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Magic mushroom
Downtown Disney trattoria shakes off a period of mediocrity

It’s no secret that Portobello’s days as a proud destination for top-notch Northern Italian fare have long been over. So, after a protracted period that saw the Downtown Disney dining spot fully embrace its mediocrity, the brass at Levy Restaurants made a conscious decision (perhaps at Disney’s prodding?) to get this moldy member of Mickey’s dining empire back into the Mouse’s good graces. Gone is the tired nautical motif, supplanted by bricks, barrel vaults and an old-world country modesty. (We’ll overlook the bizarre testicle-resembling ornaments that my dining partner likened to “thyroidal maracas.”) The “Yacht Club” appellation has been dropped in favor of “Trattoria,” and a stout, doting sexagenarian with a mole, a thick accent and a rolling pin greets guests as they enter. 

All hyperbole aside, the restaurant plays up the campagna over the mare, a leaning reflected in our choice of meat and vegetables over bounty from the sea. And given that Top Chef Master Tony Mantuano helped develop the menu, we were rightfully stoked to sample the dishes.

It’s hard to leave hyperbole aside in describing the portobello mushroom appetizer ($9.95), but let’s just say that this meaty wood-roasted cremini served over niblet-specked polenta was one of the most memorable ’shrooms I’ve ever sampled. The rich flavor was further enhanced by a wash of rosemary-balsamic reduction and gorgonzola crumbles. Our other selection – Sicilian eggplant fries ($7.95) – required us to cram handfuls of the fried strings into our yaps to get any hint of the aubergine flavor. Wedges, not strings, would’ve made a far more tasty and pleasing form.

For $23.95, the bowl of al dente bucatini is a tad pricey, but the long tube pasta tossed in a light tomato sauce was given a rustically robust kick with the addition of guanciale (cured pork cheek). Placing a grilled Serrano pepper atop the heap dares diners to turn the kick to a punt. Bistecca alla Fiorentina ($36.95), another pricey main, sounds a lot more exotic than the grilled porterhouse it is, but for all the steak’s enormity, it was hardly the plush, succulent slab we were expecting. The steak was served with garlic-punched wilted spinach and absolutely wonderful rosemary potato wedges that we couldn’t get enough of. Looking over at the bar area, we noticed a blackboard listing a handful of meatball sliders, none of which are available to patrons seated in the dining room. Lame.

As if my strawberry Italian soda ($4.95) weren’t cloying enough, I indulged in another sweet “drink” called a biramisu ($7.95) to cap the affair. Swapping Orlando Brewing porter for espresso, the liquid dessert was a worthy variant of the traditional Italian cake. Don’t even bother with the “crispy-candy-glazed,” too-thick white chocolate custard ($6.95), aka crème brûlée.

For all but the finest of Disney restaurants, there are obvious considerations to chew over before making the drive down the interstate. In Portobello Trattoria’s case, it’s like hearing a distant, but friendly, relative you bump into say, “If you’re ever in the area, do drop by,” but knowing full well that you probably won’t.

dining@orlandoweekly.com
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