This is exactly why Jean-Pierre Giraudeau, owner and chef of Bella Arte, has chosen to describe his menu as world cuisine.
“In Richmond, if you put only French [in the description] people think it’s expensive, but our food is affordable,” says Giraudeau in a heavy accent. “Besides, there are good things in all directions, not just French.”
Jean-Pierre and his daughter Carol have owned the North Side establishment since last October. They took over the former Belle B when the previous owners moved their operation into the Fan, opening Morgan’s on Robinson Street. Between a beauty parlor and a barbershop in a mercifully abbreviated strip mall on Bellevue Avenue, you will now find a fine addition to Richmond’s rich diamond-in-the-rough collection of eateries.
The menu here is reminiscent of Le Serre, though the setting couldn’t be more different. With occasional live jazz, warm lighting, and friendly service, this is in many ways a step up. From country pté ($7.25) to chicken picatta ($14.95), veal marsala ($15.95) and boeuf bourguignon ($14.95), this is the cuisine that typifies the Riviera, combining the flavors of Northern Italy and Provence.
Jean-Pierre says that the idea is “not to dissimulate the taste, not cover up, but to bring out. We use olive oil, not so much butter. We braise, sauté and grill. Our focus is on healthy food while preserving the quality of the flavors.” The meals are also a great value.
Trout teuite meuniŠre ($17) was dressed with a hint of garlic and herb butter, and arrived butterflied and golden-brown. A roasted lamb special ($19) was finished on the grill, perfectly pink throughout and served au jus. Both were paired simply with steamed rice and fresh green beans, allowing the true flavors of the entrees to shine. The portions were ample, and at these prices, a remarkable value.
The wine list is good evidence of the value as well. You’ll find good bottles from Virginia and California, France and Spain. Jean-Pierre notes that when it comes to wine, quality does not always follow price. He has hand-selected affordable vintages available, in most cases, by the glass ($5-$7) and by the bottle ($18-$36).
You know exactly what to expect for dessert: tiramisu, creme brulée, creme caramel and chocolate mousse ($4-$5). Each simply executes a timeless recipe.
You may experience another refreshing dose of honesty during your visit: Chris Bull. This very British, very professional waiter answers queries about the menu and makes suggestions without hesitation. I overheard him steer another diner away from a shrimp pasta dish, indicating that it wasn’t quite as filling as she might expect. She ended up very happy as result.
After we’d tucked into our entrees, Bull returned to check on our satisfaction. “Have you chosen well?” Yes, yes indeed — and without having to leave the country. SBella Arte ($$)1223 Bellevue Ave.
Dinner: Monday- Saturday 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.
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