Bella Italia Ristorante

Exterior

Bar

Interior

Clams Casino

Fettuccine Alfredo

Eggplant Rollatini

***** (5 stars)

Bella Italia is definitely a level above what you’d expect in a strip mall location. The decor, food and service are all top notch.

We started with the Clams Casino, a generous portion with a delicious lemon and garlic broth.

Fettucine Alfredo was equally generous, nigh on to huge. It needed a bit of salt to bring out the flavor, but had plenty of butter, cream and cheese.

Eggplant Rollatini was a nice improvement on Eggplant Parmigiana, with grilled rather than breaded eggplant, stuffed with four kinds of cheese, baked in marinara sauce, and topped with melted mozzarella.  It was delicious. The accompanying spaghetti was fine, but not needed.

All of these dishes were less than $9 at lunch, a great deal. Lunch also came with a basket of fresh bread and an excellent pesto/olive oil mixture for dipping.

Service was friendly and attentive.

Bella Italia Ristorante
13848 Tilden Rd
Ste 192
Winter Garden, FL 34787
(407) 347-3277
http://www.yelp.com/biz/bella-italia-ristorante-winter-garden

Mrs Potato

Exterior

Interior

Empanada

Chicken Catupiry Rosti

**** (4 stars)

This is both a counter serve and sit down restaurant. Although there are only three tables in the building, an adjacent permanent tent accommodates many more. The menu offers many variations of potatoes rosti, and also baked potatoes.

Rosti is essentially a beret-sized mound of hashbrowns with whatever filling you like. I tried the Chicken Catupiry Rosti. I enjoyed the crispy brown hashbrown crust, but the filling wasn’t my favorite.

In addition to potatoes, they also have many Brazilian and South American entrees and appetizers. My favorite was the empanada. The beef version I ordered was unavailable so I tried cheese, and it was excellent, with a delicate crust cooked a perfect golden brown, and served with an excellent salsa/relish.

Service was excellent, very friendly and efficient. I was impressed that every customer was promptly and warmly welcomed upon arrival.

They also have a large assortment of Mr. Potato head toys for the kids to play with!

Mrs Potato
4550 S Kirkman Rd
Orlando, FL 32811
(407) 290-0991
https://www.yelp.com/biz/mrs-potato-orlando-2

Spoleto

Exterior

Interior

Sauté

Oven

Fettuccine

Flatbread

***** (5 stars)

I really like the concept and execution of this place. Like many counter serve salad places, you pick your ingredients and they are combined while you are in line. But the twist here is that in addition to salads, they offer pastas or flatbreads.

I had fettuccine with Bolognese sauce, and the ingredients I selected were combined and sauteed while the pasta cooked. The result was a delicious combination (if I do say so myself) on perfectly prepared al dente pasta.

Service was fast and efficient, and the place has an airy, open feeling, with lots of outdoor seating as well.

Spoleto
4750 The Grove Dr
Windermere, FL 34786
(407) 217-2756
https://www.yelp.com/biz/spoleto-windermere-2

Pizza Bruno

Pepperoni, ricotta, basil

Cauliflower

Exterior

Interior

**** (4 stars)

I have to admit I was expecting a bit more from this place, given the hype, but while the pizza looked authentic, I didn’t find anything remarkable about its flavor or consistency. It struck me as odd that the basil was applied before baking, resulting in burnt leaves.

However I did love the kale salad! It was a perfect combination of a house-made Caesar dressing, plus little crunchy and sweet elements.

I also liked the cauliflower appetizer, although be warned that the sauce is very sweet. It’s almost dessert cauliflower.

The place can get quite loud, because the floors are concrete, and there are no soft surfaces.

Service was excellent.

Pizza Bruno
3990 Curry Ford Rd
Orlando, FL 32806
(407) 440-3894
https://www.yelp.com/biz/pizza-bruno-orlando

Bella Vista

Exterior

**** (4 stars)

Excellent outside dining setting amid the lush gardens of the Four Seasons Biltmore. The menu has a short but well thought out selection of Italian items. The Caesar salad was a bit weird, with broccoli and cauliflower, but the pastas were obviously homemade.

The inside dining is very noisy, with all hard surfaces and fairly bright lighting.

The wine list has a medium size selection of local wines, and more from other regions, but markups are very high.

Service was friendly and efficient.

Bella Vista
Four Seasons Resort
1260 Channel Dr
Santa Barbara, CA 93108
(805) 565-8237
https://www.yelp.com/biz/bella-vista-santa-barbara-4

Pizza Hut

Counter

Side Caesar

Hand Tossed Pepperoni Lover's Pizza

Hand Tossed Pepperoni Lover’s Pizza

 

**** (4 stars)

This is a counter service location with a small dine in area that includes a bar. There is the obligatory wall of sports-bar-like TV monitors.

Service was efficient, even on a bustling Saturday night. The side Caesar salad is a great deal at $2.50, and the individual hand tossed pepperoni lovers pizza was served piping hot from the oven and had plenty of toppings.

Pizza Hut
7970 Winter Garden Vineland Rd
Ste 100
Windermere, FL 34786
(407) 909-4327
https://www.yelp.com/biz/pizza-hut-windermere-2

Cafe D’Antonio Celebration

Quattro pizza

Carpaccio

Caesar salad

Interior

** (2 stars)

This really should be a much better restaurant than it is, given its nice decor and great location.

Pizza crust is fairly flavorless and limp, and many of the toppings are obviously canned.

