Monday, October 7, 2013

Winter Park's Rocco's Italian Grille delights with true Italian flavor and personality: restuarant review

I've heard a lot of great things about Rocco's Italian Grille and Bar in Winter Park and I finally got the chance to fall under the restaurant's charms when I dined with Chef Rocco Potami and his staff on a recent Saturday night.

Located right on Orlando Avenue (Hwy 17-92), Rocco's doesn't wow from the outside, but a step inside the door reveals a charming Italian Trattoria-style restaurant and a warm welcome from the owner himself. It is a true family affair when you're greeted by the owner and served by the owner's son. There was a genuine warmth and pleasantness to the service throughout the meal. It's something hard to define, but you know it in an instant when you experience it.

Chef Rocco was gracious enough to offer a chef's tasting and my guest and I gladly accepted. We started with a sample antipasti plate of Bruschetta Sorpresa, Gamberoni Al Gorgonzola and Funghi Ripieni Alla Jojo. Okay, so right from the start, it's helpful to understand a little bit about Italian cuisine and the various courses offered. But if you don't know the difference between Formaggio e frutta, Contorno or Digestivo -- don't worry -- Chef Rocco and staff will walk you right through it. They did for me.

The artichoke and dried tomato topped bruschetta was wonderful, and the roasted mushroom caps stuffed with sausage, red bell peppers, shallots and mascarpone cheese were delicious, but my favorite was the shrimp flambéed with a Vecchia Romagna Brandy and finished  in a Gorgonzola cheese reduction.

Next we sampled a pasta course, Papardelle Alle Cinque Terre. One of Chef Rocco's signature dishes, the Papardelle pasta with shrimp, scallops, lobster braised in a white wine tomato basil cream sauce and topped with shaved Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and basil was so rich and decadent I could hardly fathom another course. The tender chunks of seafood in every bite were simply amazing. This could be one of my top 10 seafood dishes of all time.

But on to another course we ventured. I was offered the Scaloppine Di Vitello Alla Rocco and my guest the Petto Di Pollo Alla Caprese. My guest's pan-seared chicken breasts topped with fresh tomato and smoked mozzarella cheese in a white wine sauce were excellent. I'm so used to eating sub-par chicken breasts I make at home, that when I tasted a truly excellent chicken breast dish, I was taken aback. If you mouth "wow" after trying a bite of chicken, you know there's extraordinary at play in the kitchen.

My thin sliced veal (tender, perfect) was topped with prosciutto, Fontina Cheese deglazed with white wine and mushrooms -- finished with a rich, demi-glace sauce and served with fingerling potatoes. I'm a veal fan all the way and I completely and utterly loved this dish. I can't stop thinking about it even today. I'll be back soon for more.

For dessert -- Dolce, for those of you keeping track -- we were delighted to sample Cannoli, an Italian-style Cheesecake and a wonderful house-made Tiramisu. Luckily the desserts were bite-sized portions and we managed to enjoy each of them even on top of a more than satisfying meal.

Overall, I was thoroughly impressed with Rocco's. From the welcoming atmosphere, to the warm, friendly service, to the pleasant entertainment, to the incredible food, Rocco's truly delivers the real Italian experience.

I should also note that Rocco's generosity extends to helping Heart of Florida United Way and the Orlando community. Guests who visit Rocco's during the month of October will be helping raise money for charity, as the restaurant will be donating 7% of all restaurant sales throughout the month.

The money is being donated on behalf of the Heart of Florida United Way, Central Florida's most comprehensive health and human services agency. This month-long philanthropic endeavor comes as part of Rocco's 7th anniversary celebration. Guests dining during the month of October do not need to do anything extra in order to benefit HFUW, as the 7% will be donated from the restaurant's top-line sales (calculated before sales tax).

5 Buon Appetitos out of 5

Note: I dined compliments of Rocco's Italian Grille

Rocco's Italian Grille & Bar on Urbanspoon

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