Robert Mason (left), executive chef and director of food and beverage at Fiorella’s Cucina Toscana, and Michael Speicher, general manager of The Westin Imagine Orlando, take pride in the restaurant’s exceptional Italian cuisine and engaging atmosphere.
"We take our food here very seriously,” said Robert Mason, executive chef and director of food and beverage at Fiorella’s Cucina Toscana, located in The Westin Imagine Orlando.
“We consider ourselves a freestanding restaurant that happens to be in a very nice hotel.” “We wanted a restaurant that had very broad appeal and would satisfy virtually anyone’s taste,” said Michael Speicher, The Westin Imagine Orlando’s general manager.“In the U.S., people don’t generally think of hotels as dining destinations unless it is a holiday or special occasion; however, in Europe, the best restaurants are usually found in hotels. We wanted to mirror that concept.”
Mason, an award-winning and celebrated chef who came from Grand Bohemian Hotel Orlando’s The
Boheme restaurant, uses traditional Italian preparation methods to create northern Italian and Tuscan dishes that also incorporate Florida favorites, such as grouper and shrimp. His culinary creations blend the freshest ingredients with an artistic flare.“I believe in the slow food movement, which is supporting local operators and farms,” Mason said.Whenever possible, he picks fresh herbs and vegetables from a garden he planted in the outside courtyard. A Windermere resident also provides herbs from her own garden.Included in the restaurant’s dinner menu is a special section that changes weekly based on what is fresh in the market. Items can be ordered individually; or, for a set price, diners can take advantage of the Chef’s Tasting Menu and receive a smaller portion of each item listed on the market menu.“This is a real value, because you are able to taste a little of everything that is featured that week,” Mason said.In addition, all meat is organic and hormone-free.“Buying higher-quality items makes my job easier, because I can consistently maintain my standards,” he said.A substantial part of the breakfast, lunch and dinner menus includes what are known as super foods — richly colored berries, egg whites, tofu and other choices that are low in carbohydrates and fat and higher in antioxidants and nutrients.Fiorella’s also will accommodate special dietary needs.“We don’t want anyone to hesitate to ask for a modification of any menu item,” Speicher said.The menu extends beyond pasta by offering seafood, grilled meats and vegetarian entrees. Fiorella’s pizza is quickly becoming a favorite among frequent diners. Specially created by Mason, the dough contains rosemary and is baked in a stone hearth.“This pizza is amazing; it has a crispy crust that is still chewy in the middle,” Speicher said.Other items that can always be found on the menu are the crab-crusted grouper, lobster ravioli and formaggio caprino —a baked goat cheese topped with fresh oven-dried tomatoes and served with Italian cracker bread.“What I like about our menu is that it is approachable, and there is something for everyone,” Mason said.Of course, wine pairing is an important component to Italian cuisine. Fiorella’s wine list focuses on Northern Italy but also has a selection of wines produced all over the world. More than 20 wines are available by the glass.Sometimes, choosing a wine can be overwhelming. Fiorella’s wine list is designed to be user-friendly. Whether one is a connoisseur or someone who simply enjoys an occasional glass of wine, the format helps take out the guesswork. Each category is segmented and listed progressively, beginning with mild and leading to the more robust.“People tend to order wines they recognize; however, we encourage our diners to experiment,” Speicher said. “They may be pleasantly surprised to find a new wine to enjoy.”Complementing the exceptional cuisine, Fiorella’s décor creates an ambiance that is distinctive and creative. Upon entering, guests pass a circular bar flanked by a massive floor-to-ceiling wine wall displaying the restaurant’s vast collection. The rich wood structure separates the bar area from the main dining room and is adorned with Fiorella’s signature flower glass sculpture.The restaurant’s name is derived from the Italian word fiore, which means flower. Carrying this theme, the interior is accented with unique hand-blown Italian glass flowers specially designed by local artist Charles Keila to fit into the restaurant’s theme.Large circular glass light fixtures, resembling amber tortoiseshell, seem to float above diners, illuminating the room with a subtle glow.The walls are a creamy Venetian plaster, and the tables are made from honey-colored acacia wood. The outside patio, with its additional covered seating, is a perfect place for those who choose to dine alfresco.By virtue of its location, The Westin Imagine Orlando welcomes many international travelers. Recently, Mason was approached by a couple from Italy who had dined at Fiorella’s a number of times during their stay. The couple commented that they were served the most authentic, tasty Italian cuisine compared to anywhere else they had visited in the U.S.Fiorella’s Cucina Toscana is located in The Westin Imagine Orlando at 9501 Universal Blvd. in Orlando. Open daily, breakfast is served from 6:30-11 a.m., lunch is served from 11 a.m.-2 p.m., and dinner is served Sunday through Thursday from 5-10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 5-11p.m. Complimentary valet parking also is available. For more information or to make reservations, call 407-233-2950 or visit www.fiorellasorlando.com on the Web.
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