I had previously visited Fiorella’s, which is in the Westin Imagine hotel behind the Orange County Convention Center, in November when I was invited to a media dinner. My review didn’t find as much fault with the food -- although there were some aspects to it that needed improving -- as I did with the service. And I found that odd given that Westin is part of the Starwood hotel group, which is known for its fine service. But that evening was riddled with service faux pas, many of them committed by a manager who attempted to help out.
Following my accounting of the evening, the manager of the hotel, so I was told later, contacted the person who had invited me to the dinner, a contract worker, and terminated the contract. “You never should have invited him,” the manager allegedly said. Apparently, only people who would not give an honest appraisal of the dinner should have been on the invitation list.
And by the way, when I’ve related this story to others who were at the same dinner they’ve all had the same reaction: “Oh, it was dreadful.”
My headline on the previous review was “Imagine it getting better.”
“You weren’t here when the restaurant first opened, were you?” I asked the manager who was helping the waiter assigned to my table on my recent revisit. No, he wasn’t, he replied. I didn’t think so -- his service was too professional and attentive, as was also the case with the young waiter. (His recitation of menu items was a little over the top, but he was so charming in his banter that I won’t count it against him.)
There’s also a new chef, one who is known to local diners. Robert Mason, who had been executive chef at the Boheme in the Grand Bohemian hotel in downtown Orlando, moved to Fiorella’s in February. He’s well settled in now, and his food has raised the level of quality of the restaurant considerably.
I started with the misto di calamari fritti, which did not look like it had been frittied when it arrived. It looked too white, but that was only because the breading was so delicate and it had been only briefly fried. The result was a crispy, tasty jacket on the tender squid ringlets. Leading flavors were provided by a sprinkling of salt and the garlic aioli drizzle.
I also had the minestrone, which has a vegetable broth and plenty of veggie chunks in it. Not much pasta, but the broth had a peppery aftertaste.
The oven-roasted grouper was a thick fillet served on top of thick, round noodles. It had a delightful crisp crust and was topped with a stack of rich crab meat.
Filetto con Gorgonzola, a certified black angus tenderloin of beef, was grilled to a perfect medium-rare and finished with tangy blue cheese, accompanied by baked tomato, cipollini onions, asparagus and fingerling potatoes.
For dessert the limoncello gelato was too intriguing to pass up. But alas it did not have much limoncelloey flavor. The cannoli had a chocolate filling that was not unpleasant but not what I was expecting either.
The dining room remains the same, though it seemed to me there was less of the art glass that dominated the room before. That could be just my imagination. The kitchen is largely open to the main part of the dining room. That’s fine, although there is also a window to the left of the expediter station that looks into a rather unattractive part of the kitchen and its large grey electrical panels. I think I’d find a way to hide that.
One other complaint about the hotel itself: self-parking is not possible. There is a parking garage behind the hotel, but its entrance is posted with a sign saying it is for valet use only. That’s not very customer friendly.
But once you’ve valeted -- it’s complementary, at least -- the experience is now one I feel confident in recommending.
Oh, and by the way, if you can get there before the end of September, you’ll find everything I had is available on the restaurant’s Orlando Magical Dining Month menu. The three courses are offered at $30 per person. The steak with Gorgonzola sells for $31 by itself on the regular menu.
Fiorella’s is in the Westin Imagine, 9501 Universal Blvd., Orlando. The restaurant is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The phone number is 407-233-2950. Here’s a link to the Orlando Magical Dining Month listing, and this one will take you to Fiorella’s home page.