It was not the best start to a dining experience.
My companion and I decided, on a whim, while driving up Magnolia Avenue, to stop in to Cafe Trastevere. It had been years since I’d dined there and I thought it would be nice to see how things were going there.
They seemed to be going fine. In fact, there weren’t any tables available in the dining room. Actually, that’s not saying much as there are only about a half dozen tables to begin with. But there was a high-top table in the bar area, so we plopped ourselves down there.
While we looked over the menus, I asked the gentleman who greeted us if I might have a taste of the sangiovese wine. He gladly obliged. But after I took a sip, I told him that the wine was rather warm.
“Well, yes, of course,” replied the man, who I assume was the owner, “it’s a red wine so it’s served at room temperature.”
OK, let’s just stop right there.
This is one of the great misconceptions about wine. The room temperature rule that so many people hold as sacred refers to drafty castles in cool climes where you can grab a bottle right off the shelf and serve it at the ideal 62 degrees. It does not refer to modern with high R-value insulating. It certainly does not refer to a room in a house in Central Florida in late summer, especially when that room’s temperature, by my estimation, is hovering somewhere in the low 80s.
Cafe Trastevere occupies a structure that indeed was once someone’s house. It’s only cooling is provided, ostensibly, by a couple of built-in wall air conditioners. They are both in the small dining area, and neither is up to the task of countering the heat that comes in through the poorly insulated stucco walls or issues osmotically from the kitchen in the next room.
So, no, sir: your red wines most certainly do not want to be served at room temperature.
Neither did we. And just as we decided we would leave, a small table opened up in the dining area, just under one of those pitiful air conditioners. We took it and stayed.
And everything from that point on was just lovely.
I chose the Spaghetti alla Carbonara, perfect al dente noodles in a cheesy pecorino sauce dotted with bits of bacon.
My guest had the Fettuccine Alfredo with a creamy sauce blended with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Both were wonderfully gloppy.
The young woman who took over the serving duties when we moved to the dining room was friendly but not overbearing. She helped turn what started out to be an unpleasant evening into a delightful one.
Cafe Trastevere opened in 1997 as a sort of second location for a restaurant with a similar name in Winter Park. The two restaurants eventually split apart and had different owners, and the original restaurant closed. I remembered that much, but I couldn’t remember where that first Trastevere was. Hey, I’ve been doing this for 27 years — that’s a lot of restaurants, and now that I’m in my late forties, the old memory isn’t what it used to be.
Where was I? Oh, yes. I went back through the database and was reminded that Trastevere Ristorante used to be in the space that now is so nicely filled by Rocco’s Italian Grille. So there you go: history.
Actually, I’m a little surprised that Cafe Trastevere has been able to last all these years. The food is certainly good enough, and if you get the right server you can have a good experience. But with so few tables, you’d think the numbers wouldn’t quite work out.
But somehow they do. I guess if you don’t have to spend a lot on air conditioning and wine coolers, you can make a profit.
Cafe Trastevere is at 825 N. Magnolia Ave., Orlando. Although the website won’t tell you this, it is open for dinner Monday through Saturday. The phone number is 407-839-0235.