The Best Kept Secret in Orlando
Mama Della's Restaurant
Where: Universal Orlando / Portofino Bay Hotel
Menu: A la carte - Entrees from $19-$40
Reservations: Suggested, call 407-503-DINE (3463)
As someone who grew up in the northeast in a home with strong Italian influences, I consider myself a bit of a snob when it comes to italian food. I know good italian food when I taste it - I grew up eating it (but then again, many people feel that way). After nearly 10 years of living in Orlando, I feel I can safely say that Mama Della's Restaurant is, in fact, the best Italian dining experience you will find in Orlando - Period. How can I say that - well, it's important to remember that a great deal of what passes for "authentic italian" cuisine in Orlando is anything but. For me, I'm comparing Mama Della's to the many dinners I've eaten in Little Italy in New York, and this outshines even those fine establishments. Also, it's important to keep in mind that the theming of the restaurant, with it's mismatched chairs, ornate wall paper, and assorted knickknacks really does invoke a feeling of being in your Italian mother's house for dinner.
The menu at Mama Della's changes periodically to introduce new items, but regardless of the menu changes, the quality (and taste) of the food remains consistently good and has for the 7 years since it opened. The menu never get's too exotic, choosing instead to stay faithful to tried and true favorites like Lasagna, Veal Piccata, Veal Marsala, Spaghetti and Meatballs, etc. A few seafood items, such as the Frutti di Mare (a shellfish combo platter) are usually on the menu, as well as beef tenderloin. While excellent, these are not the stars of the Mama Della menu - to experience this restaurant at its absolute best, the Lasagna, or the Veal Marasala are hard to beat.
Another aspect of this eatery that sets it apart from others is the option to dine on the piazza outside the restaurant. Surrounded by the impeccable theming of the Portofino Bay's expansive courtyard, and coupled with the wonderful entertainment that takes place each night at 8pm from above the piazza, it's hard to imagine any experience outside of Italy itself, matching this one.
Unlike many resort area dining venues, you are not rushed through your meal at Mama Della's - on our most recent visit to the restaurant we spent 2 1/2 hours from appetizers to dessert - unheard of in most places around town. That meal consisted of a party of five adults. We started with an Antipasto ($16.50) that was more than enough to satisfy everyone. The Antipasto was followed by their house salad, which consisted of mixed greens and yellow peppers with a dressing of orange juice and brown sugar.
For our main course, two members of our party tried the Frutti di Mare ($31.25 ea) which included scallops, shrimp and grouper with spinach on a bed of pasta (seafood was described by one member of our party as 'firm and flavorful', indicating very fresh fish), a Veal Marsala ($30.50), Veal Piccata ($30.50), and a cheese Ravioli ($19.00). One of the first things you'll notice at this restaurant is the size of the portions. Yes, the prices may be considered 'steep', but the amount of high quality food that is served is beyond comparison (especially in a town known for charging premium prices and delivering small portions). As our waiter commented "no one leaves Mama's hungry". As for the taste of the food, the 'noisemaking' began with the first bite, and continued straight thru the main course (by 'noisemaking', I mean the 'umms' and 'oh, that's good' noises one tends to make when they are eating a really good meal). To accompany our dinner we ordered a bottle of Chardonnay ($42). When I polled the table for their thoughts on their meals, words like 'unbelievable' and 'excellent' were resounding.
For dessert, we tried the Ravioli de Mascarpone (pastry ravioli with a ricotta filling and a citrus sauce) ($8.50) that was tasty and surprisingly light (a nice touch after a filling meal). We also tried the Cioccolato Budino ($9) and the Chocolate Pranilato ($9) - both of which were very good.
While you might be able to find food that is comparable to Mama's (difficult, but not impossible), when you combine the food quality, service, entertainment and atmosphere together you understand why I'm confident in calling this venue the finest Italian dining experience in Orlando - in or out of the tourist corridor. This restaurant wins lots of awards, and it's not hard to figure out why. All in all, the total for the meal was a respectable $270 (not including tip). A Universal annual pass will give you 20% off the food portion of your bill. For five adults, including appetizers, wine and dessert - that is a very reasonable price for an upscale resort dining experience. There are no shortage of dining venues in Orlando that will charge you the same money, provide you with lesser quality and service, and never come close to the portion size of the meals, or the ambiance of the restaurant.
If you're looking for a great meal - look no further than Mama Della's. It is the best kept secret in Orlando.