Primo is sometimes called Primo by Melissa Kelly, the James Beard Award winning chef whose popular Rockland, Maine, restaurant was recreated with the opening of the J.W. Marriott at Grande Lakes Resort. Since then, Kelly has opened another Primo in Tucson. She can’t be in all places all the time, of course, so in her stead she has Juan Martinez as chef de cuisine in the Orlando restaurant.
I’ve always liked Primo, but I’ve had one little peeve about it in the past: although it purports to be Italian, there wasn’t much Italian about the menu. But there seems to be more of an Italian bent these days. It’s still a largely upscale dining experience, and that’s reflected in the surroundings, the style of service and especially in the quality of the food.
My guest chose to start with the antipasti misti, a platter of cured meats and artisan cheeses. I selected the zuppa del giorno, listed on the menu as the “whim of the chef.” On the evening I visited, Martinez had a whim to do wild mushroom soup. It was actually pretty tame, which is not to say unenjoyable. The mushroom were served in a dry bowl and the broth was poured tableside. It was intensely flavored, and the bits of mushrooms were nice and chewy.
For my entree I had the handmade cavatelli all Bolognese. Cavatelli are the little pasta nuggets that always remind me of grubs, except I enjoy eating cavatelli. They were tossed with a meat sauce fashioned out of both beef and pork with blistered cherry tomatoes and house-smoked ricotta. No one would accuse it of being too meaty, but it was balanced, and the sauce had just the slightest and most pleasant bit of spiciness.
My friend chose the pork saltimbocca, which featured a sauteed scaloppini topped with prosciutto and flash-fried sage. The sauce had mushrooms and Madeira wine and more sage flavoring. There were very nice salty notes in the taste. (The name saltimbocca, of course, has nothing to do with salt; it means “jump in the mouth,” although, for the record, the pork had to be helped there with a fork.)
For dessert the standout was the warm zeppoles, a big bowl of bocce ball sized fried dough. Despite the size, the zeppoles were actually more ethereal in density, and were delicious sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar.
Service was first-rate, and the evening progressed seamlessly.
For some reason, whenever I’m asked for fine dining recommendations, Primo rarely jumps to mind. I think it will leap there more readily after this latest meal.
Primo is at the J.W. Marriott, 4040 Central Florida Parkway, Orlando. It is open for dinner daily. Here’s a link to the restaurant’s Orlando Web site. The phone number is 407-393-4444, or you can click here to make online reservations.