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

Noodles & Company

**** (4 stars)

This is a very well run outlet, with friendly staff and a nice seating area with a roll-up glass door that lets in a bit of the outdoors.

The menu offers a good variety of different noodle-based cuisines, plus salads and soups. The noodle dishes have the same issue as at Pei Wei where the calorie counts look attractive until you realize there are two servings in each bowl. However Noodles and Company has come up with a great solution. Their “Buff” bowls leave out the noodles, and substitute spinach, while doubling the other ingredients.

I tried the Buff version of the Japanese Pan Noodles. It seemed funny to remove the Japanese Pan part from the dish, but it more than halved the calories, to just 320 in the whole bowl. And it was extremely tasty. I feel like I got all the flavor, without the carbs. And since the veggies (other than the spinach and cilantro) were hot, it didn’t seem like a salad.

As with the other bowls, you can get a side dish. I had a Caesar salad (side salad with a salad, ha!) and it was also tasty, and added only another 90 calories.

They also have the Coke Freestyle machines that can make a hundred or so different combos, including many with no calories.

In all, quite a satisfying low-cal lunch.

Noodles & Company
7822 W Sand Lake Rd
Orlando, FL 32819
(407) 354-1301
http://www.yelp.com/biz/noodles-and-company-orlando-3

A Voce

**** (4 stars)

Our first experience at this restaurant was during a busy brunch. We wanted to enjoy multiple courses and several bottles of wine, and it didn’t go well. The chef insisted we place our entire party’s order at once, and then proceeded to cover the table two layers deep in plates of food. Something about the concept of fine dining seemed to have been lost in translation.

A recent mid-afternoon weekday visit was much more successful. The place was almost empty, we had a lovely table by the window, and we selected from the three course lunch menu. The raw Fluke appetizer was the highlight of the meal, and worthy of a Michelin starred sushi restaurant. By Bronzino entree was perfectly crisped and seasoned, although I was less enthusiastic about my companion’s steak, which was nicely cooked but not particularly tender or flavorful. The desserts were also quite good.

Service was friendly and attentive.

My advice: go during an off time to enjoy this restaurant to the fullest.

A Voce
10 Columbus Cir
3rd Fl
New York, NY 10019
(212) 823-2523
http://www.yelp.com/biz/a-voce-new-york-3

Mama Louise

**** (4 stars)

This space has been an Italian restaurant for three decades, and it used to be quite popular. But the landlord raised the rent, the original tenant moved, and things went into a slow decline.

Now Mama Louise has arrived to start a new era. The interior has been freshened and is now airy and even–dare I say–almost trendy. Service has definitely been amped up since the last incarnation. And the food has improved, too.

A group of us went for lunch, and sat in the enlarged outside dining area. The lunch menu offers a nice variety, and at about $8 is reasonably priced. Even pizza toppings, usually the deal killer, are just 25 cents.

And the pizza is good, with a nice slightly chewy but crisp crust, and good toppings. Salads are also good; my Caesar salad was actually outstanding. In fact the only dish that wasn’t a solid win was an Alfredo pasta that was just okay.

The dinner menu looks to be mostly pasta, and judging by the prices, probably fairly large servings of it. I’ll probably stick with lunch, though.

Mama Louise
7600 Dr Phillips Blvd
Orlando, FL 32819
(407) 345-1000
http://www.yelp.com/biz/mama-louise-orlando

Pizza @ Artegon

**** (4 stars)

I’ve been to this mall many times over the past fifteen years, and it has always been deserted. But I hadn’t been there since it changed to Artagon, so I was surprised to find… that it’s still deserted.

Be that as it may, this is an excellent pizza spot. You place your order at the counter and supervise as they assemble your pizza and run it though a conveyor oven, a process that only takes a few minutes.

The resulting pizza is on a thin, tasty crust. What’s really nice is that for about $8 you can put up to six ingredients on. Usually extra ingredients are ridiculously expensive, so I love this build your own approach.

That said, I decided to go with one of their featured recipes, the”Goofy Foot.” I’m not sure what a sauceless seafood pizza has to do with where you put your feet on a skateboard, but it was delicious. The combination of cheeses, mahi, shrimp, basil and chili oil really went together. My only complaint was that for some reason–probably the amount of moist ingredients–condensation immediately began to form under the crust, and I had to keep moving it around to keep it from dissolving. I’d like to experiment with ingredients and see if there’s a way to get a truly crispy crust.

Everyone in our group absolutely loved their pizzas, and said they’d like to return. That shouldn’t be a problem, as there will likely be no lines.

Pizza @ Artegon
5250 International Dr
Orlando, FL 32819
(407) 480-5008
http://www.yelp.com/biz/pizza-artegon-orlando

Giordano’s

*** (3 stars)

I’ve never been a fan of deep dish pizza, so there’s that. I find the crust tastes like saltine crackers, and there’s just too much filling.

Plus, it takes about 40 minutes to cook, which is tool long for lunch hour. So it’s unfortunate that the only pizza lunch specials at Giordano’s involve deep dish pizza (what they called stuffed).

Still, they offer regular pizza and even an extra thin version. Unfortunately they have that same weird dough. Not my favorite.

That said, their Caesar salad is excellent. And the service at this Giordano’s is excellent. So if deep dish is your thing, by all means check it out.

Giordano’s
6203 W Sand Lake Rd
Orlando, FL 32819
(407) 377-0022
http://www.yelp.com/biz/giordanos-orlando-3