Monday, June 6, 2011

La Luce, By Donna Scala, Orlando, Florida

Restaurant Info:
La Luce by Donna Scala
14100 Bonnet Creek Resort Lane
Orlando, FL 32821

What surprised us the most about Orlando was how early a lot restaurants closed especially for the young crowd (young as in 18-32!) in Orlando. We returned to our hotel around 8pm after a whole day at Sea World and found ourselves very hungry, but very dirty as well. After showering and dolling up for dinner, we came across a dilemma, where can we go and enjoy a nice dinner at 9:30pm? Better yet, what is still open? Despite the fact that we were in Orlando, a drive to any of the Disney resorts would have taken 15-20 minutes and a drive to the other parts of the city would take even longer. As we flipped through a coupon book and called several restaurants to see if they were still open, most of them said they were closing in 30 minutes for last seating. For such a tourist city, we were disappointed that Orlando didn't accommodate late night dining (like Las Vegas, NYC, Miami).

After calling about 5 restaurants and learning everything was closing in 30 minutes, we resorted to eating in the hotel we were staying at, the Hilton at Bonnet Creek. We had reservations about eating in our hotel because we knew it would be expensive and maybe too pretentious. However, we were down to our last resort (pun?) Our hotel had 2 very upscale restaurants that were opened until 11pm; one was Bull and Bear, a steakhouse, the other was La Luce, an Italian restaurant by Donna Scala featuring traditional Italian food with Napa influences. Donna Scala has several restaurants in northern California and Florida, both featuring local and fresh ingredients and grass-fed beef. She and her family also own an olive farm to make their own olive oil in Napa Valley. We chose La Luce after seeing their delicious appetizer menu.

The restaurant decor is beautiful and comfortable. La Luce was going for traditional Italian food with a familial atmosphere with long dinner tables, leather chairs and benches with large pillows. And for those who are going for an intimate setting, there are also booths. No matter where you sit, you will have a view of the pool, the wine bar, the in-house pizza oven or one of the many modern Italian artwork.

We were starving when we got to La Luce, so the fresh bread the brought out was especially enticing to us at first sight.  Upon tasting the bread offerings (fresh focaccia, peasant bread, and a crispy Italian flatbread), we were wowed and pretty sure that we were in the right place. We ordered a bottle of chianti to go with this delicious bread as you can see below (in stylish black and white!).

Our waiter was very knowledgeable about the restaurant/menu and recommended several of his favorite appetizers. For starters, we ordered their fried Spanish olives with almonds, an appetizer we wished that we had come up with ourselves. They were absolutely excellent. The salty Spanish olives were lightly coated with a flakey batter and deep fried, giving them some softness in the middle but a crunchiness from the batter. An interesting addition to this appetizer were the pan-fried Marcona almonds (sauteed in rosemary and garlic) that helped cut the saltiness of the olives.

For our entrees, we ordered the duck confit with Andouille sausage and white beans. We love duck and you can never go wrong with confit. The meat was tender and fell off the bone. The sausage was crispy on the outside and made from scratch packed with a delicious smokey paprika. The white beans were incredible and had a very balanced make-up: they were smokey and sweet and didn't have that starchiness that you would normally get with improperly cooked beans.

 In addition to our duck confit, we ordered agnolotti pasta, resembling of little pillows stuffed with a creamy cheese. Agnolotti is a really rustic and simple ravioli that really evokes images of Tuscany and hearty Italian cooking. The pasta was elegantly served with a simple white truffle and cheese sauce that stuck to the pasta beautifully, really imparting the dish with strong and beautiful flavor.

With all the entrees, appetizer and the rustic bread, we were looking at an Italian feast for 2. Everything had fresh flavors and kept the simple spirit of Italian cuisine, while still giving off a distinctive modern and creative flare. To end our special feast, we tried some of their desserts (all fresh made in-house, except for gelato which is from a local creamery). Tricia had two flavors of gelato: pistachio and hazelnut. The ice cream came accompanied with freshly made biscotti and a pine nut cookie. The gelato was phenomenal- smooth and very flavorful. The biscotti was good too, but the showstopper was the pine nut cookie. It must have been loaded with butter, because it literally melted upon first bite. The cookie was so good that there has been a serious push to get Tricia to make something comparable since the return to Ithaca!

Siddharth had butterscotch pudding. Sounds tame, right? Definitely wrong. Firstly, the "scotch" aspect of the butterscotch was real - an 18-year old Macallan, to be exact, was used to put this pudding together. The pudding was served with shaved chocolate and fresh cream on top, along with homemade English Toffee (covered in sea salt) on the side. Everything in this dish was perfect. This is flat out one of the best desserts we've had in a restaurant. We're not the only ones that think so either!

La Luce was a ritzy place, but one that we found was well worth it. From beginning (bread) to end (gelato and the best butterscotch pudding in America), the meal was outstanding. Though, we were only in Orland for one week and have not sampled all of the cuisine that is present in central Florida, we feel safe in saying that La Luce offers one of the best dining experiences in the area (in expounding on all the great food, we feel almost remiss to have not mentioned until now that the service was excellent - our server was friendly, knowledgeable, and he even gave us recommendations about the other great places to eat in town!).