccoli as extras, and they added earthy textures and tastes without weighing it down. The crust was perfection, glazed with the sheen of olive oil and fired in the oven for a delicious crunch.

    An array of "pizzettes" may be one of Apopka's best-kept secrets. The "white pizzetta" ($6.25) was a standout with a touch of fresh garlic, and a fluffy bed of melted mozzarella and ricotta cheeses. We asked for spinach and broccoli as extras, and they added earthy textures and tastes without weighing it down. The crust was perfection, glazed with the sheen of olive oil and fired in the oven for a delicious crunch.

    All of the entrees come with a choice of soup or salad, and I recommend one of the light, buoyant salads, topped with shaved petals of carrots and tossed with a delicate, almost floral, Italian dressing. Among the entrees, "veal zingarella" ($12) wins applause for its lemony undertones. It's sautéed in butter and white wine, so naturally it's rich and juicy. The tangy quality is carried a step further with capers and plump, tender artichokes. We couldn't get enough.

    All of the entrees come with a choice of soup or salad, and I recommend one of the light, buoyant salads, topped with shaved petals of carrots and tossed with a delicate, almost floral, Italian dressing. Among the entrees, "veal zingarella" ($12) wins applause for its lemony undertones. It's sautéed in butter and white wine, so naturally it's rich and juicy. The tangy quality is carried a step further with capers and plump, tender artichokes. We couldn't get enough.

    "Chicken mama mia" ($8.50) holds its own against a sautéed sauce of balsamic vinegar and a bare hint of cream. Shiitake mushrooms are sliced evenly and tossed on top for a rich finish.

    "Chicken mama mia" ($8.50) holds its own against a sautéed sauce of balsamic vinegar and a bare hint of cream. Shiitake mushrooms are sliced evenly and tossed on top for a rich finish.

    For dessert, you can have the usual tiramisu or cannoli, but better yet try a tartuffo ($4.75), a baseball-sized scoop of chocolate and mocha ice cream, rolled in a crumbly blanket of chocolate cookies. It's served on its own dinner platter, surrounded by a zigzag necklace of chocolate syrup.

    For dessert, you can have the usual tiramisu or cannoli, but better yet try a tartuffo ($4.75), a baseball-sized scoop of chocolate and mocha ice cream, rolled in a crumbly blanket of chocolate cookies. It's served on its own dinner platter, surrounded by a zigzag necklace of chocolate syrup.

    Apopka isn't exactly the crossroads of Orlando, but Caffe Positano's menu is so appealing that it rates a special trip, if necessary.

    Other than, what a waste of time and money, about the only other thing I could think about on the drive home from an overpriced dinner at the Capriccio Grill Italian Steakhouse was how many starving people could have been fed with the money just spent. The experience was that much of a downer. When more than 100 bucks is dropped on a dinner for two, not counting drinks or wine, then it had better be a hedonistic experience, worthy of the indulgence. And there was only one thing that was special about Capriccio's new menu: The steak, from Ruprecht's, one of the oldest operating beef processors in Chicago and a purveyor of quality meats to high-end steakhouses around the country. Though expensive – $37 for the restaurant's "signature" 24-ounce rib-eye – the meat was worthy. The experience as a whole was not.

    Reservations are recommended at Capriccio, and it's a good thing we had them. The hostesses were routinely turning away party after party that showed up without them, making it seem too big a deal when we sailed into the shotgun-style dining room, ushered past grumbling guests. Capriccio is on the first floor of The Peabody Orlando, easy to park at and enter, across the street from the Orange County Convention Center. It's the hotel's supposedly midpriced restaurant; there's also the more formal and expensive Dux and the cheaper and more fun Beeline Diner. The decor is an outdated style of subdued urban chic, with contemporary lighting and fresh exotic flowers contrasting dark wood tables and checkered marble floors.

    Reservations are recommended at Capriccio, and it's a good thing we had them. The hostesses were routinely turning away party after party that showed up without them, making it seem too big a deal when we sailed into the shotgun-style dining room, ushered past grumbling guests. Capriccio is on the first floor of The Peabody Orlando, easy to park at and enter, across the street from the Orange County Convention Center. It's the hotel's supposedly midpriced restaurant; there's also the more formal and expensive Dux and the cheaper and more fun Beeline Diner. The decor is an outdated style of subdued urban chic, with contemporary lighting and fresh exotic flowers contrasting dark wood tables and checkered marble floors.

    In the back, the main dining area is built around the kitchen, where sweating cooks and steaming pans are in full view. We were seated at a small round café table squeezed into a sort of makeshift spot between the pathway and the bussing station, in front of the kitchen. Many passing eyes observed our table that night, and we managed to avoid any injury when water spilled and dishes broke at the server station. I was surprised into politeness when a server ducked under the table to pick up some broken glass – "Excuse me, madam," he said, kneeling down beside me with a towel ready to dry me off – or maybe wrap my wounds – if necessary.

    In the back, the main dining area is built around the kitchen, where sweating cooks and steaming pans are in full view. We were seated at a small round café table squeezed into a sort of makeshift spot between the pathway and the bussing station, in front of the kitchen. Many passing eyes observed our table that night, and we managed to avoid any injury when water spilled and dishes broke at the server station. I was surprised into politeness when a server ducked under the table to pick up some broken glass – "Excuse me, madam," he said, kneeling down beside me with a towel ready to dry me off – or maybe wrap my wounds – if necessary.

    Our cocktails were unimpressive – the dried olive and brown-spotted lime wedge stuck on the toothpick in the Bloody Mary ($6.25) looked like leftovers. The Grey Goose martini ($8.50) ordered "dirty" was served clean, and also was cheapened by aged olives. The flatbread in the complimentary basket was stale, but there were some fresh rolls in there, too.

    Our cocktails were unimpressive – the dried olive and brown-spotted lime wedge stuck on the toothpick in the Bloody Mary ($6.25) looked like leftovers. The Grey Goose martini ($8.50) ordered "dirty" was served clean, and also was cheapened by aged olives. The flatbread in the complimentary basket was stale, but there were some fresh rolls in there, too.

    Ordering entrees, we acknowledged Capriccio's Italian past. We selected one of the favorite pasta dishes still on the menu, as recommended by our friendly server, the "penne e pollo" ($16.95), with pieces of chicken, grapes and walnuts covered in a Gorgonzola sauce. And we ordered the 12-ounce filet mignon ($34), topped by an "Oscar" sauce that was a special on this evening. Later, the bill reflected the $12.95 addition of the teaspoon or so of rich crabmeat and two stalks of asparagus topped by hollandaise sauce.

    Ordering entrees, we acknowledged Capriccio's Italian past. We selected one of the favorite pasta dishes still on the menu, as recommended by our friendly server, the "penne e pollo" ($16.95), with pieces of chicken, grapes and walnuts covered in a Gorgonzola sauce. And we ordered the 12-ounce filet mignon ($34), topped by an "Oscar" sauce that was a special on this evening. Later, the bill reflected the $12.95 addition of the teaspoon or so of rich crabmeat and two stalks of asparagus topped by hollandaise sauce.

    When it arrived, the beef carpaccio appetizer ($9.50) offered the perfect opportunity to taste Ruprecht's product in its rarest form – thin shavings of raw meat, seasoned and dressed with tangy capers, tart lemon and a sprinkling of Parmesan. Sanguine and delicate, the carpaccio paired well with the spinach salad ($7.95), which was fine if nothing fancy.

    When it arrived, the beef carpaccio appetizer ($9.50) offered the perfect opportunity to taste Ruprecht's product in its rarest form – thin shavings of raw meat, seasoned and dressed with tangy capers, tart lemon and a sprinkling of Parmesan. Sanguine and delicate, the carpaccio paired well with the spinach salad ($7.95), which was fine if nothing fancy.

    Then came the $17 pasta insult. To relive the experience as quickly as possible: Cool al dente penne was dumped on top of a puddle of steaming sauce, so I had to mix up the dish myself. (My fingers got a bit burned – no big deal.) The rich and biting Gorgonzola sauce desperately needed the sweet grapes and the texture of the nuts to cut the thickness. But the spare bits and pieces of grape and nut and chicken were hunted and downed within a handful of bites. Across the table, the properly "flash-seared" fillet was full of flavor, enhanced by the Oscar treatment. The recommended glass of Merlot was a smart choice for taste but was a $12 slam.

    Then came the $17 pasta insult. To relive the experience as quickly as possible: Cool al dente penne was dumped on top of a puddle of steaming sauce, so I had to mix up the dish myself. (My fingers got a bit burned – no big deal.) The rich and biting Gorgonzola sauce desperately needed the sweet grapes and the texture of the nuts to cut the thickness. But the spare bits and pieces of grape and nut and chicken were hunted and downed within a handful of bites. Across the table, the properly "flash-seared" fillet was full of flavor, enhanced by the Oscar treatment. The recommended glass of Merlot was a smart choice for taste but was a $12 slam.

    The coffee was good and a bargain (no charge), and there was no oversweetening of the mixed berries in the cobbler ($7.75), though the crust tasted stale, like it had been out in the humid air too long.

    The coffee was good and a bargain (no charge), and there was no oversweetening of the mixed berries in the cobbler ($7.75), though the crust tasted stale, like it had been out in the humid air too long.

    If you're here for a convention and want steak, jump on I-4 and head downtown to Kres Chophouse for a much more special night out. If you're stuck in the hotel, head for the Beeline Diner for meatloaf.

    Carrino's has a reputation as a go-to spot for Bay Hill -- and Windermere-based celebrities, sports figures and the odd boy band. (It's the answer to a trivia question on a Backstreet Boys fan site: "What is the name of the restaurant where the Boys had to sing for their dinner?") Hopefully the Boys didn't give over more than a note or two, because the food at Carrino's doesn't warrant much beyond a chorus.

    There isn't any corollary between food and value here, and not much that stands out on the menu. A standard item such as chicken parmigiana ($14.95) is overbreaded, cooked to a soft, unexciting consistency and drowned in bland marinara. The eggplant rollatini, one of my favorites ($13.95), was even softer, the combination of ricotta and mozzarella cheeses overpowering what little flavor the eggplant once had. I tried the "irresistible" pasta trio of ziti and stuffed shells (another lesson in marinara swimming) and a bowl of fettuccini Alfredo without much taste ($13.95).

    There isn't any corollary between food and value here, and not much that stands out on the menu. A standard item such as chicken parmigiana ($14.95) is overbreaded, cooked to a soft, unexciting consistency and drowned in bland marinara. The eggplant rollatini, one of my favorites ($13.95), was even softer, the combination of ricotta and mozzarella cheeses overpowering what little flavor the eggplant once had. I tried the "irresistible" pasta trio of ziti and stuffed shells (another lesson in marinara swimming) and a bowl of fettuccini Alfredo without much taste ($13.95).

    On a plus side, the grilled "Milano panini" sandwich ($6.95), of eggplant, spinach, mushrooms and provolone, had a pleasant combination of flavors and textures. And their pizza falls somewhere between superb and terrible; good crust, mediocre sauce. Meat sauce on the lasagna ($13.50) was richer tasting -- but 13 bucks for lasagna?

    On a plus side, the grilled "Milano panini" sandwich ($6.95), of eggplant, spinach, mushrooms and provolone, had a pleasant combination of flavors and textures. And their pizza falls somewhere between superb and terrible; good crust, mediocre sauce. Meat sauce on the lasagna ($13.50) was richer tasting -- but 13 bucks for lasagna?

    They could call this restaurant "Café Scusa," because apologies were flying the relatively quiet night we were there. A 15-minute wait at the table without server or menu was explained with, "Sorry, I wasn't told you were here." A delay with the wine was met by "Sorry, the bartender is backed up." (Insert your own joke here.)

    They could call this restaurant "Café Scusa," because apologies were flying the relatively quiet night we were there. A 15-minute wait at the table without server or menu was explained with, "Sorry, I wasn't told you were here." A delay with the wine was met by "Sorry, the bartender is backed up." (Insert your own joke here.)

    Considering that restaurant staffs are practically falling over themselves to accommodate guests these days, I was surprised by the answer to my request to substitute gnocchi for ziti: "Sorry, they won't do it."

    Considering that restaurant staffs are practically falling over themselves to accommodate guests these days, I was surprised by the answer to my request to substitute gnocchi for ziti: "Sorry, they won't do it."

    When the person who served my fettuccini accidentally poured a plateful of oil into it while clearing the table, we both stared at the ruined dish -- I guess he was hoping I hadn't noticed -- and then he took the plate away. "Sorry," came after.

    When the person who served my fettuccini accidentally poured a plateful of oil into it while clearing the table, we both stared at the ruined dish -- I guess he was hoping I hadn't noticed -- and then he took the plate away. "Sorry," came after.

    It's a shame. Carrino's is pleasant inside, overlooking Little Sand Lake, and with owner Anthony Carrino's long family history in restaurants (Carrino's was at its former Bay Hill location for 16 years), the food and service should have been casually impeccable. Instead it was no better than what any neighborhood pizzeria could cobble together, and at a higher price.

    It's a shame. Carrino's is pleasant inside, overlooking Little Sand Lake, and with owner Anthony Carrino's long family history in restaurants (Carrino's was at its former Bay Hill location for 16 years), the food and service should have been casually impeccable. Instead it was no better than what any neighborhood pizzeria could cobble together, and at a higher price.

    If you're looking for great Italian food, I never wanna hear you say, "I want it that way."

    If people can be measured by the company they keep, the same might be true for restaurants like Christini's: Of all the area's premium restaurants, only Christini's advertises in Gourmet magazine.

    Chris Christini brings insights to his restaurant gained only after 40 years in a career that included tours with the likes of New York's The 21 Club and L'Originale Alfredo's di Roma. Such experience is evident everywhere, from design and operation to personal touches.

    Chris Christini brings insights to his restaurant gained only after 40 years in a career that included tours with the likes of New York's The 21 Club and L'Originale Alfredo's di Roma. Such experience is evident everywhere, from design and operation to personal touches.

    Christini's is located in The Marketplace on Dr. Phillips Boulevard. Its design relies on warm oak paneling, green wall and floor coverings, brocaded fabrics and Italian ceramics. A multilevel floor plan offers everyone a view. Walls are covered with testimonials and photographs of past diners. More unique details include a mid- 19th century mosaic of a hunting scene, repeated as a logo on menus and place settings. A strolling accordionist provides atmospheric background music.

    Christini's is located in The Marketplace on Dr. Phillips Boulevard. Its design relies on warm oak paneling, green wall and floor coverings, brocaded fabrics and Italian ceramics. A multilevel floor plan offers everyone a view. Walls are covered with testimonials and photographs of past diners. More unique details include a mid- 19th century mosaic of a hunting scene, repeated as a logo on menus and place settings. A strolling accordionist provides atmospheric background music.

    Such luxury comes at a price, and a plate of spaghetti costs $14.95 here. Include drinks, salad, dessert and a tip, and that pasta might cost you $50. The wine list is pricey as well.

    Such luxury comes at a price, and a plate of spaghetti costs $14.95 here. Include drinks, salad, dessert and a tip, and that pasta might cost you $50. The wine list is pricey as well.

    Business was booming the night we visited, and reservations (always recommended) are a necessity on weekends. The ratio of service-staff to diners was exceptional but still didn't equate to perfect service. While we didn't experience problems, diners at the next table became frustrated with a distracted waiter who couldn't get their orders right the first time.

    Business was booming the night we visited, and reservations (always recommended) are a necessity on weekends. The ratio of service-staff to diners was exceptional but still didn't equate to perfect service. While we didn't experience problems, diners at the next table became frustrated with a distracted waiter who couldn't get their orders right the first time.

