Maybe it’s the building.
I don’t know what else would explain why almost all of the tenants that have occupied the restaurant space at Cranes Roost Boulevard in Altamonte Springs have fallen short. The latest, Cafe Murano, is no exception.
This is the massive, two-story restaurant building that for many years was known as Gina’s on the Water and Gina’s Lakeside Grill. But it started life, back in ’95, as Nick’s on the Water, a second location for a South Florida restaurant. While Nick’s never managed to get anything right, there were times over the years that one or the other Gina incarnations would occasionally do acceptable food.
But never did the ambience or atmosphere come anywhere close to being anything other than a large feeding hall.
Even when diners are confined to the lower level, as they were on my most recent visit to Cafe Murano, the place just feels
impersonal and unwieldingly large. But even taking that into account, the food here is so lackluster, and the service so unprofessional, that it just adds up to three strikes.
Well, they did manage a couple of base hits. I liked the stuffed mushrooms appetizer ($8), which had large button caps filled with ricotta cheese, prosciutto, spinach and red peppers. The caps were al dente chewy and the stuffing had a slightly spicy tinge.
And the chicken rollatini ($17) that one of my guests selected from the list of house specialties had a delicious filling of gooey mozzarella and fontina cheeses wrapped in pancetta and served with a Marsala sauce with, of all things, mashed potatoes.
But then there were the other appetizers of calamari fritta ($7) and zucchini fritta ($6). Both were improperly fried and greasy as a result. There didn’t seem to be any difference between the diavolo sauce with the calamari and the marinara sauce with the zucchini -- both were bland.
My entree of bucatini Murano ($12) was almost flavorless, despite the promise of prosciutto, pancetta, peas and parmesan and pecorino cheeses. The tiny bits of ham were crispy to the point of becoming ash.
Another companion’s eggplant al forno ($12) had a decent breading but was a tad overcooked. And another’s veal Marsala ($15) was unpleasantly dark.
Our server seemed to want to rush us through our meal. There was live entertainment in the bar, which, when you’re downstairs, is also pretty much the dining room. The music was pleasant enough -- I’m a fan of restaurants offering live music -- but it was overly loud. We thought we’d sit farther away in another room, but that one had music piped in that competed with the band.
The best thing that Cafe Murano has going for it is its location overlooking the lake. Unfortunately you can’t eat the scenery.
Cafe Murano is at 309 Cranes Roost Blvd., Altamonte Springs (behind the mall and down the road from Uptown Altamonte). The phone number is 407-834-5880. The Web site is not yet fully operational but does have a link to the menu. It is open daily for lunch and dinner (until midnight).