This restaurant, like the Samba Room (which we will be visiting later on this month) is an e-brands restaurant. Though they are a chain, they strive for an upscale elegance in each restaurant. The Timpano’s self-declared theme is “Rare Steaks. Fresh Made Pasta. Tall Martinis. Swank Scenery.” And, if this is their mission statement, then they do deliver. Since Timpano is located on West Sand Lake Road, it’s in what is known as Orlando’s “Restaurant Row” in the Dr. Phillips area.
Upon entering, we decided to go for a drink before dinner, so approached the elegant, dark wood bar. Our bartender, Sticks, was very personable and friendly, even offering to change the television channel for us. Luckily, The Simpsons, which was playing at the time, is a favorite of ours.
My husband ordered a gin & tonic, while I ordered a vodka tonic. Yes, I know it’s a martini bar, but we are creatures of habit. The drinks here are great. At some places, we’ll order a drink and it’s all water, or all mixer: it tastes like it’s been waved over a liquor bottle. Our bartender here, though, gave us each a generous pour of liquor, so the drinks were quite strong, but not unpleasantly so.
The really odd note of the evening was struck here, at the bar area. While the bartenders, servers, and host staff all wear long-sleeved shirts, the barmaids are dressed in quite different apparel. They wear solid black low-cut tops, with black micro-mini skirts and black leather knee-high boots. The outfits, coupled with garishly streaked or bleached blond hair, make them look like women of a very different profession, so that my husband’s first comment was that there were hookers inhabiting this bar. We thought they might be on the take for businessmen, before realizing that they were actually employees.
The hookers notwithstanding, Timpano’s atmosphere is quite swanky. Dark wood and dim lamps permeate this restaurant, while Frank Sinatra’s voice croons on into the night. We had made reservations for this dinner, not knowing how crowded the restaurant might be on a summer evening here in Tourist Town. It was only at about 20% capacity when we arrived at 6:00, though by the time we left at 7:30, it was closer to 60% capacity.
We were seated promptly and began to look over our menus. There appeared to be some confusion about us among the wait staff, as our server, Von, arrived and said, “I know that Scott told me you’d been here before, but let me tell you about our specials.” She later approached us (after we’d received our entrees) to tell us that she’d confused us with another couple, and she then proceeded to give us the spiel about the dry-aged beef.
We started with a shared appetizer, the tuna carpaccio with calamata olives, capers, red onions and lemon aioli, served with flatbread. This was great, and was probably my favorite dish of the evening, but then again, I am a big tuna fan. The tuna was paper-thin, so it just melted in the mouth. My husband commented that he had a bite with just the tuna and aioli, and that it was very bland. With the olives and capers, though, this dish assumed more flavor and pizzazz, and we enjoyed it very much. At a cost of $9, it wasn’t unreasonably priced, but there was so little of the tuna that I ended up feeling it wasn’t a very good bargain.
The flatbread was quite good with this, and added a nice crunchy texture, to contrast with the melting softness of the tuna.
Neither of us was there for the steaks, since we don’t eat meat, but we did notice something odd on the menu: “Organic Grain Fed Veal.” In case you are not familiar with veal-raising practices, I will explain. Grain is what virtually all veal is fed, so that’s nothing unusual, and it’s definitely not a positive: quite the contrary. Cows are ruminants, and so are supposed to graze on grass; grain disagrees with their systems, which is why we have to pump our cows so full of antibiotics before they become beef. For someone to advertise as though it were out of the ordinary for a veal calf to be fed grain is a very odd thing. I have to wonder how many people have said, over dinner, “Ah, this is GRAIN-fed veal, not like that run of the mill GRASS-fed veal.” The veal calf wishes that were so.
Notice also that, while they point out that the grain was organic, they do not say that the veal itself was organic. This would mean the farmer would have had to provide some access to pasture, which is difficult to do if you’ve got the calf chained by its neck in a box too small for it to stand, and equally difficult to do if you’re having to give the calf antibiotics to keep it alive long enough to be fattened. But we got a good laugh out of seeing this on the menu.
