A couple of weeks ago, I took a look at a trattoria on the South Side. I liked their pizza, but suggested that if you were in the mood for Italian entrees you should keep driving. This week, at the risk of being as redundant as lasagna, I took my own advice and drove north to take a peek around Bella Luna, a new ristorante that is throwing its squid into an already crowded hat. I'm glad that I did.
My father and stepmother were in town this past weekend, and we all went to Bella Luna for dinner the night before they departed. The restaurant, er ristorante, opened in May, and I was worried that there still might be a few kinks. I was prepared to cut them some slack. Not necessary. We had a good meal and a fine time.
The place is sparse at the moment. They've warmed the inside with earth tones. I felt like I was inside one of Van Gogh's haystack paintings. There isn't any cheap artwork on the walls, and I appreciate that. A long banquette with tables lining it runs the length of one wall of the front dining room, and there is a smaller dining room in the rear with a handful of tables. It's attractive and comfy. Yes, it's in a strip mall, but what are you gonna do?
Sweet and tender grilled calamari ($7) was followed by superb Veal Marsala ($14). The squid was served without sauce. It didn't need any. I was worried that the veal's low price signaled poor meat. Not so. Fork-tender and succulent, it was served with a bright and tangy sauce. The presentation was basic: no flair and little color on the plate. But the flavor could not be denied, and it didn't stay on the plate long enough for me to miss the parsley. The Bruschetta ($6.50) changes daily. We enjoyed three slices piled high with tomatoes, sauteed red and yellow peppers, and artichoke hearts. The fish of the day was a baked flounder in putanesca ($18). That the fish was somewhat too dry was hidden by an abundance of sauce. Good flavor though and I didn't give it a second thought. These entrees were sided with grilled zucchini and penne in marinara.
The only stumble was the Bistecca Rustica. The presentation was rustic as suggested, sliced in thick strips and again with little garnish. While this wasn't discouraging, the beef was gristly and required a great dedication to chewing. The roasted potatoes were a respectable side, and the Italian sausage that was sliced up over it was tremendous. The sausage was so flavorful, I was surprised not to see it featured in a pasta dish.
Dessert choices are simple omnipresent tiramisu and a chocolate chip cannoli. Both were rich and sweet. No new ground broken, but by that point I wasn't interested in razzle-dazzle. An important note: They make the best espresso I've had since arriving here. A good roast, served quickly with a thick cream. Excellent.
Bella Luna stands above the glut of tratto/ristarant/erias in this town. They aren't doing much different than all the rest except serving food a step better in a more pleasant manner. They are engaging and a little playful. The cook came out and bantered with us. He was as good-hearted as the bartender and waitress. They seem to be focused. I worry that in this supersaturation they will be ignored and not garner enough business. With time and patronage I believe they will grow more comfortable, take a few more chances, keep the quality up and become a destination for the legions of hacks. S
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