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The Resort Hotels – Portofino Bay Hotel: Bice


What: Fine gourmet dining, Northern Italian style
Where: On the third level overlooking the Bay
Price Range: $$$$+
Hours: Daily, 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Reservations: Strongly suggested
(407) 503-1415 or OpenTable.com
Web: http://orlando.bicegroup.com

If the name Bice rings a bell, then there’s a good chance you are an international jet setter with a generous expense account. The Portofino Bay Bice is just the latest addition to a chain that spans the globe, with outposts in some 40 cities, most of them financial or mercantile capitals (like Amsterdam, Tokyo, New York, and Dubai) or resorts of the rich and famous (like Monte Carlo, Palm Beach, and Tahiti). Bice has a proud history and a reputation for superb Italian cuisine.

Bice was founded in Milan, Italy, in 1926 by Beatrice Ruggeri (Bice is an Italian diminutive for Beatrice). It was a family affair and still is, with the Ruggeri family still in control and still zealously maintaining its high standards. The atmosphere is one of hip, casual elegance. The main dining room is open and airy, with tall ceilings and large windows looking out onto the bay; black and white predominate, with elaborate flower arrangements adding a touch of color. Starched tablecloths on widely spaced tables add a certain formality to the trendy feel of the room, which can get extremely noisy when it's busy.

The best seats in the house. When the weather cooperates, the outdoor terrace's view of the harbor is marvelously romantic.

Each meal begins with bread accompanied by tasty tuna and sun-dried tomato spreads. The menu leans strongly to Northern Italian specialties. Antipasti and Insalate ($12 to $21) include Bice's signature tri-color salad with arugula, endive, and radicchio in a Parmesan lemon dressing. Other starters include such standards as mozzarella with tomatoes and basil, prosciutto and melon, superbly sweet fried calamari, and tuna tartare.

Primi Piatti (pastas and risottos) ($19 to $32) range from penne in a simple, but spicy, tomato sauce to fettuccine with shrimp and scallops. The Bice signature here is Pappardelle al Telefono, broad pasta ribbons in a mozzarella and tomato cream sauce, a simple dish that is here done to perfection.

Secondi Piatti ($32 to $65) include fish dishes such as swordfish, salmon and the like in simple sauces with vegetable accompaniments. Meat lovers will want to try the Ossobuco alla Milanese, another Bice specialty, a rich veal shank on a bed of saffron risotto. Other entrees include hearty steaks and chops and homey poultry dishes like grilled chicken breast. Side orders of vegetables ($9) are also available.

Desserts ($10 to $13) cover the usual Italian bases with the Cioccolatissimo alla Bice the standout.

As you can see, the food here is not cheap, so you may want to take out a second mortgage if you plan on having wine with dinner. The extensive wine list ranges from $40 to $500. Expect to pay around $60 for a decent bottle. As you might expect, the list leans heavily to Italian wines, with a great selection of "Super Tuscan" wines listed from $65 to $390. Montalcinos range from $65 to $70 and the superior Brunello di Montalcino can be had for $75 to $240. Many wines can be ordered by the glass ($8 to $25).

At these prices, perfection seems a reasonable expectation. Based on personal experience and reports from other diners, however, both food quality and service have been hit or miss. Or as a wise Italian grandmother once said, "such big prices, and such tiny portions." Instead of a full meal, try ordering appetizers at the bar. If you find yourself a fan, ask about their VIP club.

Tip: Bice will validate complimentary self-parking for non-hotel guests; valet parking will cost you $5, plus tax, with Bice validation..

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