It took a long time for Delmonico’s Italian Steakhouse to open on International Drive, nearly a year after it first announced its intention to do so. The Orlando restaurant is the first outside of New York, where four other Delmonico’s -- in Albany, Utica, Syracuse and Rochester -- appear to enjoy fairly favorable reviews. This Delmonico’s, it should be mentioned up front, has no relation to the famed Manhattan restaurant or to the one owned by Emeril Lagasse.
Not that you’d confuse them. This is hardly the sort of upscale dining you’d expect from the storied steakhouse or from a Lagasse operation. It is, ultimately, a mundane experience with absolutely nothing to distinguish it from the dozens of other chain restaurants on International Drive that exist primarily for the tourist and convention business.
My overall opinion of DIS is informed by what happened with the Bella Napoli. The Bella Napoli is an appetizer described on the menu as “Italian pasta chips, sausage, olives, asiago sauce, romano & provolone w/ peppers, tomato & onion.” It sounded unusual and interesting. It sounded like it might be an Italian version of nachos, and when I asked my server about it, she volunteered just that description. I like unusual and interesting, as long as it’s good, so I went for it.
Not good. The chips, fashioned out of pasta, were dry and airy. And there was very little of any of the other ingredients to provide needed moisture or flavor (the chips might be compared to rice cakes, but with less taste). It took only a bite or two to conclude this was not a dish I wanted to waste my caloric allowance on. And when the server came back and asked if I liked it, I honestly said no, I didn’t.
She was really taken aback. I was the first person to tell her that. She asked if I wanted her to remove them from the table and I said I did. Then I waited for my entree, the restaurant’s signature: Delmonico’s Delmonico steak. (The Delmonico cut is basically a ribeye.)
I must say it was an impressive looking steak, a beautiful 24-ouncer that had been cooked perfectly to the requested medium-rare. And with the exception of the first bite, which was all gristle, the meat was quite tender, and at $19.99 for such a large steak, it seemed to be quite a deal.
So would it have been too much to ask that the steak have some flavor? It had none. It was ultimately just a big slab of meat that could substantially fill an empty stomach without offering much in the way of enjoyment. It was served with a side of penne with a passable red sauce.
So then, at the end of the meal the server brings my check and says, “he took the Napoli off the check; I don’t know if he told you.”
No, “he” never came by my table. I couldn’t even guess who “he” was supposed to be. But that little act -- or, more precisely, failure to act -- told me what I needed to know about the restaurant.
Taking the charge for the uneaten appetizer off the bill was exactly the right thing to do. What would have made it righter would be for the manager to stop by, offer regrets that the dish didn’t live up to expectations -- even if he thought I was a stark-raving lunatic for not liking it -- and tell me in person that he would be taking the cost off the final check. But the way it was handled told me that management cared enough to remove the charge but not enough to have contact with a guest.
Delmonico’s occupies a freestanding building that housed other chains in the past. There is a central, thrust bar with seating on three sides and no overhang to obscure views of the rest of the room or the several large-screen tvs. There are dining rooms on either side of the bar lit with various mismatched crystal chandeliers. The walls are decorated with large cutout cartoons of celebrities from the worlds of sports, show business and politics, each with a “balloon” of dialogue. I spent the evening staring at Sonny Bono and Yogi Berra.
The bar area may be attractive to a lone diner, someone in town for a convention or meeting who just wants something to eat. But for those who want to dine on good food, better restaurants are not too far away.
Delmonico’s Italian Steakhouse is at 6115 Westwood Blvd. (at the Beachline offramp to International Drive), Orlando. It is open for lunch on weekends and for dinner daily. Click this link to download the Orlando restaurant’s menu . This one will take you to Delmonico’s website. The phone number is 407-226-2662.