Disney opened Tutto Italia at Epcot's Italy Pavilion in 2007, replacing L'Originale Alfredo di Roma Ristorante, which had an impressive 25-year run.
The menu remained classic Italian with lightly fried calamari fritti, polenta, a range of pasta dishes, grilled fish, braised lamb shank and braised beef short ribs. Patina Restaurant Group, the new owners, eventually tweaked and refined the experience to fit its national reputation as a leader in world-class dining.
A renovation was in order but instead of closing Tutto Italia right away, Patina created Via Napoli in 2010. The 300-seat Neapolitan-style pizzeria with three humongous wood-burning pizza ovens representing Italy's volcanoes — Etna, Vesuvius and Stromboli — proved to be a delicious diversion.
Tutto Italia closed in January and re-emerged 100 days later with a more expansive feel and lighter tone in décor. An adjacent wine bar, Tutto Gusto, was created from space in the previous restaurant's lobby/waiting area.
Chef Renzo Barcatta oversees Tutto Gusto and Tutto Italia, with Benito Sevarin leading the front of the house. Barcatta grew up in Cavalese, Italy, and honed his skills in restaurants in Venice, Milan and Rome. The overall menu was created by Joachim Splichal, Patina's award-winning partner and chef-restaurateur.
Tutto Italia and Tutto Gusto share a passion — and some menu items — for the finest food the Mediterranean has to offer. Tutto Italia has a more traditional dining room setting while Gusto concentrates on small plates of artisanal cheeses, cured meats and more in a room that has an Old World wine cellar vibe.
The clean tang of fresh lemon juice and fruity extra-virgin olive oil combined to enliven two dishes at Gusto: white asparagus ($9) with aged Parmesan and a Sicilian seafood salad ($11 Gusto, $17 Italia) that blended shrimp, squid, octopus, chopped red onions and piquant capers. Both were a triumph of flavor balance.
The corkscrew pasta ($14 Gusto) with arugula, vine-ripe tomatoes, pancetta, potato and nutty pecorino cheese was quite filling for a small plate and had a wonderful mix of textures.
The hearty polenta valsugana ($27) at Italia is a traditional Northern Italian presentation of creamy polenta, with rich and tender braised short ribs, meatballs, pork sausages and fontina cheese. It's intended to serve at least two hungry diners.
For dessert, in keeping with the small plate theme, I recommend the biscotti or sweet ricotta-stuffed cannoli (both $8) at Gusto. But the prize that will require a few laps around Epcot's World Showcase is Italia's hazelnut polenta cake ($12) laced with Nutella and sweet cream cheese. This is arguably one of the best desserts in Central Florida.
The Patina Group has put together an impressive trio of dining options at Epcot. It's hard to go wrong no matter what door you choose.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5498. Follow Heather McPherson on Twitter: @OS_thedish
Tutto Italia and Tutto Gusto
Where: Italy Pavilion, Walt Disney World Resort's Epcot, Lake Buena Vista
When: Lunch 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m., dinner 4:30-9 p.m.
How much: Tutto Italia lunch $15 to $36, dinner $36-$60, Tutto Gusto $5-$21
Beverages: Sangria, beer, specialty cocktails and wine
Wines by the glass: From $7
Extras: Gluten-free choices, children's menu, outdoor seating, vegetarian options
Sound level: Lively buzz
Wheelchair access: Yes
Credit: All major
.disney.go.com, click on "special & unique dining" under "where to eat" tab, then filter for Epcot on left and scroll to Tutto Italia and Tutto Gusto
Diningon a budget
Appetizers ($9-$28) at Tutto Italia are filling and shareable. The small plates at Tutto Gusto are wallet-friendlyCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun