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Friday, March 1st, 2013
Dining Reviews

Pranzo Italian Ristorante

Pranzo Italian Ristorante

Fort Walton Beach

Hours: Open Mon. Sat., 5 10 p.m.

Reservations: Accepted

Children’s Menu: Can Accommodate

Dress: Casual

My family and I ate at Pranzo Italian Ristorante on a recent weeknight, a little later than we usually do. My daughter Grace, the Tiny Diner, is dining later in the evenings than she did in her youth (six months ago), and is poised delicately between the high chair and the independence of adult seating. It’s a tricky time.

Pranzo is on Okaloosa Island, tucked off the main road, though they have a highly visible sign. It’s a one-story building, and inside is a much larger dining area than one might think. The restaurant is an elongated rectangle, with tables and booths along the walls, free standing, and in a bar/lounge area. There are TVs placed here and there, but I noticed that most of the customers were concentrating on talking to each other, and on their food. The colors tend toward a darker palette, and the decor has a sleek and simple look.

We were seated mid-restaurant, and TD took a few minutes before settling into her high chair, having failed to take Mommy’s chair away from her. The waitress gave us menus, mentioned a drinks special and left us to read up. The Pranzo menu is one page, but it’s dense and has a lot of items on it, so you should take your time and not miss any of the many options.

The emphasis at Pranzo is on seafood, though there’s beef, chicken and veal, and traditional pasta entrees as well. Nobody does seafood like the Italians, and the kitchen offers it both plain and fancy. My wife and I had eaten a lot of chicken that week, so we both were in a maritime mood.

We started off with Roman bruschetta, sliced bread topped with chopped mushrooms and both kalamata and green olives, with shredded mozzarella. As we were waiting for it, the waiter brought warm crusty bread and a plate of thick, sweet/sour balsamic vinegar, basil butter and red peppered olive oil for dipping. The contrast was all good, and TD chewed her share (she has a mouthful of little teeth now).

Other starters include fried calamari, fried eggplant, crab dip, sweet and sour Marco Polo shrimp, crab cake, seared tuna with balsamic and blood orange glaze, and tomato or Tuscan bruschetta, the latter with eggplant and roasted peppers.

We both went for fish for the main course. My wife ordered broiled grouper stuffed with crab, served over string beans. I got fettuccine with bacon-wrapped scallops in a creamy mushroom sauce. TD got her choice of both.

There was a little glitch between the salad and the entree. The server brought out the main courses without bringing out the bruschetta. We mentioned it and she returned shortly afterward with an extra large order of it. I’m glad we didn’t cancel the order - the light mushroom and olive apps were too good to have missed.

My wife’s grouper was generously portioned, with a light cream sauce and plenty of sweet crabmeat inside. The bacon on the scallops was crisp (a lot of kitchens have trouble managing this), and the balsamic glaze gave it a sweet and tangy kick that cut through the richness of the mushroom sauce. There was far more fettuccine than I could comfortably eat, so I got it boxed to go.

Other main course options are pasta “your way,” a mix-and-match pairing of pastas and sauces, mahi mahi, tuna, sea bass, redfish and trigger fish, variously prepared grilled, broiled, seared or sautéed, sautéed shellfish (clams, mussels, shrimp and combos), veal or chicken parmesan, piccatta, marsala, Romano or a la Pranzo, grilled ribeye, filet or pork chops, and pasta classics like lasagna, cannelloni, gnocchi, or ravioli, with marinara, tomato cream, white wine or pancetta cream sauces. It’s a long range.

We had saved room for one dessert, to share. On offer were crème brulee, cheesecake, chocolate torte cake, spumoni, tiramisu, and a limoncello variation on key lime pie. We got that one. The slice was served with a dollop of meringue and had been run under a broiler to lightly caramelize it. It was light, tart and the perfect finish to a substantial meal. TD happily took to the meringue, which she called “ice cream.” She calls a lot of things ice cream.

Service was efficient and friendly. My daughter is asserting herself, which includes vocalizing and freestyle use of cutlery, but the staff was very patient. One man brought over a skewer of fresh-cut pineapple from the bar, which thrilled her to no end. A young hostess played peek-a-boo with her, which had the usual effect of dissolving TD into helpless giggles. Thanks, guys, we appreciated the help. Oh, and to the peek-a-boo hostess—my daughter said you looked like Cinderella.


The Lowdown:

PRANZO ITALIAN RISTORANTE Pranzo offers fish and shellfish Italian style, with a variety of sauces, toppings, stuffings and sides, along with veal, chicken and beef, and nearly all of the traditional Italian pasta classics. Friendly staff, full bar. $5 50, 1222 Santa Rosa Blvd., Fort Walton Beach. (850) 244 9955.