Bella sits next to the river.
Bella ... on the River is housed in what used to be Delores Del Rio, and a few similarities have carried over from one to the other. The place still feels like a boite from another time with its dimly lit interior, stone walls and stairs, and that ever-so-slight ramshackle, casual air that keeps things from getting too serious.
Yet chef Sean Fletcher's special menu for Restaurant Week was all seriousness, indeed. Seriously thought out and seriously delicious. It makes me want to return, especially to sample the cold asparagus soup with shrimp and fresh basil plus the Greek-style branzino.
Those were a couple of dishes that caught my eye before I ordered the Restaurant Week special, which came with several options for each course.
Before my options arrived, my waitress, who also served as bartender, brought out a roll with a roasted bulb of garlic set atop extra-virgin olive oil with a touch of dried rosemary. The roll was fair and the oil lacked that grassy EVOO bite that I like, but that garlic was so good I scooped out every last clove with my knife and could have eaten another.
Bella features plenty of good wines and some nice stemware to drink them from.
By then my orange salad arrived. Slender slices of juicy orange with no pith on the outside were topped with layers of Kalamata olives, red onion and crushed blanched almonds. The sweetness of the orange, the zip of the onion and the salty tang of the olives blended beautifully while the buttery almonds gave the dish a pleasant crunch. (I honestly don't remember the alternative for the first course. The salad was so good it eclipsed all else.)
The main course was a beautifully fresh piece of escolar, atop a chimichurri sauce with a good punch of garlic and parsley. Capers and thin strands of delicately battered and fried onion crowned the dish. The alternative here was a petite filet mignon, which is probably quite wonderful, and yet the fish, even on a Monday, proved to be the right choice for me that evening.
Pan-seared escolar atop a chimichurri sauce with fried onions and capers.
Dessert was a choice of chocolate fondant or Virginia's pistachio cake. I opted for the latter and was, again, rewarded with a truly delectable dish. The pound cake-type base, all butter and filled with nuts, was covered with pistachio cream and a mixture of nuts with chocolate shavings. Rich, without being heavy, the cake was a real treat. Thanks, Virginia, whoever you are.
I sat down fairly early in the evening, and yet there was a good vibe from the half-dozen or so other occupied tables. Everyone seemed to be enjoying the food as well as the Sarah Vaughn and other jazz greats on the sound system. That is, until the live jazz began. On Monday it was a pianist who sang the likes of "Mona Lisa" and "The Lady Is a Tramp" in an appealing, low-key manner.
If you remember growing deafer in the evenings when the all-too-loud music filled Delores Del Rio, you'll be pleased to note that someone has turned down the volume. Now you can have a conversation without having to scream.
Virginia's pistachio cake.
And you can do that over a nice glass of wine. I had an icy Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand; it was not the wine I had ordered (I had asked for a French Sauvignon Blanc), but I was certainly pleased with it on so hot a day. It was also less expensive than the wine I had selected, so I even saved a few bucks on something I enjoyed.
By the way, you've got to love a restaurant that advises you of the following before you eat:
"Menu Disclaimers: Olives may have pits, Fish have bones, Meats prepared to your desired doneness, Clams and Mussels are in shells, be careful around Flaming Items, Hot Plates, Coffee and Hot Tea are Hot."
That's the spirit.
For more on Restaurant Week, which runs through Saturday, click on the Culinaria ad at the top of this page.
Bella ... on the River
106 River Walk