The dining room at La Luce is immediately likable. It is beautifully designed with elegant touches like the white-on-white basket weave design in the columns, polished stone flooring, high-backed leather chairs and booths, and white tablecloths. Free-floating pastel paintings that vaguely recall Italian landmarks and landscapes add splashes of color in the well-placed lighting. (Some of the “paintings are actually done in chalk and are meant to be changed occasionally.) The room has a distinct museum-of-modern-artfulness that oozes sophistication.
The music ranges from Sarah Vaughn to Josh Groban to light opera to jazzy standards. In another setting that might seem manic, but in this environment it works, as if to say “this is a place that cannot be easily classified.
La Luce is the project of Donna Scala, a Napa, Calif., chef and restaurateur with a passion for quality and detail. If you happen to dine at La Luce during one of Scala’s frequent visits, don’t be surprised to be greeted by her as though you were both fast friends. She’s a charming host, and her graciousness is sincere.
The menu is a long list of pizzas, pastas and entrees. The antipasti selections are slim. The appetizers are lumped in with salads and the soup of the day. I was intrigued by the olive fritte and ordered that for my appetizer on a solo visit. It featured small green olives, breaded and deep-fried, served in a bowl with Marcona almonds. This would be more appropriately billed as a bar snack rather than as an appetizer. There was an ample amount of both olives and almonds, but the almonds, predictably, sank to the bottom of the bowl. The almonds were much more enjoyable than the olives, which had a rather earthy smell and taste.The fritto misto was nicely done. The breading was light and the deep-frying executed so that it was not greasy. The squid and shrimp each had a nice firm texture, the green beans offered a different shape to the mix, and the fennel an out-of-the-ordinary flavor.
The quattro formaggi pizza was very good, although it seems odd that the main topping on a four-cheese pizza would be prosciutto. The crust was near perfect: thin but not crackerlike, with just the right elasticity. And the prosciutto added a very nice salty note. Silk handkerchiefs were aptly named, delicate and deftly executed sheets of pasta with a tangy pesto. The red wine braised short ribs were a tad fatty but the flavors were brilliant. The polenta offered little in the way of taste, but the vegetables had a nice tang.
It was actually nice that the braised lamb shank wasn’t a massive portion, as is the case with many lamb shanks served locally. Here again, the meat was well cooked and tender, but the beans brought nothing to the dish. The pesce del giorno, also known as the fish of the day, was a halibut served with mussels and calamari. The fish was overcooked, and instead of having big moist flakes it was dry and stringy. The mussels were gritty but the squid was good and tender. The red sauce, however, had little flavor.
It should be noted that all the entrees were appealing to look at, but the dishes they were served on are impractical. It was impossible to place a knife on the side of the plate without it slipping into the food.
For dessert, the lemon pudding cake was delicious, both sweet and tart, with crunchy bits of dried peel and fresh berries. The chocolate stuffed brownie was modest. The butterscotch pudding, made with Macallan, was crazy good.
Wine service, with by-the-glass selections presented in small carafes, was good. The cocktail selection is lacking, especially given La Luce’s modern vibe. The bar should offer an array of fun and unique drinks.
The Hilton Bonnet Creek has all the appearances of qualifying as the hotel brand’s flagship resort. If that is the intention, they have done well to engage Scala to create her La Luce as its featured restaurant.
Where: Hilton Bonnet Creek, 14101 Bonnet Creek Resort Lane, Orlando
When: Dinner daily
How much: $$$
Where to call: 407-597-3675
Here’s a link to the Web site.