    Our dinner began with a basket of bread and a piquant spread of pureed eggplant, garlic and olive oil. This delightful blend (I want the recipe) set the stage for more very well-prepared food.

    Our dinner began with a basket of bread and a piquant spread of pureed eggplant, garlic and olive oil. This delightful blend (I want the recipe) set the stage for more very well-prepared food.

    The menu covers all regional cuisines of Italy. Most of the classic dishes are represented, along with fillets and veal chops.

    The menu covers all regional cuisines of Italy. Most of the classic dishes are represented, along with fillets and veal chops.

    As an appetizer, I chose the evening's special of three seafood ravioli with a single shrimp in a cream sauce ($7.95). It wasn't much food., but the progression of delicate flavors encouraged a leisurely pace.

    As an appetizer, I chose the evening's special of three seafood ravioli with a single shrimp in a cream sauce ($7.95). It wasn't much food., but the progression of delicate flavors encouraged a leisurely pace.

    My companion also enjoyed her Caesar salad with oversized croutons ($5.95). As an entree, she sampled the shrimp della Cinque Terra, large, butterflied shrimp accompanied by fettuccine and a spicy, tomato-and-seafood-based pescatore sauce ($24.95). Served with baby green beans and a tomato rose, this entree tasted as good as it looked.

    My companion also enjoyed her Caesar salad with oversized croutons ($5.95). As an entree, she sampled the shrimp della Cinque Terra, large, butterflied shrimp accompanied by fettuccine and a spicy, tomato-and-seafood-based pescatore sauce ($24.95). Served with baby green beans and a tomato rose, this entree tasted as good as it looked.

    The dessert list ranged from ices to cannoli. The cheesecake ($4.95) had the pleasantly grainy texture of ricotta, while the tiramisu (46.50) was pleasantly sweet, not too strong and had an interesting cakelike presentation.

    The dessert list ranged from ices to cannoli. The cheesecake ($4.95) had the pleasantly grainy texture of ricotta, while the tiramisu (46.50) was pleasantly sweet, not too strong and had an interesting cakelike presentation.

    Christini's is among the top restaurants in Central Florida and is by far the best independent Italian spot on the south side of town. Our final tab topped $140, which makes this destination one for special occasions or company expense accounts.

    When I hear a place mentioned a couple of times in one week, it causes me to stop and listen – especially when the restaurant is neither new nor fancy. Having recently moved back from New York City, I've been lamenting the dearth of decent pizza in Orlando, and people keep confidently mentioning Cornerstone Pizza, a dive-y joint on Michigan Street, at the corner of Ferncreek Avenue. My appetite for a slice was keen.

    So there we were in the starkly lit, harshly undecorated pizza spot on a dreary March evening; the pit-pat of rain could be heard beneath the shriek of the pizza oven opening and closing. The Simpsons blared from a TV mounted above our table. We were alone in the greasy air that filled the room until a man stumbled in, coughing loudly. He drunkenly made his way through a conversation with cook/owner Scott Bruens (who once upon a time saved up enough money delivering pizzas to buy Cornerstone).

    We started with 10 wings ($5.49), fried ultracrisp and drenched in tangy-hot buffalo sauce. I licked the sauce off my fingers and delved into the chicken Parmesan sub ($5.99), well-seasoned chicken doused in surprisingly fresh tomato sauce atop a lily-white bun.

    The stromboli ($6), with pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, onions and green peppers, came next, and it was totally over-the-top in a made-by-hungry-stoners way. (I almost canceled the pizza so as not to ruin this Cornerstone moment of rapture, but thought better of it.) When our pizza came, we munched on satisfactory slices of pepperoni and mushroom. The crust is not as thin as I like, and the cheese is not charred and bubbly on top – but it's close.

    Mr. Can't Stand Up was still trying to put a sentence together, while an acne-faced teen munched on a slice. A woman in business attire leaned against her car under an umbrella and talked on her cell phone while waiting for her pie to come out of the oven. Stopping by Cornerstone on the way home seems to be a neighborhood sport. So, it wasn't quite New York, but it was damn close – present company included.

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