Matteo’s, a family style Italian restaurant out of New York, has opened on International Drive. The Orlando restaurant is the 10th for the small organization and the fourth in Florida (there are also restaurants in Boca Raton, Hallandale and Jupiter). The “family style” designation means that the food is brought to the table on platters to pass around rather than already plated. In terms of the portions, this might be called army style because your could probably feed a platoon with one order.
But it’s more than just ample portions, most of the food I sampled on a recent visit was quite good. My guest and I started with the warm mozzarella, made on the premises to order, hence the still-warm nature. It was milky white and had a perfectly creamy texture. Mozzarella, of course, has very little flavor of its own, so the accompaniments of shredded basil, a little cracked pepper and roasted red pepper were almost as important and added just the right flavor notes.
Baked clams Luciano, so called for the Luciano sauce of plum tomatoes, white wine and garlic, were OK, though not something I think I’d order again, not with so many other appealing choices. I even liked the Gabriela salad more, mesclun lettuces, tossed tableside, with candied walnuts, dried cranberries and goat cheese with just a touch of raspberry vinaigrette.
For a pasta course we sampled the ricotta stuffed rigatoni a la Chris, which featured a sauce, named for Chris, of course, of veal sausage, removed from the casing, simmered in a pulpy marinara. I don’t know who Chris is, but I love his or her sauce.
The veal chop Voldostano was an impressive 15-ouncer, bone-in, pounded thin so that it resembled a large paddle. It was breaded and fried, then topped with prosciutto and melted mozzarella, finished with a marsala wine sauce with mushrooms. The quality of the chop was first-rate, but the breading had a bit too much saltiness, which was probably exacerbated by the prosciutto.
My friend loved her sea bass Luciano. Yes, it’s the same Luciano from the clams dish. This time the sauce was just right. The beautiful thick fillet was sauteed in the sauce and served atop a bed of spinach with more than a little garlic in it.
For dessert I loved the ricotta cheesecake, about a good a version as I’ve had. The tiramisu and cannoli were also good, but the whip cream Napoleon cake, which seemed to be essentially all whipped cream, as promised, was like a big bite of nothing.
All the desserts are made on the premises, by the way, just as are the sauces and many of the other ingredients, which are assembled and cooked to order. This is definitely not a pre-made, pre-packaged sort of restaurant.
Service could have been a bit more polished. Every one seemed capable enough and friendly, but they couldn’t manage to address us in any way other than “you guys.” Tables are covered with nice white cloths, but the placement of television screens throughout the restaurant keeps it from being upscale. Matteo’s occupies a space that has been home to a couple of Brazilian churrascarias that made use of a rather permanent salad bar in the center of the room. Matteo’s has turned it into a dessert display station, which I suppose is the next best thing to having it removed.
I worry that Matteo’s portion sizes will scare some people off. Most items are available in full or half portions, but even the half size serves two to three people. At prices ranging from $15-$20 for half portions and $22-$30 for full, we’re not talking about over-priced food. In fact, it could be viewed as a bargain. But only if you’re in a position to take the leftovers home with you. Maybe it’s just me, but I hate to waste food. And I hate to overeat even more. It would be nice to have a single portion option.
Locals, of course, have the luxury of taking the food home and enjoying it for another meal. Or two. But locals might be more frightened by the International Drive locale. Don’t be. It’s just a couple of blocks from the Kirkman Road intersection, so it’s an easy off and back on to I-4.
Matteo’s is at 5350 International Drive, Orlando. It’s open for dinner daily. This link will take you to Matteo’s Web site. The phone number is 407-345-4747.