Get thee to Orlando to take advantage of Magical Dining Month! From Sept. 1-30, participating restaurants, many of which are upscale gems, are offering three-course dinners for $30. My Tampa friends, time is of the essence. Here's the link, which lists the restaurants and their featured menus: http:www.orlandoinfo.com/magicaldining/
Hubmeister and I were at Rosen Shingle Creek Resort Friday night for a meeting and were treated like royalty while taking advantage of this promotion at its very expensive Cala Bella restaurant.
Mention the Magical Dining promotion at these establishments; otherwise, you're apt to get the standard menu. Orlando food bloggers reported this, and that's what happened to us. Without hesitation, our exceptional waiter simply switched the menus and inquired how we heard about the promotion. We selected a lovely bottle of wine but were well-treated even before we ordered it. We usually loathe restaurant promotions - once servers ourselves back in the day - but this deal is too good to be missed, and it does help these folks through a notoriously slow month in Florida.
I became aware of Magical Dining Month when I stumbled across an informative Orlando food blog - http://katekitchen.blogspot.com/. Kate, a chef and sommelier, mentioned her fondness for this annual culinary event and listed a few spots she planned to visit. After a bit of research, I discovered the resort where we were booked - a AAA Four-Diamond property with highly rated restaurants - was participating. The steak restaurant, A Land Remembered, was closed for a private party, but the Italian bistro, Cala Bella, was open for business.
I apologize for not having any pictures to share. Hubmeister grumbled about my taking photos, and since we were dining early due to a later engagement, we were the only people in the restaurant. Photography would have been awkwardly conspicuous. You must take me at my word that every plate was gourmet gorgeous.
The special menu offered a few choices for each course, and they were dishes taken from the regular menu, not a scaled-down set concocted for this promotion.
We both started with a salad of arugula, Gorgonzola cheese, candied pecans, mission figs, raspberries and blackberries tossed with yellow tomato vinaigrette and topped with carrot curls. A picture in a bowl, the peppery greens mixed with the tangy cheese and sweet and tart fruits were scrumptious.
Along with the salad course, we devoured a basket of assorted breads featuring rosemary-flavored bread sticks, an oval flat bread that reminded me of a gargantuan Melba toast covered in Parmesan and perhaps a few other cheeses and then baked, and rolls resembling mini-ciabattas that contained walnuts and raisins. The bread was accompanied by a dish of olive oil accentuated with balsamic vinegar and honey. The honey was a new twist for me, but the sweetened oil-and-vinegar combination complemented the raisin-walnut rolls. I could have stopped at the salad and irresistible bread and left perfectly happy. However, I continued my gluttonous journey.
My entree, "papperdelle ai bistecche," was a 10-ounce New York strip served with a spicy tomato and mushroom ragu over papperdelle, a ribbonlike pasta. I had a couple of prickly issues with the steak. First, it was cooked more than I consider medium. To me, medium means bright pink, not barely pink. Second, it arrived already sliced, atop the pasta. A nice presentation, yes, but I like to cut into a steak. The savory juices seared inside this "Five-Diamond Harris Ranch Prime New York Strip" exploded onto the chef's cutting board, not my plate. Despite the beefs I had with the beef, it was tender and tasty. The wavy pasta dressed in spicy red sauce was a palate-pleaser. Although a big fan of garlic, I found it refreshing that the kitchen didn't overwhelm the dishes with it.
Hubmeister ordered asiago chicken, a dish prepared with sun-dried tomatoes, fried wild mushrooms, and asiago cheese, presented in a delicate pool of Chianti reduction. Quite pretty. He didn't go crazy over it, but you must understand Hubmeister, although I don't - he doesn't care for sun-dried tomatoes or mushrooms. So, why order this dish? To steal a line from Tennyson, "Ours is not to reason why."
Dessert was a treat because I usually don't indulge, and now we had two delightful specimens to share. I ordered cappuccino creme brulee and Hubmeister requested lemon mascarpone. I didn't receive my brulee, but I didn't care because the chocolate sabayon that was placed before me was my other choice. Now, honestly I am not familiar with cooking or eating panna cotta or sabayon, but they were delicious. This dessert, which I assume was chocolate panna cotta accompanied by fluffy sabayon flavored with liqueur, was presented with a raspberry coulis and chocolate sauce formed into the shape of a musical note. I felt like singing.
Hubmeister's lemon mascarpone consisted of layers of crispy sugar cookie, sponge cake, raspberry filling, and creamy mascarpone cheese flavored with lemon, all encased in a hard yellow shell and accented with edible art made of white chocolate. It was light and luscious, a perfect end to an Italian meal.
Our waiter was attentive and friendly, but not overly intrusive. He gets huge props for brewing a pot of fresh coffee to accompany dessert, apologizing for the slight delay because he opted to do so. This guy should give lessons on how to wait tables. I wish I would have asked him more details about my dessert, but I was having too much fun to care about specifics. I must have been distracted by the comfortably elegant atmosphere; serene panorama of the resort's pools, gardens, lakes and golf course; and the fine company, food and wine. Our gourmet dining experience at Cala Bella was magical indeed.
Note: Reservations are recommended. Some tables view the open kitchen, if you want to watch the chef in action. Request a window table if you prefer a more romantic evening. An adjacent piano bar is an inviting spot for a cocktail. Attire is dressy casual. Valet parking fee, validated at restaurant.
Cala Bella Restaurant at Rosen Shingle Creek Resort
9939 Universal Boulevard