October 20, 2014

Florida Life - Dining in Florida

Winter Park Wonderland

Chris Sherman | 4/5/2012
Prato
Prato in Winter Park

Park Avenue, the Rodeo Drive of central Florida, has new glitter, Italian-style.

Not the same old veal chop posh; here in Winter Park, the pasta Bolognese is sauced with duck ragu and foie gras butter. Not the same pizza either; the “Widow Maker” is topped with braised kale and a farm egg as well as sausage and cheese.

Benvenuto, al Prato, the newest creation of Brandon McGlamery, the wizard behind Luma, the hottest new address on Park. It’s a delicious demonstration of 21st century Italian dining, rustic to the palate and slick to the eye, and also evidence that Winter Park’s restaurant scene keeps growing no matter the economy.

Prato in Winter Park
Prato’s Bolognese Bigoli with Barolo, Long Island duck ragu and foie gras butter
Prato apparently means “meadow,” but the decor is a solidly urban combination of textures from rough brick walls to smooth old metals and dazzling post-industrial chandeliers, high ceilings, a long bar and Italian cafe chairs on the sidewalk.

While a vertical garden of ferns turns one wall green, it is the food that transports patrons from modern power-grazing to rural flavors and earlier times. The menu brags on its farm suppliers, from local fields to Iowa barns (for American prosciutto and speck). The kitchen prides itself on making mostardas, pickles and conserves and curing its own pork loin. Where vegetables in traditional Italian restaurants rarely go beyond sauteed escarole, Prato serves up butternut squash, parsnips, beets, sunchokes and every form of fennel, including its pollen.

The menu is long on small side plates, including half-orders of pasta (bravo!). The few entrees top out at $27, but every one has big punches of flavor and extra style. There’s Italian chili relish on the trout, spiced raisins with the rotisserie spare ribs and tart agrodolce with fritto of oysters and clams.

I was thrilled to find chicken livers here, on toast points sharpened with capers, sorrel and pickled shallots. Delicate ravioli of the sweet tropical “Laughing Bird” shrimp had extra edge from broccolini and garlic. Even polenta was gilded with mascarpone and brown butter.

The triumph for me was a newfangled cavatelli made with sweet potato in a light sauce of rabbit, chestnuts, currants and sage.

The wine list is savvy, sticking to Italy and a bit of Spain with an eye for affordability (most are $40 a bottle and under) and regional diversity (from Alto Adige to Sicilia).

This is the new Italian sophistication, rarely seen south of New York or north of Miami.

No surprise that it’s at home in Winter Park, which has long claimed to be the affluent antipode to Orlando’s tourist world. Indeed, Winter Park and nearby Maitland continue to add restaurants and pack in the diners whatever happens elsewhere.

Tags: Dining & Travel

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