Beef Carpaccio was pretty much flavorless.

Ceasar salad was good.

Although very few tables were seated, both the kitchen and the service in general were slow.

There is a nice selection of wines by the glass at reasonable prices.

Cafe D’Antonio Celebration
691 Front St
Celebration, FL 34747
(407) 566-2233
https://www.yelp.com/biz/cafe-d-antonio-celebration-celebration

Carrabba’s Italian Grill

Interior

Kitchen

Zucchini Fritte

Sandwich and soup

Lettuce wraps

**** (4 stars)

I’ve always thought Carrabba’s is much better than other chain restaurants, and this visit reinforced that opinion. None of the food items taste like they are “formulated” in an industrial kitchen. Ingredients are fresh and flavors are discrete and complex.

I’m pleased that many Carrabba’s locations are now open for lunch, as it’s much more likely for me to visit then. It was quiet the rainy Thursday we stopped in but business was starting to pick up in the afternoon.

The interior of this location is particularly nice, more like an upscale steakhouse than a chain Italian restaurant.

We started with the zucchini frittes, which were like very light french fries. They were excellent, but we probably didn’t need them in addition to the lunch that was to follow. Still, we nearly finished them.

The Pick Three lunch deal is a great way to try several things. I chose the Caesar salad, lentil sausage soup and lettuce wraps.

I would ask for less dressing on the salad next time, but it was excellent.

The soup was good too, although so rich I could only eat half. The generous serving of sausage had a really nice fennel component.

But the highlight was the lettuce wraps. This “small plate” wasn’t so small, with three lettuce leaves filled with a chicken mixture that was an interesting combination of Vietnamese, Italian and other Mediterranean flavors. I could only eat one of these but took the other two home for dinner.

That was quite a lunch for the price!

Service was exceptional, both from our server, the attentive manager, and the friendly hostess staff.

Carrabba’s Italian Grill
8702 Vineland Ave
Orlando, FL 32821
(407) 938-0015
https://www.yelp.com/biz/carrabbas-italian-grill-orlando-12

il Porcellino








**** (4 stars)

I was a big fan of Paris Club, which occupied this space, but I must admit that Il Porcellino is a much better restaurant–and business plan. It was packed the night I visited. But even though it was full, I liked the fact that I could still hear the background music (an odd blend of 20th century pop and cliche Italian restaurant music) and conversation was easy.

The space is unrecognizable and gorgeous. Hundreds of light bulbs hang over the dining room, creating a romantic aura, and the large bar out front and various room dividers are also cleverly lit to show off the bottles and other stuff on the shelves.

Service is extremely polished, with constant attention from the servers, and independent delivery of the food straight from the kitchen via runners.

I was unimpressed by the complimentary risotto ball amuse bouche, but after that everything was excellent.

The garlic loaf is a great way to start. It’s a mini boule, crisped on the outside and sliced into six pie wedges. Grated parmesan is stuffed into the cracks and then, tableside, garlic butter is poured in. It was delicious, and even managed to maintain its crispness throughout dinner.

Fried Brussels sprouts were also good, not too oily and not too buried in cheese.

I’m not too big on pasta, so I opted for the brick chicken specialty. Good move. It was a giant slab of boneless breast meat with a unique, super-crispy crust. But the thing that made the dish was the mixture of cauliflower, garden vegetables and butter on which it sat.

If you’re into hot fudge sundaes you’ll like the semi-fredo, but I wished I’d selected a different dessert.

Drink-wise, I started with a negroni. There are three choices, and I liked the Fernet-based one I picked because it was particularly bitter. The house Chianti I segued into wasn’t particularly good. But I finished with a Nonino, my favorite Amaro.

If I have any complaint about Il Porcelino it’s simply that there are no healthful options on the menu. Everything is either friend, drenched in butter or swimming in carbs. Even the salads look pretty heavy. It’s all delicious, but I couldn’t eat there very often without some lighter choices.

il Porcellino
59 W Hubbard
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 595-0800
http://www.yelp.com/biz/il-porcellino-chicago

itar Bistro Market

**** (4 stars)

Even though this place is only a few blocks away from my office I managed to overlook it for more than a year, probably due to its lack of visibility and low traffic location, which has done in more than a few nearby restaurants. But they certainly weren’t hurting for business on the Tuesday lunch when we visited, and I can see why.

The concept is an unlikely combination of Italian and Argentine food, hence the name.

Everything we had was quite good. We chose to order items from the dinner menu, so it wasn’t inexpensive, but there are plenty of appealing lunch specials for well under ten dollars.

The highlight of our meal was definitely the molito malbec, a wonderful tenderloin steak in a rich malbec and mushroom sauce. It was one of the better pieces of beef I’ve had in Orlando, and I’m including the area’s top steakhouses in that assessment. It was well worth the $29 price tag.

Not quite as good but only half the price was the Churrasco, a marinated and grilled skirt steak.

We also had a sausage appetizer, and liked the regular sausage better than the blood sausage, which is an acquired taste that I haven’t yet acquired.

Accompaniments included mashed potatoes, fries, and a green salad, all of which were just okay.

I like the airy atmosphere and cool light fixtures. There’s also a small grocery section that sells mostly Italian foods, and a wall of wines by the bottle.

Service was friendly and not rushed.

itar Bistro Market
7065 Westpointe Bvd
Ste 100
Orlando, FL 32835
(407) 757-0553
http://www.yelp.com/biz/itar-bistro-market-orlando