Tutto Italia

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Tutto pour

If you plan to head out to Epcot for the Candlelight Processional, or just to see the holiday decorations, you might want to consider having dinner at Tutto Italia in the Italy pavilion to add a little buon Natale.

Since the folks at Patina Restaurant Group took over the food operations at the pavilion, adding Via Napoli pizzeria and Tutto Gusto wine bar, the quality of the food has gone up considerably, making it one of the better dining destinations in the park. Executive chef Renzo Barcatta has added some new items for the winter menu and I was recently invited to taste them.

Sinatra's Ristorante

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Sinatra ext

I avoid restaurants on holidays. It's difficult to get a snapshot of how the restaurant usually does business. And by snapshot I mean both literally and figuratively: It isn't desirable to have a photo of a dining room decked out for Christmas in a review that will live throughout the year.

Or in the case of Sinatra's Ristorante, one staged for Halloween. Actually, I'm not so certain that it isn't always set for Halloween. After all, the restaurant is in Cassadaga, the unincoporated community also known as the Psychic Capital of the World. Halloween, it would seem, is a big deal here.

So much so that the usual rituals, and you may interpret that word any way you wish, aren't confined to Oct. 31, as I found out on Oct. 30, Halloween-een, apparently.

An appointment had taken me to DeLand, and with so few restaurants in that city open on Mondays -- including some that list that they're open daily -- I figured it was a good time to visit Sinatra's, not far away. I had been told it had good Italian food and that it featured piano music. I appreciate both, so I wended my way there after calling ahead to confirm that it was indeed open.

I should have known something was amiss when the person who answered the phone at the restaurant had to yell into the receiver to be heard over the background din. Still, I went on.

Nonno's Italian Restaurant

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Nonno exterior

When it was announced, in December, that Stefano LaCommare would be coming out of retirement to help out at his son’s restaurant, Nonno’s, many people were excited at the prospect of having him back in a kitchen.

The reality is even better: he’s back in the dining room.

LaCommare and his wife, Marie, have owned and operated several restaurants in the area over the last few decades. Stefano’s Trattoria in Winter Springs was the most recent. A popular destination for families and lovers of uncomplicated cuisine, Stefano’s also became a workplace for the LaCommare’s children, including their son, Leonardo, or Leo.

So when they sold Stefano’s, in 2015, along with the name and the recipes, they declared themselves retired. Their daughter Antonella and her husband, Frank Paradiso, opened their own place, Antonella’s Pizzeria, in Winter Park.

Apparently Leo, who like his father is a cook, wanted his own restaurant, too, so he opened Nonno’s Italian Restaurant in Altamonte Springs. It is Stefano’s in almost every way except by name.

Maestro Cucina Napoletana

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Maestro pizza

Maestro Cucina Napoletana has opened in Winter Park, bringing an authentic Italian food option to Park Avenue.

Maestro is a partnership between Rosario Spagnolo of Terra Mia in Altamonte Springs (and many other local restaurants that I won’t list here but you can read about here) and Antonio Martino, a Brazilian businessman who owns five McDonald’s franchises there. Don’t let that give you pause; there’s nothing clownish about the food here.

The food is solidly good quality, the atmosphere cozy and comfortable, and the service accommodating.

Rome's Flavours

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Rome Flavours outside

It’s clear that Rome’s Flavours, a cafe just off Winter Park’s Park Avenue, pays extra special attention to the house-made pasta.

That was evident when I visited recently. Shortly after my guest and I were seated, a gentleman I assume is the owner invited a young woman and her party from another table to join him at the pasta-making station in the back of the small space. There he guided her — wearing plastic gloves — through the process of running the dough through the rollers of the electrically powered pasta machine to create smooth sheets of just the right thickness, then through the die rollers to cut it into the various widths that comprise the myriad pasta types. Finally the fettuccine, spaghetti, pappardelle or whatever were draped over wooden dowels to be dried a bit before a plunge into boiling water.

The Peppy Bistro

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Peppy interior

It could be peppier.

The Peppy Bistro has taken over the College Park space that for several years was the Mexican restaurant Paxia. And just to clear things up right away, the name does not connote an emotion but rather the name of the owner, Jerry Peppy.

It wants to be known as a fusion restaurant but we’ve discussed this before and I won’t go into it again. Suffice to say that it has Italian, Mediterranean and American dishes with a fajita thrown in for good measure and none of it fused.

Armando's College Park

Written by Scott Joseph on .

 Armando interior

Armando’s, the Italian restaurant from Winter Park’s Hannibal Square, has opened a second location in College Park. It takes over the space in the Wellesley condominium building that most recently was occupied by Hangar Bar and Grille (and originally was Harmoni Market).

It would appear to be an immediate hit, if the crowd that was packed into it on a recent Friday is any indication. Tables were hard to come by for anyone not wanting to wait at least 40 minutes, and there was a pleasant thrum from the people throughout the large space who showed no interest in making the wait shorter.

My companion and I snagged two seats at the bar and looked over the extensive (and difficult to read) menu.

Stefano's Trattoria

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Stefanos dining room

What is Stefano’s without Stefano?

Or Marie? Or Antonella and Frank and Lenny?

Stefano’s Trattoria in Winter Springs was sold by the LaCommare family last year. Stefano and his wife, Marie, wanted to retire. Their son, Lenny, and daughter Antonella, and her husband, Frank Paradiso, wanted a smaller place, so they opened Antonella’s Pizzeria in Winter Park.

But Stefano’s went on being Stefano’s, but under the new ownership of F. Alejandro Martinez. It’s very possible that nothing has changed in the decor or the food. In fact, I’m pretty sure nothing has changed in the decor — it’s still a sort of cheesy plaster walls with faux cracks painted in, fake block doorways and elaborate painted murals of Italian coastal scenes that never make you think they’re the real thing.

But now there is no Marie or Antonella to welcome guests. And Stefano won’t come out of the kitchen in his stained apron to walk among the tables and chat with the customers.

Was it the LaCommares who made the food taste a little better?

Looking back at my previous review, from 2006, I pretty much said that.

Mama Louise

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Mama Louis

Well, here we are back at the Marketplace at Dr. Phillips. It seems there has been more restaurant happenings here lately than anywhere else in Central Florida. Just last week I told you about El Inka Grill, a new Peruvian outpost, and before that we were at Bistro Le Coq au Vin Dr. Phillips. There was a nod to Jamba Juice (no, that wasn’t Adele you spotted there), and, just next door at Dellagio, we visited the new Urbain 40.

But this is, after all, part of Restaurant Row, so we expect a lot of activity.

This time it’s Mama Louise, a red-checkered tablecloth restaurant in the New York Italian vein. It occupies the space that had been Cariera’s, a similar style restaurant. I wonder if there is something in the strip mall’s deed restrictions that says this particular storefront must be occupied by an Italian restaurant — it’s been several over the years. Does anyone remember when Enzo Perlini opened a more casual, pizza centric version of his popular Longwood restaurant? That was in 1992. Before that it was called Donato’s. The owner of that restaurant ran into a bit of trouble that involved a baseball bat, as I recall.

Ah, memories.

But back to Mama Louise.

Cafe Trastevere

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Trastevere interior

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.