Having left an impression on the city's culinary landscape with such well-received hotspots as Bravissimo, Babbo and Aroma, Armando Martorelli has now set his sights on Winter Park, taking over the former Lotus Café space situated across the street from the venerable Café de France on Park Avenue. Living up to the standards set by the French boîte is no easy task, but he brings an accomplished pedigree to the tony thoroughfare, and while the 'Toscanaâ?� in 'Trattoria Toscanaâ?� is taken somewhat liberally here, there's enough brio to draw a mixed crowd into the quaint little eatery.
Apart from the interrogation-room lighting fixtures, the dining room is tastefully appointed, with bold blue-and-red modern art gracing the beige walls ' not exactly playing up the simple, rustic, old-world charm Tuscany is known for, but then again, neither does the food. Items I expected to see ' steak Florentine and hearty bean soup, for example ' were nowhere to be found, while all the pastas with cream sauces on the menu weren't exactly indicative of Tuscan cuisine. The fresh-baked bread, a Tuscan fundamental, was wonderfully light and airy with a crispy crust, but serving it with cold squares of butter rather than extra virgin olive oil was a little surprising. We thoroughly enjoyed the salmon carpaccio ($9.95), every slice undoubtedly fresh, superbly smoky and embellished with creamy goat cheese, red onions and capers, served with roasted red peppers and olives. A heavy sauce weighed down the eggplant alla parmigiana ($8.95), but the substantial starter (along with the bread) could easily satisfy diners on a shoestring budget, particularly the Rollins College students who frequent the place. Same goes for their thin-crust pizzas ($11.50 to $13.95).
Pastas dominate the mains. The gnocchi ($12.50), done in the Sorrento style, was bathed in the requisite sauce, mozzarella and fresh basil leaves, even though the potato dumplings were slightly overdone and on the soft side. Still, that was the sole fault of this otherwise rewarding dish. Pollo di Babbo ($13.95), a holdover from the days when Martorelli ran Babbo in College Park, was a thick, rich and completely filling second course. The corpulent breast stuffed with spinach, ricotta and mozzarella was served atop a bed of spaghetti drenched in a creamy sherry wine sauce. The sauce had life, but the breast, surprisingly, was lackluster.
A decent wine list emphasizes Italian varietals (a glass of chianti is practically a must), and if you require assistance in your selection, the knowledgeable waiters are sure to help. Service, it should be noted, was impeccable, polished and professional, though placing all our leftovers in tinfoil was bizarre. Sure, it's more enviro-friendly than Styrofoam, but I didn't appreciate finishing mushy leftover tiramisu ($6.95) the following day. No matter, it was still good. Same goes for the homemade cannoli ($6.95) with its generous filling, restrained cinnamon essence and perfectly done shell.
Trattoria Toscana isn't perfect, and it may not even be totally Tuscan, but the restaurant shows a lot of promise. If they ditch the creamy sauces for simple rustic dishes and grilled items, their business, like those flavors, will shine.
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