Italian Cuisine Showdown – Tutto Italia vs Portobello

Laurie gives us the showdown on the two Italian restaurants.  See what she has to say and what she experienced.  I must apologize for the spacing on this too.  I can’t get it to space correctly to save my life.  🙂

I have avoided Italian cuisine until I ate at Portobello in Downtown Disney at WDW.  I finally was convinced that I could eat safely in a restaurant that made pasta because I cannot eat gluten/wheat and soy. Comparing the two restaurants is like comparing poodles to greyhounds.  Tutto Italia gets many customers from guests in Epcot who want a sit down restaurant meal in the park. The restaurant needs high turn over of guests as they have a constant supply of guests.   Portobello is a Downtown Disney destination for locals as well as WDW guests.  They must stand on their own as if they were in Downtown Chicago or Downtown Peoria.   Portobello has to work harder to get and keep customers through high reputation, word of mouth, and guest experiences. Definitely two different types of restaurants even though they both have the same cuisine.
Tutto Italia is hidden on the left side of the courtyard in Italy pavillion in Epcot.  The first problem was the greeter who told me to go over there and wait for someone.  SCOOTER!!  She immediately turned away in preparation for anyone that might come up to her podium.  Finally, vaguely she pointed to the ramp which took me by the wine cellar that serves a bar menu and Tutto Italia cuisine.  I was faced with a sea of red velvet ropes so I moved one out of my way.  I was confused as there was nobody to assist me since I came from the side.  As I went to the rope blocking me from entering from the side a party of 4 passed by me.  A grumpy old man came out to wait on them and I spoke up.  He said that they went first as the restaurant had a 4-top available.  I do not like grumpy staff and I do not like being ignored.  He said all scooters have to sit out in the rain..  I had to pack my park bag with the scooter charger, round up stuff, and ended up carrying a lot of stuff.  I was seated in a side room which is between a main dining room and a dining area that overlooks the courtyard.  The manager came up after finding out I was gluten/wheat and soy free.  I was handed only the gluten free menu but I prefer all menus so I can see if the chef can adapt something.  The best thing was the perky Italian speaking waitress who through the night kept things moving along, knew her menu and made the storm clouds go away.
Portobello has no stairs or terrace, guests are welcomed at the greeter station inside the restaurant, and when possible scooters are parked indoors.  Staff welcomed me like family, explained where to wait, and made the visit go smoothly.  The greeter’s station is in the foyer that is tastefully decorated with Italian knick knacks and decorations.  I quickly was escorted to a table in a warm rustic dining area with tasteful Italian decorations.  Portobello is a Tuscan style villa whereas Tutto Itallia is a Disney version of Joe’s Spaghetti House.  Tony’s Town Square Restaurant in the Magic Kingdom looks more like an Italian restaurant than Tutto Italia.  The side dining area in Tutto Italia has terra cotta colored walls, dark wood moulding, and framed prints.  The main dining room has murals on the walls, dark wood, comfortable seating, chandeliers, and big vases of glass. They do keep the dark floral carpet clean and use a broom under tables.  There is excellent lighting with easy disabled access.  It was rather quiet and my neighbors were seated far enough away.  It is nice not to have a waiter squeezing in to speak to you or having to hear everything someone says.
The way the two restaurants handle special diets shows how one is driven by turn over of guests while the other is driven by customer satisfaction and experience.  The chef at Portobello came to my table to discuss my dinner and would have made me a dish off the menu just to make me happy.  Tutto Italia has managers doing the special diet orders thus keeping the chefs in the kitchen. IMG_2950 Unlike the warm buns at Portobello the Tutto Italia manager brought out 3 slices of warmed bread (not toasted) and individual pats of butter.  I asked if it was because of my diet and he said that they serve all guests individual pats of butter.  They do not provide butter knifes so you have to lick the knife clean so you can use it on the salad and entree.  Two different types of gluten free bread were from Lo*Pro which were extremely dense that were not worth eating.  I ate one a bit with butter and stopped.  I rather use GNI and Udi products or corn tortillas.  The raisin bread smelled like cinnamon raisin bread but was very dense, sorry, I did not get the brand.  I wish they had GNI, Udi’s, or even French Meadow dinner rolls.  The gluten free offerings were not good for sopping up the yummy juices and sauces in the entrees.