My husband, at our server’s recommendation, ordered the Seafood Cioppino. This was a stew made from shrimp, calamari, “medallions of fresh fish” (tuna and salmon on that evening), P.E.I. Mussels, herbs, and fresh pasta in a lobster broth for $22. He usually doesn’t order stews, since they are generally the chef’s way of hiding mediocre quality seafood, but he made an exception that night and it turned out well. The broth had a nice, light, citrusy taste that cut through the heaviness and oiliness of some of the fish. He wasn’t expecting fresh pasta in a cioppino, so this was a nice surprise for him. Half of his pieces of fish were cooked perfectly, while the other half were overcooked and a bit mushy. Such is the danger of ordering a stew! But he felt fortunate in his selection and enjoyed it very much. At $22, it was competitively priced with similar dishes from other area restaurants.
I decided to go for a vegetarian entree and ordered the Wild Mushroom pasta for $15. This was a gastronomic disaster, from the point of view of my digestive system. The primary note here was oil. Oil soaked the noodles, coated the mushrooms, pooled around the edges of the plate. If I could have wrung the pasta and mushrooms out, I’d have had enough oil for a good, old-fashioned fish fry. While the mushrooms had a nice flavor, this was almost drowned out by the sheer amount of oil in this dish. Have I conveyed to you just how oily this dish was? I couldn’t eat much, since it was so heavy and greasy, and I became ill later that night.
For some reason, I feel guilty if I don’t eat much of my entree, and I always ask to have it boxed, whether I intend to eat it later or not. In this case, I definitely did not. My husband, against my recommendation, took it to work to eat for lunch the next day. When I called him that afternoon, he said, “Man, that pasta was oily!” Heh.
We then moved on to desserts, at which point, something strange happened again with our servers. Von, who had been our server, remained in the dining room – we could see her circulating to other tables. Some guy, who we’d never seen until that moment, brought us the dessert tray and was all smiles and happy, as though he’d always been our server. This abrupt change in servers confused us, and when the check came, we noticed that it had our server’s name as “Scott.” So I don’t know whether Von got the tip, or whether Scott, who only delivered the dessert and check, ended up getting it. We’d liked Von, though, since she’d visited and liked Charlotte, the town from which we’d moved. She had stayed in South Park, our favorite area, so we’d been happily conversing with her, when she suddenly disappeared!
Scott brought out the tray of desserts, the main feature of which was a cheesecake tree for $16. This basically consisted of a silver tree, but out of its branches protruded mini cheesecake lollipops. Since my husband is not a huge cheesecake fan, and I had had quite a heavy entree, we did not choose this option.
Around the cheesecake tree were the other desserts: mini-indulgences for $2 each. There was a tiny tiramisu, which I almost ordered, but I instead chose the Tartuffo: a mixture of chocolate cake and chocolate mousse, with white chocolate and a strawberry on top. This was served cool, and the chocolate cake added a nice texture to the mousse. We both enjoyed this dish very much and decided that it was our favorite of the two we tried.
My husband (remember – not a cheesecake fan) decided to break the mold again, and ordered the White Chocolate Berry Cheesecake. This was quite good, and the tartness of the berries contrasted nicely with the very rich and creamy cheesecake. We both agreed, though, that the chocolatey goodness of the Tartuffo surpassed the creamy goodness of the cheesecake.
In all, the service was very good here. Everyone we encountered was friendly and personable. We had two interactions with the manager: one at the bar and one at our table, and it is always a good sign when the manager is circulating and speaking to guests.
The food, with the exception of my Wild Mushrooms and Oil Pasta, was also quite good. Would we return? Probably not, but only because we are pescatarians, so we prefer a restaurant like Roy’s whose focus is on seafood. If we ate steaks and chops, we would not hesitate to dine here, though we would be wary of fancy-sounding items that are actually as common as day. We also wouldn’t hesitate to return here if we ever had guests who were big meat eaters, since that atmosphere is very nice, the service is very hospitable, and the prices are quite reasonable.
Okay, I had to add this to my review. Just today (July 6) we got a card in the mail from Timpano. It was handwritten and said, “Thank you so much for coming in. We can’t wait to see you again.” And it was signed “Von & Scott.” We thought this was excellent customer service, and we were very impressed with this attention to detail. We are now, actually, more inclined to return than we were before receiving the card.