There is something quietly regal about Tutto Italia Ristorante. Old World charm and the glories of a culture rich in tradition permeate the air of this fine dining restaurant located at the heart of the Venetian-influenced pavilion which is Epcot’s Italy. Not only is the entire square breathtaking with its impressive bell tower, classic stone fountains and beautifully carved statues, romantic allure seems to abound. Passing the olive trees and potted plants bursting in an array of spectacular colors, one cannot help but marvel at the re-creations of famous palazzos and quickly develop an appreciation of the authentic architectural styles which are the hallmark of Italy. And while I inhaled the picture-perfect surroundings on a lovely May afternoon, my one and only thought was an emphatic “La vita e’ bella”.
It seemed almost shameful to step out of the sunshine of the town square and into the recesses of a building despite its lovely facade, but regret lasted but only a moment. Just as the piazza is a celebration of Italian art and architecture, Tutto Italia is a celebration of the art of food.
The dining room is a love letter to the culture and cuisine which is Italy. Dark wood, terra cotta accents, rich tapestries and gorgeous handpainted Roman murals adorn the large main room which is moderately lit by exquisite chandeliers. Adjacent to this room is a smaller, more intimate dining area which sits at the front of the restaurant directly behind the host/reception area. The tables are small, but that is a minor price to pay for the wonderful window views of the activity and grandeur of the piazza. Despite the elegance and understated opulence of the restaurant, the mood is not stuffy but cozy and inviting. The staff offsets the formality with their genuine warmth and infectious smiles.
Our server, Alessandro, colorfully enhanced the dining experience with his jovial, attentive and enthusiastic spirit. His exuberance was contagious. He was diligent in ensuring that his guests not only enjoyed but savored their meals, while providing table-side anecdotes, offering travel tips should one visit his homeland and relaying the subtle differences between Northern and Southern Italian cuisine. One could not help but be charmed by his admirable verve.
As we looked over the lunch menu, pondering the menu’s fabulous offerings, we were served a lovely display of breadsticks, freshly baked oregano-topped ciabatta and green olives. The ciabatta was delightfully moist and spongy with a light crust. The olive oil with which is was served was authentic in its strong and slightly bitter flavor but not heavy in consistency. The olives were plump and meaty. A very welcome starter.
With Alessandro’s confirming approval that we were making amazing and wise choices, we selected what we felt were classic Italian dishes: the Prosciutto di Parma as an appetizer along with the Lasagna alla Bolognese and the Risotto ai Frutti di Mare for entrees.
The prosciutto was paper-thin slices of slightly spiced ham served with fried dumplings (gnocco fritto). Alessandro suggested wrapping the prosciutto around the gnocco for the best fusion of tastes, and he was so right. The prosciutto was so tender and thin it literally dissolved in our mouths soon after hitting the palette. The gnocco was perfectly prepared and very obviously handmade. Semolina based, they were golden and flaky, with a hint of cheese baked into the crust. A delightful delicacy and just enough to leave you wanting more yet mercifully sparing you room for the dazzling entrees.
As soon as the main courses were placed on our white linen-laced table, the delicious aromas of parmesan, sauce and homemade pasta wafted into the air. If the food tasted half as good as it smelled, we would definitely not be disappointed. The Lasagna alla Bolognese was hands-down the best lasagna I have ever sampled. Light, handmade layers of milky pasta stuffed with lightly seasoned ground beef in a light tomato sauce and a subtle garnish of basil, this dish was a culinary masterpiece and a testament to the reason Italy is so beloved for its cuisine. It seemed a dish that would be nearly impossible to beat yet the Risotto ai Frutti di Mare may have even been slightly better. The rice itself was unbelievably creamy and made plump from bathing in a mouth-watering broth of cheese and butter during preparation. Frutti di Mare translates to Fruit of the Sea and a more appropriate description does not exist. Topped with plump and succulent shrimp, clams, calamari (squid) and mussels, this dish was more scrumptious than I can describe. And despite how rich the entrees sound, they somehow were not heavily laden with sauces and creams yet still seemed light and appropriate enough for a summery lunch. Both portions were huge and impossible to finish despite the efforts of two very approving and ravenous diners.
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Persuaded by Alessandro to sample dessert (okay, I confess, he really didn’t have to twist our arms too tightly), our eyes swept across the dessert menu past the Tiramisu and Gelati to the Cannoli and Pistachio Panna Cotta. Again, we received applause from our server for making fine choices. The cannoli shell was crisp and firm with the creamiest, sweet ricotta which filled the pastry tube to capacity. Candied fruits rolled inside the ricotta filling gave it an extra textured flavor. Probably one of the best cannolis I have ever tasted. The Pistachio Panna Cotta was a refreshing, light custard topped with whole fresh raspberries. While my partner thought it was too light and bland, I adored the subtle pistachio flavor complemented by the fruit garnish. It was creamy and refreshing enough to not have to be weighed down with any superfluous sweetness.
Taking a deep breath and basking in the glow of incredibly satisfying cuisine and the charming ambiance of the room, I was hesitant to leave, choosing to savor the end of a perfect meal, leisurely sipping my frothy cappuccino while glancing back out onto the sunny piazza.. This is pleasure. This is life. This is Italy. This is Tutto Italia.
FOOD: Authentic and delicious, instead of being dependent on tons of cheese and buried in heavy sauces, the food is prepared by award-winning chefs who have perfected the art of Italian cuisine with both northern and southern influences. While I had always thought that the restaurant which had occupied this space prior to 2007 (L’Originale Alfredo di Roma) was overrated and not worthy of its reputation, Tutto Italia is a first-rate journey into the world of fine Italian cuisine. Food is a little pricey but well worth it.
ATMOSPHERE: Opulent and gorgeous in style and decoration yet homey and comfortable because of the very friendly staff. Feels less like a fine dining restaurant despite the exquisite setting because of the welcoming attitude of the cast members.
SERVICE: Can’t be beat. Despite the fact the restaurant was quite busy, the servers seemed to effortlessly find the time to converse and joke with the guests while offering world-class service. And when we arrived, our table was ready and waiting.
TIPS: When we were leaving at 4pm they seemed to be setting up outside tables which I imagine would be a lovely place for an evening meal as nighttime on the piazza is quite peaceful and romantic. A nice way to spend a special occasion. Go for dinner as there were some additional menu offerings while the prices for lunch and dinner were rather comparable. You will have more of a selection.