Orlando, Fl, November 17, 2010 — Dinner reservations at La Luce means a leisurely stroll from the Waldorf Astoria through Peacock Alley, past the expansive meeting and convention spaces to the attached Hilton Property where incredible authentic Italian cuisine, ably prepared, is served.
The space looks out over the Hilton’s pool, slide and lazy river, with the golf course and edging of trees providing a bottom frame to a full moon night.
Scattered throughout the restaurant are original works of art, on our visit, by artists such as Edson Campos and Kathleen Brodeur.
Brodeur’s chalk paintings are exquisite, even more so because of their temporary status; every three months or so the artist returns, completely erasing the board, and recreating a new image.
Italian food, with its rich tapestry of flavors, should always be served family style and a friendly staff that meets each and every request with ease, as it is at La Luce.
Three dishes started the feast; Antipasti Misti, a mélange of salame, mortadella, peppers, olives, provolone and grilled garlic toast, an avocado, roasted beets and green beans dressed with fennel and Roquefort vinaigrette Fragolini Verde con Betole and the table favorite, the Olive Fritte a deceptively simple dish of fried Spanish olives filled with the tart tastes of sea salt and vinegar pared with the sweet crunch of baked Marcona Almonds.
Foods are often described as “can’t put down” but the Olive Fritte, with its combination of sweet, salty, unami and satisfying crunch makes it the perfect accompaniment to crisp, cold vodka and lemon martinis and on a future visit, bar time will be made.
Beautiful wood burning ovens produce Pizze with a decidedly gourmet touch. A creative selection of flatbread pies include Bambini of tomato, mozzarella, fries and “not green stuff or the more familiar Margherita with tomato, basil and creamy Mozzarella Fior di Latte, signifying the cheese is made from cow’s milk.
Our choice combined sweet roasted pears and caramelized onions with tart young Gorgonzola dolce, which is a creamier, moister cousin to the more mature cheese we often see, with aged balsamic drizzle. This dish offered so many different flavors that each bite took on a new profile.
Pasta is plentiful and varied at La Luce and a selection of dishes for our Primi, or pasta course, included a classic meat ragu in a Riccia con Bolognese, a savory Farfalle con Funghi with earth rich wild mushrooms, artichokes and truffle pecorino cheese, a Bucatini Amatriciana with large pieces of salty bacon, tomato, onion, and a bit of a bite from the chilies garnished with pecorino Romano cheese and the unique and incredible Silk Handkerchiefs, thin sheets of house made pasta brushed with a rich, pesto sauce and sprinkled with pecorino cheese.
At the core of each of these dishes was incredible pasta that stood on its own, even beneath the rich dressings of the dishes. The Ricca con Bolognese with the thick flat Pappardelle ribbon pasta that stood next to the rich meat of the ragu or the decorative bow tie of the Farfalle that held the rich mushroom sauce in its delicate folds.
The pasta shined most fully in the Silk Handkerchiefs, thinly rolled pasta squares basted in a fresh basil pesto. Every excellent meal has at least one dish with memory recall of its flavor and smell, and for La Luce, it was the Silk Handkerchiefs, or Mandilli de Sea, a pasta that calls the Southern Italian seaport region of Liguria, which is also known for its most famous export, pesto sauce.
The capital of Liguria, Genoa, is the basis for the “Principality of Genovia” which is a fictional country that Princess Mia Thermopolis (Anne Hathaway) in the Meg Cabott book and movie The Princess Diaries, reigns over. A bit of trivia for when you dine at La Luce!
Making Mandilli de Sea, or Silk Handkerchiefs, the egg pasta dough (flour, salt, olive oil and a lot of eggs) is thinned by rolling it by hand, or through the pasta machine. With each pass it becomes more transparent, or silk like. Quickly boiled the delicate squares are liberally basted with fresh basil pesto, sprinkled with salty, grated pecorino cheese and served very warm.
Each square should be folded into no more than a two-bite sized morsel and allowed to sit on your tongue for a moment, as the pesto seeps out from the pasta. This is a dish whose fragrance comes alive from the warmth of the pasta creating a dish that smells, tastes and has an incredible mouth feel.
While a dinner consisting of Antipasti Misti, Olive Fritte and Silk Handkerchiefs accompanied by a good friend and a bottle of Castiglioni Chianti, a light bodied wine that has a wonderful berry nose and flavors of fresh berries and fruit with a comfortable Chianti spicy finish, would be perfect, this meal continued to the Secondi, or second entrée course.
To the table was placed a seared salmon filet resting atop a potato puree with chive butter sauce and tomato garnish; a Chimay (a Trappist beer brewed by monks in Belgium since 1850) braised short ribs with roasted cauliflower and gremolata which is a chopped herb dish consisting of garlic, parsley and lemon peel, that when sprinkled over the dish, enhances the rich short ribs while cutting back some of the “fattiness” of the meat and the Bistecca Tagliata, sliced grass fed rib eye steaks tossed with ribbons of peppery arugula lettuce finished with lemon juice and shaved Reggiano cheese.
Fesce del Giorno, or fish of the day, included a seared diver sea scallop over tomato risotto and a seared halibut over sweet potato gnocchi with cherry tomatoes and basil puree garnish.
This gourmand feast was finished with a selection of deserts, include a creamy cheese cake garnished with fresh fruits, min and a crisp twist, Luce’s interpretation of strawberry shortcake, with plenty of rich cream, strawberries, black berries and custard crème, a selection of house made sorbets and an incredible toffee pudding martini garnished with toffee chocolate and whipped cream.
Yes, it was good.
And all together we said Ahhh.
Update: From the La Luce website
For over 50 years, Chef and restaurateur Donna Scala was immersed in the art of creative cuisine. Donna grew up surrounded by the restaurant and hotel business. Her grandfather owned several different types of restaurants and Donna received first-hand experience throughout her childhood.
Donna’s passion for food continued to evolve and was officially ignited when she traveled to the South of France to formally study her culinary craft. She returned to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1982 to open a gourmet French and Italian food store in Sausalito.
Throughout the 80’s and 90’s, Donna opened and managed a number of highly successful and sought after Italian restaurants in Northern California. With her innovative approach to traditional Italian cooking, along with her incredibly vibrant personality, she came to be recognized as a culinary force in the San Francisco and Napa Valley regions. And it was this unique blend of taste and spirit that made her such an integral ingredient here at La Luce by Donna Scala, as well as throughout the Bonnet Creek Resort family.
Since her passing in March 2014, Donna’s legacy continues to shine here at La Luce. Her exuberant energy and passion for creating delicious food and memorable experiences will live on in our hearts forever.
Jacquie Kubin is a 15-year, award-winning veteran of travel and culinary writing.