I went out to Winter Garden to attend a show at the Garden Theater and had a thoroughly enjoyable pre-theater dining experience at alFresco.
Despite the name, alFresco is not all outdoor dining. In fact, from what I could see of the actual patio space, it wasn’t nearly as comfortable and inviting as the indoor dining space, which has a balance of old and new in its decor of rustic bricks and brightly painted walls.
My guest and I started with appetizers of arancini and empanadas. The two risotto balls were substantial and perfectly fried, served sitting in a puddle of fresh tomato sauce and topped with greens and shaved parmesan. I liked them, though I thought the pomodoro, though clearly freshly made, lacked any distinctive flavor.
The empanadas had a very nice flaky crust, and the chorizo and beef filling was flavorful. The only problem was that the pastry pocket was larger than the filling inside.
For my entree I had the paella, a generous portion of mussels, chicken chunks, shrimp and clams mixed with the saffron flavored rice. The shrimp were especially enjoyable, tender-firm and with the tails removed (thank you!). I had decided in recent years that I wasn’t really a fan of paellas, but this one could bring me back to the fold.
My guest had the lamb bolognese, a pulpy ragout that, like the pomodoro with the arancini, needed a seasoning boost. The tagliatelle pasta was nicely done, with long, wide, al dente noodles.
Our server was accomplished and efficient, and even offered to take our leftovers next door to hold in the bar’s fridge while we attended the play in the theater. Very nice, and I appreciated the gesture even more as I enjoyed the paella again the next day.
AlFresco is at 146 W. Plant St., Winter Garden. It is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday and for Sunday brunch. The phone number is 407-654-5889.