Monday, February 21, 2011

Eating Out - Reminiscence and a Restaurant Review

I grew up in a time and place when mothers did not work outside the home.  When I came home from school, "Another World" was on the television and milk and cookies were on the kitchen counter.  Every school night, I was served a three course meal by my mother, who despite her inner demons was a fabulous home cook.  She did not own a cookbook, nor did she write anything down.  Her best dishes were those wonderful Jewish recipes that all started with three or six large chopped onions sauteed in corn oil or margarine, like brisket, kasha varnishkes, and stuffed cabbage.  We also ate a lot of steak, baked or broiled chicken, and soup.  Ah, the soup!  I still do not know how she wrenched all that glorious flavor from supermarket chickens, and I admit I have to cheat to achieve that quintessentially Jewish, golden perfection by using chicken broth instead of water in which to cook the chicken and soup vegetables.  My other favorites were her Italian dishes.  Red sauce ruled, and her meat sauce recipe, which had been given to her by an Italian neighbor in the late forties, was so good, I could eat it with a large spoon and skip the spaghetti.

On the weekends, her kitchen was closed.  There were usually leftovers to pick at, tuna fish salad always made up and kept in a recycled Cool Whip container and eating out at least one big meal.  But "kitchen closed" was a hard and fast rule, because, as I only realized years later, she had put in five days of hard work and a good part of that was in the kitchen.

I cannot remember the names of all the restaurants we ate at.  Some were one-shot deals, a place my father had heard of during the week and was determined to try.  The others, though, were the backbone of our family's social life.  At the top of that list was Lundy's.  Most people remember where they had their first kiss; I remember where I had my first taste of lobster.  Then there was Cooky's, a local chain, Linck's Log Cabin, Al Steiner's on Chestnut Street in Cedarhurst, the Famous, a Ratner's knock-off on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, and any number of Italian restaurants.  Thinking back, Italian food was probably my father's favorite food, but he would happily drive all over Brooklyn, Queens, and Long Island to enjoy Greek food in Astoria, a Swedish smorgasbord in Riverhead, and the ethereal popovers at Patricia Murphy's Candlelight Restaurant.

Over the years it became more difficult to find restaurants that serve "real" Italian food, where red sauce rules and meatballs are the size of your head.  That sort of southern Italian cooking got a bad rap as northern Italian chefs made their mark with dishes favoring lighter ingredients.  If someone wanted old-fashioned lasagna, or eggplant parmesan, or sweet Italian sausages and peppers, or an awesome baked ziti, they were going to have to whip it up at home.  Which is what I do, and I have a couple of recipes to share with you that are so good, you may find yourself humming "That's Amore!" as you sop up the last of the red sauce with real garlic bread.

More recently there has been a resurgence of southern Italian themed restaurant chains where everything is served family-style and the tablecloth is inevitably stained with red sauce.  Two that immediately come to mind are Buca di Beppo and Maggiano's Little Italy.  Neither one compares with Tarantino's in its heyday at the Oak Street location, but they are both pretty good, with Maggiano's edging out Buca's on food and service.

It was to Maggiano's Little Italy at Pointe Orlando that my husband, son and I headed to for a birthday celebration.  We were able to make a 6:00 PM reservation on a Sunday evening.  It's in a touristy area, but parking is available for a small fee.

And now, my version of a restaurant review:

Large portions.  Very good service.

Bread, evoo, balsamic.  Bread fantastic!

Calamari – fried, delish, very good tomato sauce.

Lobster Ravioli in a cream sauce with more lobster – pronounced “very good” – ate the whole thing.

Lobster carbonara over pasta – loved it.

Shrimp parmesan – 8 nice big shrimp, but would have liked more sauce and more cheese.  Served with side of orzo pasta with baby spinach.  Tasty, but I would have liked it better with angel hair pasta and more of the tomato sauce.  Come to think of it, that is how Tarantino's does it.

Cr̬me brulee Рsmooth, rich vanilla, thin crisp brittle crust.

Special dessert – like a s’mores tiramisu – a thin graham crust, a firm chocolate ganache layer, and two inches of light but rich Italian meringue, torched a touch, and served with sweeps of caramel around the edges of the graham cracker crust.  Decadent.

Maggiano's is known for it's family style service, but there needs to be four diners minimum for that, and we are a family of three.  My husband suggested getting Woody dressed in his taekwando uniform so he could be our fourth, but Cory and Woody had had a spat during the day, so the suggestion was vetoed.

Maggiano's Little Italy, Pointe Orlando, 9101 International Drive, Orlando, Florida.

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