Roman at Heart

The food, service and intimate setting at Café Trastevere all bring Old World Italy to mind.

Restaurant owner Joaquim Dos Santos (above) is also an attentive yet unobtrusive server.

Photo By Norma Lopez Molina

When in Rome, they say, do as the Romans do. What Romans do, mostly, is walk.

Intrepid visitors to the city can follow their Italian compatriots over a pair of small stone bridges that span the Tiber River. This is where couples sign their names to small metal locks, attach them to spaces in the bridge railings and throw the keys into the river to signify their unbreakable love before venturing into the artistic bohemian part of Rome called Trastevere, or “over the Tiber.”

It’s this Italian version of Paris’ Left Bank that Café Trastevere (trass-TEH-veh-ray) references in its name. The café has an Old World feeling in its stuccoed two-story building that used to be a private home, and service and food are very Roman; attentive yet unobtrusive servers (including owner Joaquim Dos Santos, who brings a languorous Brazilian flair to the evening) presenting classic, uncomplicated dishes prepared by chef Philippe Meiffret. It’s best to order a glass of wine and sip while you wait for dinner: quick delivery is not the Roman way.

Seafood is a focus, particularly shellfish. Cozze Santa Lucia ($9.95) marries plump black mussels with a well-balanced white wine and garlic sauce. I would have enjoyed sopping up the sauce with bread, but it was far too salty for dipping. A better combination was the linguine alle vongole ($16.95), perfectly cooked al dente pasta that soaked up the garlic, olive oil and parsley-accented brine of an abundance of fresh clams.

An appetizer of calamari fritti ($9.95) paired breaded and fried squid with a long-simmered marinara sauce for a pleasant combination of toothy and savory. Ask for lemon; calamari is always better with a little acid.

Having been in Italy just a few months ago, I can tell you that the café’s pollo piccata ($15.95) is a highlight, on a par with food from the best family-owned trattorie in Rome. The very large chicken breast, flattened and sautéed in white wine, lemon and capers until the rich and tart sauce is creamy and the cutlet is browned from the pan, is a real delight.

Seating is in the intimate main room downstairs (notorious for eavesdropping) and a larger space upstairs; if weather permits, you can also sit outside in the tiled courtyard.

Go with someone you love. There might even be a place somewhere to put a lock.

Café Trastevere
ADDRESS 825 N. Magnolia Ave., Orlando
PHONE 407-839-0235
ENTREES $14–$28

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