The Checklist: Not even open for a full year yet, this restaurant really has its act together and meets all of my requirements when looking at restaurants I’d recommend to others. Cool space? Check. Clean? Check. Good service? Check. Decent wine list? Check. Outstanding food? Double Check.
The Place: La Nuova Cucina is located on Sand Lake Road and is pretty much an independently-owned shining gem stuck between a swarm of heavy hitting chain restaurants. My first feeling when I entered the restaurant was that it reminded me of what I envision modern bistros in Italy to look like. The space is small, but it gives more of an intimate feeling rather than a claustrophobic one. Exposed brick and simple art work adorn the walls, and the floor is a rather nice dark wood. Seating is comfortable with detached pillows on each chair. I also caught a glance into the kitchen on my way to the restroom and was impressed by its organization and clean environment. (And, for the record, I loved the wallpaper in the ladies room!)
The Food: But beyond the ambiance, I immediately felt comfortable and welcomed. Diners are served with complimentary amuse bouches between courses that are described by servers as “gifts from the chef.” So we started our meal not only with the yummy herb biscuits, but also with their version of caprese salad: One bite of cherry tomato, goat cheese, and a small dollop of pesto.
I enjoyed the arancini for my appetizer — small fried rice balls that were filled with melted mozzarella cheese. What really made the dish for me was the sweet yet tangy roasted red pepper sauce. It complimented the arancini perfectly. After our appetizers we were treated to another “gift from the chef” — thinly sliced cold zucchini rolled around a ricotta, shrimp and dill salad. It was absolutely fantastic.
I went a bit over the top and ordered the Gnocchi al Emmenthal e Filet Mignon, AKA filet with gnocchi in an emmental (Swiss) cheese sauce for my entree. A huge bowl of tender, melt in your mouth gnocchi with a subtle sauce, it was topped with a few slices of fork tender filet. This dish was amazing, and I loved the fun play on steak and mashed potatoes!
Just before our dessert we had our last “gift from the chef”: a small spoonful of berry sorbet with a spritz of a sweet red wine. And when I say spritz, I mean spritz. The server literally sprayed a bit of the wine onto the sorbet with a spritz bottle! I finished off my meal with Pera al Vino Rosso Gelato al Pistacchio — red wine poached pears with pistachio gelato. While not impressed with the pears, this gelato was delicious. Not too sweet with chunks of crunchy pistachios, this is on the list of my favorite ice cream flavors.
The wine list had variety and was not overly priced. We had a bottle of Vernaccia di San Gimigano — a well balanced and complex white wine hailing from Tuscany. I would like to see a few more white Italian options on the list, as three out of the four offered were Pinot Grigio.
I would highly recommend this restaurant to anyone. Families, friends and couples all seemed to be having a great time. It’s centrally located on Restaurant Row for the locals. And it you’re visiting Orlando, it’s close to many fine resorts including the gorgeous Ritz-Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes.
So, I guess I was able to put my enjoyment of this restaurant into words after all!
–- Kate Higgins of Kate’s Kitchen
Photo courtesty of Kate Higgins