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

Haven

Peel and Eat Shrimp

Cheese Monger

Hamachi crudo

Interior

**** (4 stars)

If you are a cheese lover, Haven is a must visit. There are dozens of cheeses on their menu, and the “Cheese Monger” offers a selection of 18(!) of them on one well-organized plate. My only wish was for more variety, as they were almost all cow’s milk, and mostly the same firmness. I’d have liked some more soft ones, and some stinkier ones. But that’s just me.

The menu also offers a nice selection of other small plates. We liked the hamachi crudo. The peel and eat shrimp was okay, but I didn’t care for the harissa flavor of the accompanying remoulade, as it overwhelmed the other flavors.

The interior decor is gorgeous, with reasonable lighting levels and not too noisy, even though there are no soft surfaces except the booths (which offer the quietest place to sit).

The wine list is extensive, and the more expensive wines are actually the better deals.

Service was friendly and efficient.

Haven
2208 W Morrison Ave
Tampa, FL 33606
(813) 258-2233
https://www.yelp.com/biz/haven-tampa-3

Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe

Bacon cheeseburger

Flatbread

Interior

**** (4 stars)

This combination wine shop and cafe is where one of the best scenes in Sideways was filmed. They have an excellent selection of retail wines, focused on the surrounding area, at reasonable prices. Wine tastings are also available, and the central wine bar is a good place to have a glass of your favorite.

The cafe has excellent food. The hamburger is particularly good, especially loaded up with bacon, sauteed onions and your choice of cheese.

I’ve been a member of the wine club for many years, which I particularly like because every quarter you receive high-end wines from completely different wineries, so there is much more variety than in most clubs.

Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe
2879 Grand Ave
Los Olivos, CA 93441
(805) 688-7265
https://www.yelp.com/biz/los-olivos-wine-merchant-and-cafe-los-olivos-4

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

Brindille

Vicchysoisse

Beef tartare

Quail

Scallop

Lobster

Veal

Lamb

Strawberries and hazlenut

**** (4 stars)

This is a very fine restaurant that is doing most everything right. The chef’s eight-course tasting menu, which is available on request, is the way to go here. It’s assembled to match your tastes, and is a great way to experience the menu’s highlights.

Each course was beautifully presented. The only truly amazing one was the vichyssoise, but everything else was quite good, and the price was reasonable for the quality.

Service was informative and attentive, and the secondary service staff were particularly efficient at delivering and clearing.

Brindille has one of the better wine lists in town, at a reasonable markup of about twice retail. It’s heavy on quality French wines, and bears a bit of research before your visit to be truly rewarded.

Brindille
534 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 595-1616
http://www.yelp.com/biz/brindille-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

Momofuku Ko

***** (5 stars)

What a phenomenal experience. We loved the ambiance of this place, which is both romantic and trendy, vibrant yet conducive to conversation, epicurean yet accessible.

Not every course was a hit, but there were certainly plenty of home runs. But the friendliness of the wait staff, the chefs, and especially the sommelier, Chase, Sinzer, are what really made this a remarkable evening.

I suspect most people her opt for the wine pairings, which we often do, too, but if so they are missing a terrific wine list, with exclusively great producers, and some very reasonable prices.

Truly a special dining experience, and one I look forward to repeating.

Momofuku Ko
8 Extra Pl
New York, NY 10003
(212) 203-8095
http://www.yelp.com/biz/momofuku-ko-new-york-3

Cuvee Destin

**** (4 stars)

Cuvee, as you might expect, offers an excellent wine list. The list is oddly divided into two parts, essentially the cheap part and the expensive part. Pricing varies, but seems to be about double retail. For me the highlight was the two pages of half bottles, something you don’t see a lot of anymore.

I thought the food was good, but there weren’t really any home runs. We tried the portobello mushroom, fried green tomatoes (which were more about crawfish), and the pecan crusted grouper (be sure to get the very sweet sauce on the side).

Our server was excellent, and we liked the quiet back corner of the back room, as the bar can get quite boisterous.

Cuvee Destin
36120 Emerald Coast Pkwy
Destin, FL 32541
(850) 650-8900
http://www.yelp.com/biz/cuvee-destin-destin-2

Flight Restaurant & Wine Bar

***** (5 stars)

What a creative concept this place offers. Not only are there flights of wine, there are also flights of food. Each features three different selections.

Although they are listed as small plates, the serving sizes are quite generous. We started with the ocean flight, which featured lobster ravioli, seafood salad, and scallop Rockefeller. The ravioli was the best.

Next was the salad sampler, and all three salads were really excellent.

At this point we were getting pretty full, even thought we’d theoretically only shared two “small” plates! But we pressed on and had the sashimi. Wow! This was top quality tuna and salmon, six pieces of each, served over ice. It was odd the they had no wasabi, but otherwise exceptional.

I really liked the fact that they were totally flexible about which wines to have in each flight, so rather than sticking with their preset offerings we selected eclectic assortments to match the food and our palates.

Ambiance is bustling and trendy yet intimate, especially in the booths upstairs. Service was very attentive and professional.

I loved this concept and wish there was once closer to home.

Flight Restaurant & Wine Bar
39 S Main St
Memphis, TN 38103
(901) 521-8005
http://www.yelp.com/biz/flight-restaurant-and-wine-bar-memphis

The Capital Grille

***** (5 stars)

Of all the chain steakhouses, I think Capital Grille is my favorite. Their steaks aren’t as good as some that offer prime meat (including sister chain Eddie V’s) but their sides, such as the lobster mac and cheese are the best.

Capital Grille is also the best choice for lunch, because of their attractive multi-course deals. The Kona rub Wagu burger is a favorite new addition, and the lobster roll is always good.

This location isn’t quite as nicely decorated as the one on International Drive, but it is smaller, more intimate, and doesn’t get packed on convention days.

Service is always friendly and professional. It seems like most of the professional servers in town have, one time or another, worked at Capital Grille.

The Capital Grille
4200 Conroy Road
Orlando, FL 32839
(407) 351-2210
http://www.yelp.com/biz/the-capital-grille-orlando-2