Rosario Spagnolo has been a part of Central Florida’s restaurant scene since 1989 when he opened a charming little hosteria called Bravissimo. But it wasn’t the Bravissimo that is now on Shine Avenue in Orlando. Spagnolo’s restaurant was on Howell Branch Road in Winter Park. But then he sold that restaurant and took a position of chef de cuisine at Capriccio at the Peabody Orlando.
Then after a couple of months he went back to Bravissimo.
Then he sold it and opened a pizza place on Central Boulevard downtown.
Then he sold it and opened a new Bravissimo in Seminole Towne Center in Sanford.
Then…well, you know.
Spagnolo, it seems, is as peripatetic as was the late Sergio Scardino, who cooked for a number of Italian restaurants, including, as coincidence would have it, Bravissimo in Winter Park and Sanford.
In the meantime the Bravissimo on Shine opened, so when Spagnolo was ready to open another restaurant, this time on Lyman Avenue just off Park Avenue, he called it Allegria. I told you about Allegria – and its inevitable new owners – a couple of weeks ago.
Now Spagnolo is back with a new restaurant and a new name. Terramia Winebar-Trattoria, hidden away in a strip mall in Altamonte Springs, is somewhat different from the restaurants that came before, and yet the same in that it serves the high quality, authentically Italian cuisine we’ve come to expect from a Rosario Spagnolo operation.
Most impressive is the array of delicacies on the antipasti table temptingly displayed inside the front door. Simply tell your waiter you’d like the antipasto Terramia ($8.50 per person) and he’ll assemble an impressive platter with such things as sweet roasted red, green and yellow peppers, spicy peppers, buffalo mozzarella with tomatoes garnished with a sprig of basil, soppressata and mortadella, provolone, and Italian olives. And with the exception of some rather anemic tomatoes, every bit of it a delight.
Another worthy appetizer was the mussels fra diavolo ($7.50), a stack of mussels in a spicy broth. The only disappointment here was that there was too little broth to sop up with the doughy house bread.
Pollo Rosario ($14.50) was a predictable – and welcome – entrée. This signature dish features boneless breast meat sauteed with shrimp and sun-dried tomatoes graced with a cream sauce spiked with vodka and garlic.
Salmone Portofino ($17.50) featured a fine fillet topped with nutty, firm rock shrimp and clams with fresh artichokes. The salmon had a refreshingly fresh taste.
The beef in the braciola di manzo all Naploetana ($13.50) was a bit dry, but when submerged in the wonderfully complex marinara that also dressed the rigatoni tubes it was delicious.
A special of double-thick veal chop ($29.95) was indeed special, the meat milky and tender and cooked just so. But grilled lamb chops ($18.50) seemed to be more about the wild mushrooms that accompanied the dish than the rather smallish, tough chops.
From the list of pastas I sampled the fettuccine with braised rabbit ($14.50), which was substantial enough to be a secondi rather than a primi. The rabbit was cooked alla genovese, which in Spagnolo’s native Naples means braised in white wine with onions.
For dessert there was a tarty lemon sorbet ($6.95) served in an intimidatingly large hollowed lemon, and an Italian version of Black Forest cake ($5.95) with a liqueurish high note. Tiramisu ($) was bland and uncharacteristic, and the cannoli ($5.95) had a thinnish filling inside a too-hard pastry tube.
Service was first-rate, though the kitchen tended to bog down. There is an impressive wine list, as you’d expect from a wine bar, with numerous selections by the glass.
Wine features into the décor as well with wine storage bins behind the bar and separating dining areas. The lighting is soft and moody and the overall ambience is casually upscale.
Terramia, which translates loosely to my land, is hidden in a group of shops behind where the Altamonte Springs Pebbles used to be. It’s a tough location but fans of Spagnolo’s will undoubtedly seek him out. Don’t wait too long -- you never know.