If you want to experience the local economy in full swing, arrive at Winter Park's Prato a little before 6 p.m. Request a booth or grab a comfy perch at the bar.
By 7 p.m. the house is packed and guests are angling for bar access to dine or wait for a table. The long cavernous room (a former Ann Taylor store) is filled with laughter and conversation.
Looking for a quiet dinner? Keep walking. But there is an appealing energy to the lively vibe that suits Prato's menu and rustic charm.
The restaurant's name refers to Tuscany's second-largest city and the hub of the Slow Food movement, making the name a natural for executive chef Brandon McGlamery. As he has with Prato's sister restaurant, Luma on Park, McGlamery is committed to using local produce, responsibly farmed meats and sustainable seafood.
The menu has a good balance of small and large plates. And you can watch the culinary artisans perfect the dishes in the open kitchen. The wood-burning oven had my attention from the get-go. The fiery alcove imparts a wonderful smoky note to pizzas and a few other menu items.
With help from our knowledgeable server, we started with the peekytoe crab bruschetta ($11). The large bread points were slathered in a delicately sweet shellfish meat, chickpea and yogurt mash and topped with ultrathin slices of crisp radishes. (Peekytoe crabs, once a throwaway catch, are now a coveted variety of Atlantic rock crab.)
But the yellowfin tuna crudo ($14) was the star of the first act. Fresh chili slivers, fruity olive oil, frisee and citrus were tossed with sublime pieces of ahi-grade tuna. The rose-colored fish along with the hues and texture of the other ingredients made for an exquisite presentation.
Our cannellini bean and lacinato kale soup ($6) was a welcome, full-bodied warmer on a recent cool night. The kale floated on a hefty slice of grilled ciabatta. Our only quibble: The kale was not torn into bite-size portions.
From the wood-burning oven, we sampled the funghi pizza (all pizzas are $15), a nicely rumpled hand-tossed pie topped with roasted mushroom, caramelized radicchio, braised scallion and fontina cheese.
In the casarecce amatriciana ($15), the homemade pasta was a twisted and rolled tube that worked with the smoked pancetta, caramelized onions and pecorino cheese quite nicely.
The roasted chicken ($26) was home-style good with elegant touches such as fingerling potatoes and braised pear.
We finished with an unremarkable salted caramel gelato ($4) and a decadent dense budino ($6). My guests were still talking about the velvety chocolate pudding the next day.
Prato has a few wrinkles to work out, but it's definitely on the right track with a fresh approach to Italian fare that was much needed on the avenue.
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Where: 124 N. Park Ave., Winter Park (between Morse Boulevard and Lincoln Avenue), street and valet parking
When: Lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; dinner 5:30-11 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 5:30-10 p.m. Sunday
How much: $10-$30 (menu changes seasonally)
Wines by the glass: From $6
Extras: Outdoor dining, reservations, takeout and table service
Noise level: Pleasantly boisterous
Wheelchair access: Easy, but extremely tight along bar on crowded nights
Credit: American Express, MasterCard and Visa
Online: prato-wp.com Facebook and Twitter
Diningon a budget
Pastas come in full and half orders and the menu has plenty of starters and a nice selection of shareable pizzasCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times