Heather McPherson: Fiorella's is a hidden gem

Lifestyle and LeisureCookingDining and DrinkingBookBars and ClubsOrange County Convention CenterItaly

The Westin Imagine Orlando sits alone on the Universal Drive sideof the Orange County Convention Center, cut off from the wild rideof International Drive. As such, its upscale restaurant --Fiorella's Cucina Toscana -- is often overlooked as a diningdestination. And that's a shame.

In January, acclaimed chef Robert Mason of The Kessler Collection'sGrand Bohemian Hotel became executive chef at Fiorella's, and hispassion for fine food is certainly evident. The recently revisedmenu offers Italian dishes from the regions of Tuscany and northernItaly.

We started with antipasti Fiorella ($15), a lush platter ofprosciutto, cantaloupe and tomatoes covered with thick slabs ofbuffalo mozzarella, grilled artichokes, cured salami sausage,olives and aged cheeses.

The lemony calamari fritti ($11) was perfection. The flash-fried,tender squid had little adornment and came with a roasted garlicaioli. For the gamberoni con prosciutto ($13ï), largeshrimp were stuffed with goat cheese and wrapped in cured pork. Thecheese must have oozed away, as it wasn't apparent in the dish.

The grilled parsley and provolone sausage ($12) was a nicesurprise. The sausage was flavorful and served with a mixture ofsauteed sweet peppers, onions and garlic.

For entrees, the Maine Lobster ravioli ($26) was visual delight.The striped pillows of egg and spinach pasta were plump with richshellfish. But the sherried lobster sauce added little and the clawmeat served on top was tough and lacked any sweetness.

The capellini and Gulf shrimp scampi ($24) fared better with aswirl of pesto and a kicky hint of red pepper flakes.

Although I loved the concept of the oven-roasted grouper with crabtapenade ($28) and limoncello liqueur sauce, it didn't seem fullyrealized.

And the pizza section seemed out of place in this well-conceivedmenu. The spicy sausage pizza ($11.50) had an ultra-light smear ofpesto on the hand-tossed crust and was topped with tomatoes,mozzarella and peppers. It looked promising but lacked spice andzip.

More successful was the rosemary- and lemon-flavored roastedchicken, which was succulent and tender. Small capers kicked in alittle zing and the plate was completed with a sinfully cheesygnocchi gratin and sauteed vegetables.

The chicken's accompaniments were included with the price, butother entrees did not include sides. Shareable portions of sauteedspinach, asparagus, the gnocchi and an asiago polenta were $5. Thepolenta is not to be missed. It is cheesy grits nirvana.

For dessert, the pastry chef shines with a light turn on a classictiramisu ($7).

Fiorella's is a grand choice for dinner out. The smartly appointedroom showcases glass art works by Orlando artist Charles Keila. Fornow, being a bit off-the-beaten path works in its favor. It's thekind of place locals can claim in between the waves of tourists andconventioneers.

The dish on diningFiorella's Cucina Toscana

3 out of 5 starsWhere: 9501 Universal Blvd., at the Westin Imagine Orlando,near the Orange County Convention Center complex's northside.

When: 5-10 p.m. daily.

Wheelchair access: Yes.

Extras: outdoor dining and complimentary valet parking.

Entree range: $11.50-$29.

Beverages: Full bar including signature cocktails. Wine listbroken in easy-to-follow styles of intensity.

Noise level: Quiet.

Call: 407-233-2950.

Credit: All major.

Web: FiorellasOrlando.com ï®Dining on a budget

The restaurant offers budget-friendly specials nightly or from theregular menu start with these combinations:

Dinner for $25 or less: Crab cake torta Milano ($13)appetizer and the salad caprese ($11).

Dinner for $20 or less: Ziti alla vodka ($19) or themozzarella pizza ($11.50) and one of the two soups ($6).

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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