Diners feel special every time they go to Donatello. For decades, the Tampa restaurant has defined fine Italian dining and stepping into the dining room transports you to a world that delights the senses. Tables adorned with roses are draped with pink cloths and napkins. Pendant fixtures hang overhead and provide dramatic lighting. Black-jacketed waiters, speaking fluent Italian, glide through the hushed room while entrees bubble in chafing dishes waiting to be plated, and presented, to guests. A buffet table greets guests, just inside the dining room, and displays the pastry chef’s dessert selections. It is lined with cakes, tarts and Italian pastry.
Donatello, named for the famous Italian artist, is filled with artwork. From the gilded paintings on the walls to the beauty served on its plates, Donatello offers a sanctuary from the stresses of life and a sumptuous repast perfect for romance and celebration.
Pasta often is served as a starter, and the capellini D’Angelo Amalfi is a great choice. A small nest of pasta strands as thin as an angel’s hair peaks through a simple tomato sauce and fresh basil. The first bite showcases the elevated execution of this dish. The flavor and bite of the pasta are perfect and the sauce sets the standard for all tomato-based-sauces. It’s lush, and true, slightly acidic and coats your tongue with the essence of tomato flavor.
Another option is oysters Florentina. Fresh, plump oysters are shucked and nestled into a bed of spinach, sitting in an oyster half-shell. A sauce of white wine, shallots and heavy cream, aerated with unsweetened whipped cream, is laced over the top. A sprinkle of Parmesan dusts the top before browning. The result is nothing short of spectacular. The flavors of the oyster, and spinach, shine through the light cream sauce. Oysters Florentina, along with a chilled bottle of Cristal, or glass of Piper Heidsieck, is the perfect start to a celebratory dinner.
Un Ampio Sorriso
The entrée pasta selection includes a variety of shapes, sauces and enhancements. Paglia fieno e fungi combine egg and spinach fettucine with a mix of fresh wild mushrooms. It’s tossed in a white wine sauce with a whisper of red pepper flake. The flavors of the pasta are nuanced by the wine, while the pepper flake sparkles on the back of the throat. The colorful presentation is enough to elicit a grin but the taste transforms the grin into a wide smile.
Semplice, Elevato, Spettacolare
Fruite di mare combines scallops, calamari, clams, mussels and shrimp, tossed with fettucine for a flavorful seafood pasta. And if you love shrimp, order the scampi Veneziana. Colossal prawns are sauteed with diced tomatoes, white wine and lemon butter. The presentation is striking while the flavor of the shrimp is enhanced by the butter and tomatoes.
In another selection, a generous sprinkle of crisp garlic chips crowns a rack of Colorado lamb studded with fresh rosemary. There is a nice crust on the lamb. The meat is flavorful and the garlic chips prove the chef’s attention to detail and process. It’s easy to overcook garlic resulting in a mushy clove. That’s not the case with these chips. The golden-brown crust on the outside gives way to a firm texture inside. Each element complements the other and defines the magic when the best quality ingredients are expertly prepared.
I Sogni Diventano Realta
One of the most memorable entrées is Vitello dolce vita. Veal scallopini is sauteed with prosciutto cotto and mushrooms. The pan is deglazed with white wine. Then fresh sage is tossed in before a kiss of demi-glace swirls it all together. Shaved black truffles are the final touch. The veal is fork-tender, the prosciutto is crisp and the mushrooms are bursting with the flavors they’ve absorbed along the way. The dish is savory, earthy, salty and visits me in my dreams at least once a week.
Il Dolce Finale
Two desserts stand out. The chocolate mousse cake combines layers of cocoa sponge with enlightened chocolate mousse. Chocolate jimmies adorn the cake and add a crunchy texture plus another layer of chocolate flavor. This is light with a rich cocoa flavor that’s not too sweet. It pairs well with an espresso martini or a snifter of DiSarrono. Another dessert, a traditional ricotta cheesecake, is on the opposite end of the spectrum. A rich ricotta-based vanilla cheesecake is crowned with a selection of seasonal mixed berries. The cheesecake is perfectly executed, wonderfully flavored and the quintessential finale to dinner.
On the way out, don’t be surprised if a distinguished Italian gentleman offers women a single long-stemmed rose. Like Donatello itself, the rose is a symbol of beauty, and a reminder that simplicity and quality is all you need. ♦
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