Someone sent me a note the other day telling me that they had recently discovered Rocco’s Italian Grille and that it has become an instant favorite. I understand the part about it becoming a favorite, but I’m always surprised when longtime residents say they’ve only just discovered this terrific little restaurant.
Rocco’s has been around since 2006 and has been one of my favorites since then (I awarded it my Critic’s Choice Foodie Award for Best Italian). And now chef/owner Rocco Potami has introduced some new menu items, an enticement to those of us who have known Rocco’s to return. I stopped in recently and gave some of the dishes a try.
I started with the gamberoni al gorgonzola, big, firm shrimp flambeed in Calvados brandy and finished with a reduction sauce infused with gorgonzola cheese. I also had the funghi ripieni alla Jojo, which featured roasted mushroom caps stuffed with susage, red bell peppers and mascarpone cheese. Most restaurants use mascarpone only in their tiramisus. Here it offered a smooth taste and texture to offset the sausage.
The pasta course was absolutely wonderful, especially the papardelle al pesto Genovese. Too many Italian restaurants load their pestos with garlic, which gives it a harsh, acerbic taste. Potami goes light on the garlic to let the basil and pinenuts shine. And he adds pecorino, a sheep’s milk cheese, which further softens the taste. It was served clinging to flat, wide, delicate noodles, but it could have been served with just about anything and I would have swooned.
The lasagnette dello chef alla bolognese was also terrific. This was not the American style lasagna of a condensed brick of wavy pasta compressed with meat and cheese. It had those things, but it was served the way it is done, say, in Rome, the sheet pasta (without curly edges) was delicately layered with a ragu and a creamy bechamel. If you’ve never had authentic lasagna, you should have it here.
I could have stopped right there, but we went on to the secondi, enjoying a fish of the day that featured swordfish Siciliana, grilled and topped with chopped tomatoes, and the scaloppini di vitello alla Rocco, which featured tender veal topped with prosciutto, roasted red peppers and fontina cheese. It was finished with a demiglace with white wine.
For dessert there was a light and delicious tiramisu, and affogato al cafe, which featured ice cream topped with fresh brewed espresso over ice cream.
By the way, the papardelle with pesto and lasagna are both priced at $15.95, and you could make a full meal of either of those. Oh, and stop in on Thursdays when there’s live jazz in the lounge.
Maybe it’s because people whiz by so fast on Orlando Avenue that they don’t notice Rocco’s off to the side. Or maybe they don’t realize there’s a parking lot behind the building and don’t know how to get there. Whatever; it’s worth discovering. Or rediscovering.
Rocco’s Italian Grille is at 400 S. Orlando Ave., Winter Park. It’s open for lunch Monday through Friday and dinner Monday through Saturday. Here’s a link to Rocco’s Web site. The phone number is 407-644-7770.