At Fiorella’s Cucina Toscana, the chef’s imagination makes the food taste almost too good to be true.
Italian artists have a tradition of crafting fantastic environments: the fairy-tale skylines in Italo Calvino’s novel, Invisible Cities; Dante Alighieri’s poems that combine real places with imaginary romantic visions; the whimsical statues in the Garden of Monsters in Tuscany. The creative mind can’t resist adding invention to the already beautiful Italian landscape.
The menu at Fiorella’s Cucina Toscana is another fantastic landscape, one that’s even reflected in the name of the hotel that houses the restaurant, the Westin Imagine.
Fiorella’s executive chef, Robert Mason, served an apprenticeship with Ermes Paulin, recognized as one of the great Italian chefs, and worked many years in California. After coming to Orlando, Mason became executive chef at the Grand Bohemian Hotel’s restaurant, The Boheme, in 2001, eventually overseeing the entire Kessler Collection of 10 hotels. Now, 18 months into his reign at Fiorella’s, he is putting his own artistic spin on Tuscany.
The Westin Imagine hotel is situated on Universal Boulevard, near the Orange County Convention Center. Looking toward the restaurant from the lobby, you mostly see the marble-topped bar, with the dining area peeking out from behind a towering wine wall. In the restaurant, the leather seats are posh and comfortable. The glorious Chihulyesque glass art on the walls is by Orlando glass artist Charles Keila, and the open kitchen is a place where magic happens.
Mason calls Fiorella’s a “scratch kitchen”; everything that can possibly be made there, is. He makes his own mozzarella and tends the small herb garden out back. I wouldn’t have thought of smoking salmon with Mediterranean seasonings, making the dish even more Tuscan by serving it with lemon-infused mascarpone ($12), but Mason did, and does it on the premises. What isn’t fresh from the kitchen is brought in from local and artisanal markets, and is reflected in the restaurant’s special “mercato menu,” which changes weekly. Mason adds inventive ingredients, such as fresh-from-the-stalk baby corn (served with a pancetta-wrapped veal loin, $29), to transform standard pasta or beef dishes into interest-perking delights.
Even something as simple as cavatelli pasta with vodka sauce, basil and prosciutto ($18) is mixed with such attention to ingredients that each flavor stands out. The flavor and texture of the Black Angus tenderloin filetto ($29) puts many local steakhouses to shame, especially when served with fermented black garlic, sweet as figs and addictive.
Some of the finest dining establishments in the world are in hotels, but Orlando diners still seem to feel that hotel restaurants are only for tourists. If you regard Fiorella’s as just another restaurant for out-of-towners, you’re missing out on a most satisfying flight of fancy.
Fiorella’s Cucina Toscana
ADDRESS 9501 Universal Blvd.