As soon as I walked into BRAVO! Cucina Italiana on Dellagio Way on Sand Lake’s “Restaurant Row,” I noticed the distinct similarity to another Italian favorite – Brio. It turns out this is not at all surprising as they are part of the same restaurant group, and that is a good thing. The dining room has the same white columns and the same “artfully broken” hanging beams between which are the large, spherical ceiling lamps that glow warmly and suggest late 20th century Italian design. The open bar, across the room, has the same energy that one experiences at Brio.
There is added charm in a courtyard patio just outside the doors by the bar offering an outdoor dining space. As we were dining at the end of June in Orlando, we opted for a raised banquette – with a complete view of the dining room – in the air-conditioned dining room.
BRAVO! Cucina Italiana is at 7924 Via Dellagio Way, on the Sand Lake Restaurant Row. Open Sunday to Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., call 407-351-5880 or visit bravoitalian.com/index.html
Much can be determined by the immediacy of service when one is seated, and everything about that experience let us know we would be well taken care of. Charming, smiling Jessica seated us at exactly the table I would have chosen had I been asked, and you have to admit – when that happens, you smile to yourself about happy coincidences. I was joined by a married couple – friends – for an intimate but celebratory evening. It being a work night, and with the knowledge we were going to be tasting a lot of food, we went without drinks, and I watched closely as two of the three “waters” requested lemon in the water. Cory was impressive and spot on as he delivered the waters to the right people. No big deal, you might say, but still a mark of excellent service. Add to this the wonderful bread service – warm, tasty break-apart bread served with seasoned olive oil, and we were already happy before having placed an order.
But a restaurant is about the food – and we were not disappointed. This is going to sound like a crazy amount of food — and it was — but I’ve never been shy about taking home a box or two, and we were each ‘committed’ to tasting everything that came to the table. I enjoyed a winner in the Crispy Shrimp Napoli – lightly breaded to perfection and, as K said, “not at all oily.” Seasoned with onions, chunks of grilled tomato, and a subtle Napoli sauce, we all loved them. G had the Meatballs and Polenta, which is a serving of three large beef and pork meatballs, served over polenta, with a BBQ flavored tomato sauce. I don’t share the current interest in meatballs. Lately every chef seems to want to prove his meatball prowess, so I’d give this dish a pass had it not been for the wonderfully creamy polenta in all that sauce. We all agreed that K had a winner in the Pizza BRAVO! If you’re going to put the name of the restaurant on a pizza, it better be good, and it was fantastic. Too big for any appetizer, this pizza was super-tasty in every way. My mouth is watering as I think of the salami sharing space with amazing ricotta cheese (made in-house). K literally deconstructed a slice because she wanted to know how the spicing of pepperoncini, red pepper, and basil could taste so perfect together. Together on that magnificent pizza, with plenty of olive oil, they were actually subtle. The important thing is – it is one great pizza. And we called those “appetizers.”
For my entrée, I chose the Crab Crusted Salmon off a special summer menu, which offers an amazing two courses for $16, and three courses for $20. That special menu is offered through Aug. 14, and you have to taste the food to believe what an incredible deal it is. I loved my salmon with its mass of cheese and crab on top of a perfectly roasted salmon served over the most delicious chunks of roasted red peppers, zucchini, spinach, and potatoes. I was so entranced by my fish (and roasted vegetables) that K had to remind me we were sharing tastes.
She was very happy with her marinated grilled chicken topped with sun-dried tomato and goat cheese. Making the comment, “you can’t go wrong with goat cheese,” K was delighted to see the goat cheese blended together with the tomato. All of that was then dusted with pesto breadcrumbs, and served over mashed potatoes with a side of beautiful green beans glistening in butter.
G was determined that he had the winner entrée with the 12-ounce BRAVO! Ribeye served with a side of that creamy-fabulous polenta, this time with a fantastic balsamic sauce over roasted mushrooms and shallots. We each got bites, but G devoured his steak – wonderfully moist and so tender we figured it had to have been aged forever. In the meantime, K and I made quick work of the balsamic veggies over polenta. We were indeed three very happy diners.
We had a great time at BRAVO! Cucina Italiana. Between the three of us, we asked so many questions, which were so happily answered, that the chef’s several trips to our table turned into treating us like family – and two desserts given to us thanks to that easy camaraderie. We were given two warm Cookie Butter Blondies served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, drizzled with caramel and dressed with sugared pretzels. Just as we thought it could not get any better, a large serving of vanilla flavored bread pudding arrived with a healthy serving of seasonal berries in their own sweet syrup. We honestly could not decide which we liked better, and after all the aforementioned food, we enjoyed the desserts so much that I’m embarrassed to admit, we ate them both.
Needless to say, BRAVO! gets six thumbs up (there were three of us). Here was a restaurant that I had never tried and we loved the ambiance, the décor, the service and the food. Then consider the special summer menu pricing and BRAVO! works as well for a date night (of any age) as it does for a celebratory dinner with friends or family – casual enough for everyone to feel comfortable, but up-scale enough to make any dining experience special. Please add BRAVO! to your “must-try” list and if you do it before Aug. 14, you’ll even experience the low summer pricing. I’m sure you and your party will have a great time.