I went to the Harbor Nights event at Portofino Bay hotel at Universal Orlando Friday and was having a pretty good time -- at first. The event took place on the resort's piazza that is designed to look like a Ligurian fishing village. There were food and wine stations set up throughout the plaza, and there were perhaps thousands of people standing in lines to sip and sample.
And there was good music, too. A jazz band played on a stage in the plaza, and for a special treat a group of operatic singers appeared on one of the hotel's balconies and performed songs made popular by singers such as Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman. And there were songs of the season.
But then I started to notice a foul odor. So I moved from where I was standing to get away from whatever it was. But I couldn't escape it. Then I realized what it was: there were cigar smokers everywhere, sitting, standing walking about. Men and women. Turns out that over in one of the plaza's corners was a cigar rolling station handing out big fat ones.
Nothing kills the enjoyment of food and wine faster than noxious fumes. Why wasn't this billed as an event for smokers? It's fine with me if that's what people want, but I won't be going to another Harbor Nights, not unless the organizers can separate the cigar smokers from the people who like the taste and smell of good food and wine.
at Rosen's Shingle Creek: Italian for the Upper Crust
It’s been a little over two years since Harris Rosen opened the jewel in his pantheon of hotels, Rosen Shingle Creek. In that time, the elegant Italian restaurant Cala Bella has become a bit more refined and the food a bit more certain.
It’s still shockingly expensive.
When I dined there in 2006 I was stunned by the $40 price tag on the seafood pescatore. It’s now $46 – and there are still no flecks of gold in the broth. Well, if you don’t count the saffron that seasons the fish stock tinged with tomato. And, in truth, there was a lot more seafood in the soup this time, headlined by an Australian lobster tail, two impressively plump scallops, shrimp, clams and mussels. Under it all was a nest of fresh pappardelle pasta.
The al dente ribbons were part of my companion’s entrée of pappardelle ai bistecche, which was listed under the menu’s pasta heading, though in truth this was a steak dish. It featured 10 ounces of New York strip from Harris Ranch, cooked to a perfect medium-rare and sliced, the noodles piled on top with a sauce of mushrooms and tomato ragout. Quite nice.
We had started our meal with the mozzarella stuffed Bella meatballs, three bocce ball-sized orbs of moist ground meat braised in Barolo wine. The meatballs were more enjoyable than the calamari fritte, which was a little too damp.
The highlight of the dessert menu is the deconstructed tiramisu, which takes the various elements of the omnipresent dolce -- chocolate, mascarpone, lady fingers – and presents them stacked instead of blended. I first found it odd, but its uniqueness has grown on me. The chocolate sabayon, with dollops of white chocolate garnished with diced strawberries, was also good. (Mention you’re a local, I’m told, and dessert is on the house.)
Service was exceptional. Menu knowledge was impressive, and the meal moved with a leisurely pace.
The dining space is cavernous, but has been softened a bit with swaths of burgundy draperies that now frames the high archways.
This is still one for the expense account crowd, but the quality is more consistent and closer to matching the prices.