They brought out the beautiful Insalata Mista that had me in awe since I was expecting a typical mixed salad.  IMG_2956They thinly slice watermelon radish then immerse the slice in an ice bath so that it curl to mimic a flower.  It looked like a slice of watermelon with dark rind, translucent white center, and various shades of rose pink.  I do not like asparagus and was dreading more chomping on wood stems until I tried the tender white asparagus the size of my pinky finger.  There was a clear flavor with the crunch of a crisp young green onion.  I WANT MORE!!!  There was a fresh blend of radicchio, arugula, and arugula.  This tasty salad was dressed with a basalmic vinaigrette that in spots was broken into oil and vinegar.  Next came the Bistecca de Macellaio which is grilled “butcher steak”, roasted rosemary potatoes, and agrodolce cipoline onions.  One of the most flavorful cuts of meat is the hanger steak which sometimes is known as the butcher steak. Unlike filets this steak should have tender beef as well as gristle, sinew, and fat.  I will eat almost any temperature of steak but order steaks medium well.  The easiest way to tell if meat is done is by poking it for firmness and my steak was very soft.    It was a flavorful steak with proper seasoning with a green onion and tomato salsa on top.  There was way too much gristle and sinew in the meat that most guests would have sent it back.  No amount of pounding and marinade could have saved that piece of meat.  IMG_2963Under the steak was properly seasoned roasted rosemary potatoes and cipollini onions. The onions were cooked to soft sweetness without the harsh notes of a raw onion.  Agrodolce is a blend of oil, vinegar, sugar, and sometimes raisins for one of my favorite side dishes ever .    Overall I could eat this meal every day if they used a better cut of steak and more heat on the steak.  This seemed more fit for an American diner and far better than my American cooking.
I was disappointed that the only item on the gluten free menu was panna cotta.  There was no gelati or sorbets.  IMG_2976Be warned that the amarine cherries are soaked in alcohol and should not be on the panna cotta.  My religion, my stomach, and my palate refuse to accept alcohol which was not noted on the menu.  I learned my lesson from a past experience so I asked for the cherries to be held.  The chef did not add another fruit but just offered a glass of chocolate panna cotta.  HEAVEN, icy smooth chocolate hits your palate and melts away.  I could have eaten a very large bowl.  There was no gelatti or sorbets for me unlike Portobello which offered me creme brulee, gelatti, sorbeti, ice cream, fresh fruit, and panna cotta.  At Portobello I am offered soup, 2 -4 salads, antipasti, 3-5 appetizers, pizza, 2 pork dishes, 2 fish dishes, 2 chicken dishes, spaghetti bolognose and other pasta dishes, and 4 or 5 desserts.  The amount items available for special diets is far greater at Tony’s in Magic Kingdom and Portobello.
RECOMMENDATION:  If you want chefs coming to your table for special diets, authentic rustic themed restaurant, and wider variety of pasta then head to Portobello.  For a cheaper family dinner that has a chef coming out for special diets, has quaint Italian decor, and great food then go to Tony’s Town Square Restaurant.  I was happier at Portobello where the chefs and management rearrange the dishes to meet the customer’s limitations.  Overall the food is excellent, waitress was awesome, and good for guests with disabilities.  I would love to try something else that is more Italian this time.  You cannot go wrong eating at Tutto Italia.
Overall the only problems I had were kitchen issues that any restaurant can have. I had a wonderful meal, I never had to ask for more tea, was asked over and over again if I needed anything, had a perfect waitress, and was relaxed when I left the restaurant.  I recommend this restaurant as the theme is not important, kitchens make mistakes, and any issues are likely to just be because of my diet and attitude.  They can handle 290 pound ladies like me, wheelchairs, and special diets.  This was a lot less noisy than Tony’s in Magic Kingdom.  If you want chefs coming to your table for special diets, authentic rustic themed restaurant, and wider variety of pasta then head to Portobello.  For a cheaper family dinner that has a chef coming out for specia diets, has quaint Italian decor, and great food then go to Tony’s Town Square Restaurant.  I was happier at Portobello where the chefs and management rearrange the dishes to meet the customer’s limitations.  I would love to try something else that is more Italian next time.  You cannot go wrong eating at Tutto Italia and I recommend them for a nice dinner in Epcot.