When it first opened, nearly five years ago, Bice had a tall order to fill. It was replacing the restaurant that had opened with the Portofino Bay hotel five years before, Delfino Riviera. I had liked Delfino, and I couldn’t help but feel a bit of a grudge toward Bice for taking its place.
All is now forgiven. Bice has shown itself to be a restaurant of exceptionally high calibre, preparing exquisitely styled Italian dishes and serving them with professional poise.
The restaurant is a chain of sorts but started, as many do, with a single location. For Bice that location was Milan, Italy. Started in 1926, the restaurant was owned by Beatrice Ruggeri, known to her friends as Bice (pronounced BEE-chay). After a couple more locations in Italy, Bice opened its U.S. base in New York in 1987. The opening of the Orlando restaurant was the start of a push to expand in the U.S. and other countries. There now are 20 locations throughout the world.
Dinner at Bice is not an inexpensive night out. But when you consider cost vs. quality, you’ll find that Bice is not overpriced.
Just consider the restaurant’s signature dish, ravioli stuffed with beef short ribs and spinach. The pasta was delicately thin and tender, and the braised meat inside had a rich, fatty mouthfeel that blossomed with the sauce of mushrooms and Marsala wine. Absolute heaven.
Or another from the list of primi piatti, big, fat tortellini filled with spinach and ricotta and dressed with a sauce of butter and sage.
From the secondi my companion had the scalloppine di vitello, flattened medallions of veal sauteed with a darkly rich mushroom sauce and served with a timbale of potatoes similar to a potatoes Anna dish.
I chose a special of the evening that featured sea bass in parchment. Enclosed inside the envelope with zucchini, yellow squash, red and green peppers, and a few salty olives, the fish took on all the vegetable flavors while maintaining a fresh and moist texture. The taste was buttery and absolutely delicious.
Our appetizer course had included a fritto misto of delicately breaded and flash-fried calamari, shrimp, zucchini and mushrooms served with a pomodoro sauce. The sauce was not as spicy as it could have been, but the seafood and vegetables didn’t really need a sauce.
The mozzarella in the caprese, served with thick slices of tomato garnished with basil and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, was obviously fresh and probably quite young because the texture was more akin to ricotta.
The dolci on the other end of the meal featured cioccolatissimo alla Bice, a very dark and very rich souffle with a molten chocolate center. And the tiramisu was moist with espresso-soaked lady fingers, yet the overall flavor was light and refreshing.
Service was professional and first-rate.
Bice occupies a large space on the second level of the hotel overlooking the faux Ligurian bay. The sound level can be high at times, but we had no problem hearing the piano music wafting from the lounge.
I doubt that the Bice of today much resembles the restaurant Signora Ruggeri opened in 1926, but I think she’d be very pleased with the Orlando restaurant that bears her name.
Bice is located at the Portofino Bay Loews Hotel, 5601 Universal Blvd., Orlando. It is open nightly for dinner. The phone number is 407-503-1415. Follow this link for online reservations.