Planning on abandoning Disneyland for Disney World or just have the urge to visit Orlando? If so, you must take a detour to Winter Park about 15 - 20 minutes away.
I recently returned home to the 'hood from being a “plus guest” at my husband’s Rollins College/theater majors’ reunion there and fell in love with this charming college town that reminded me of Princeton, NJ.
We winged our way east in first-class (thank you mileage) sipping mediocre wine and nibbling a mediocre cheese plate. This middling food experience was about to change dramatically.
We arrived sleepless and red-eyed on the red-eye a day before the festivities were to begin. So, on the recommendation of Rick Stanley, a fellow Rollins alum and owner of the Scott Laurent Collection (www.scottlaurentcollection.com/ ) in Winter Park, we decided to have an early dinner at Rocco’s Italian Grille & Bar, a stone’s throw from our hotel, before catching up on much needed sleep.
The restaurant has an old-world charm with a modern flair, decorated with dark woods, exposed brick, modern Venetian-style glass lighting, blown glass accents, contemporary artwork and tables dressed in white linen (I’m a sucker for white linen). The patio where you can dine al fresco reminded me of piazzas I’d been to in Tuscany.
Upon entering, we were warmly greeted by the owner, Rocco Potami, a native of Italy’s Calabria region who escorted us to a table overlooking the patio.
As we studied the menu, my husband ordered a Ripasso Baby Amarone, a delicious full-bodied Italian red wine from the eclectic wine list which included wines from Italy, Australia, Washington state and California and range from $30 to $360 a bottle (would love to have had a taste of that $360 wine). House wines by the glass range from $7.25 to $15.00. I started with a vodka martini… three olives (well, they have martinis in Italy, right?).
To start, Rocco put together an antipasti trio that included a bruschetta of sautéed shallots, gorgonzola and mascarpone cheese and aged balsamic; mushroom caps stuffed with sausage, onion, red bell pepper, mascarpone and gorgonzola cheese and bread crumbs (a Rocco family recipe); and tarragon shrimp with gorgonzola and Calvados apple brandy. This was foodie heaven overseen by Saint Rocco.
Rocco then surprised us with two more “appetizer tastes:” the day’s special risotto with asparagus and fresh herbs and Papardelle Alle Cinque Terre, a pasta with shrimp, scallops and lobster braised in a white wine tomato basil cream sauce, topped with shaved Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and basil. Separating the two “tastes” was a line of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano. An angelic foodie choir began singing in my head!
And there was more!!!
The night’s entrees ranged in price from $15.96 (Petto Di Pollo Alla Milanese, a lightly breaded chicken breast fried in EVOO and served with the house salad) to $36.00 (Costata D’Agnello Scotta Dita, free range grilled lamb chops slightly flattened and marinated in a light garlic rosemary marinade)…
My husband opted for one of Rocco’s signature dishes: Scaloppine Di Vitello Alla Rocco ($24.95) - veal scaloppine topped with roasted peppers, prosciutto and fontina cheese deglazed with white wine, finished with a demi glace sauce and served with the day’s veggies. Of course I had to have a bite. Cue the choir.
My choice was the Petto Di Pollo Alla Griglia Con Erbette ($16.50): grilled, Italian herb marinated chicken breast with house veggies, potatoes and a balsamic drizzle. Tender – delicious.
Then it was time for dessert. Dessert?! I couldn’t eat another bite (could you?!) so I simply told our waiter, “I surrender!” BUT… if I did have room, I might have chosen a mini cannoli, or a La Bomba (chocolate and vanilla gelato wrapped in chocolate with a cherry almond center), or maybe the Italian cheesecake. Maybe next time. And I hope there is a next time. Soon.
Rocco’s Italian Grille & Bar
400 N. Orlando Ave.
Winter Park, Fl. 32789
Live music Friday and Saturday night