I had occasion to revisit Cala Bella recently and found it to be as Bella as ever. Cala Bella, of course, is the upscale Italian restaurant at the upscale hotel Rosen Shingle Creek, or Shingle Cala, if you prefer.
The occasion was the fulfillment of a silent auction item offered at the annual gala for Orlando Shakespeare Theater in partnership with UCF. The winning bidders were Jose and Mimi Fernandez, who were offered the dinner by Rosen, prepared by head chef Ricky Lopez, with the promise that I would use their comments in my review.
We met recently at the big, beautiful property on the banks of the creek that gives the resort its name. Since the last time I visited Cala Bella, large drapery panels have been added to the archways that lead from one section of the restaurant to another. The panels help to soften the cavernous feel of the space, but only a bit. I don’t think this could ever be considered an intimate dining room. The kitchen is open to the dining room but is fairly quiet. Tables are covered with black cloths and the carpet has a rose pattern, sort of like something you’d find in a grandmother’s parlor (if a grandmother’s parlor was several thousand square feet). But it’s elegant nonetheless.
My guests and I started with the Cala Bella antipasti sampler platter, also known as a small feast. It had meatballs, calamari, bruschetta and assorted meats and cheeses. I thought the bruschetta, which had leeks along with the usual tomato, basil and garlic, was extraordinarily good, the best I’ve had since Toscanelli, 21 years ago. (When you have good bruschetta, you remember it.) Jose liked the meatballs. “My big surprise were the meatballs,” he said. “I liked the filling and the texture. I’m a big fan of calamari, and I like the calamari, but the meatballs were really good.”
Mimi and I both thought the little cherry peppers stuffed with cream cheese were tasty little morsels. None of us liked the manchego, which was cubed and coated with basil and tasted too young. The tetilla was tasty and had us all tittering because it gets its name from looking like a small breast, something I never could have written about if I still worked for a family newspaper.
Mimi’s favorite entree was the lamb, marinated in herbs and roasted and served with a delightful rosemary infused mint. Jose and I both thought his snapper was exceptional. The fish was fresh tasting and flaky, and the topping of marinated olives, crushed tomatoes and capers with just a bit of spiciness from some chilies, added a bright flavor.
The scallops served with the orecchiette were impressively large and nicely cooked but ultimately boring, as was the pasta they sat on. The Tuscan veal chop was a bit smallish, but nice with the tomato olive vinaigrette.
For dessert there was an array of sweets from master pastry chef David Ramirez. We could have argued for hours about which one was the best.
Service is still first-rate; skillful and attentive.
Cala Bella probably isn’t a restaurant that most locals think about when they’re looking for fine Italian food, but they should. This is an excellent restaurant with great skill in the food. It’s pricy, but the value is in the quality.
Cala Bella is at Rosen Shingle Creek, 9939 Universal Blvd., Orlando. It’s open for dinner daily. Here’s a link to the Web site. The phone number is 407-996-3663.