Consort and I road-tripped from Phoenix to Santa Barbara in eight hours, counting the two brief pit stops for ourselves and our Bedlington terrier, Gracie. Yes, we drove with our well-behaved two-year old dog, who slept most of the journey in her sheepskin doggie seat.
We had dinner reservations at Bella Vista for 8:30 PM, but because of L.A. traffic, arrived at 9:25 PM. They stop seating at 9:00, however we were treated like royalty from start to finish despite our late arrival.
We chose to sit inside next to the large, double-sided stone fireplace under a ceiling of glass. The restaurant’s ambience and décor, including a sense of quiet elegance with fresh flowers on the table and intimate conversation in front of a cozy fire set the tone for a romantic evening, which is difficult to do after riding in a car for 468.2 miles.
Harold, our waiter, welcomed us with an endless grin, laughter, and kindness. Imagine this—a server excited to greet his last table of the night. He told us he had worked at the restaurant for the last thirty years, give or take a few years. Harold is our FSE (favorite server ever).
Our first course, antipasti, an organic green salad with delicately sliced apples, salted ricotta cheese, and a lemon verbena vinaigrette, was a close second only to the porcini sformato, a custard with wild mushrooms, spinach, and a pecorino cheese sauce. We made love to the sformato—sex on a place.
Our primi course, lobster radiatore, tasted tender and succulent, a sweet lobster mixed with homemade perfectly al dente pasta. The offering of bread included warm, fresh from the oven fragrant focaccia, light and tasty, served with sun-dried tomato spread that melted in our mouths. You know our feeling about the importance of bread—how it sets the tone for the evening.
My choice for secondi (main course), a grilled tenderloin bistecca, served with chili roasted Brussel sprouts and an olive oil potato puree seemed as if the ingredients were meant to be together. Consort ordered the smoked lamb chops with cannellini beans, sautéed hen of the woods mushrooms and rainbow chard sauced with an apple agrodolce. Over a glass of rosé, we fed each other forkfuls of the amazing entrees . If that wasn’t enough to wow us, we were served a scrumptious side of course-ground white corn polenta with wild mushroom ragu.
In case you’re wondering how we know so much about what we consumed that evening, we’ll let you in on a secret. Both the executive sous chef and manager were happy to share the philosophy of this modern Italian cuisine featuring farm-to-table ingredients as well as a few tips from the kitchen.
Dessert seemed to follow as naturally as firing up a cigarette after sex. And no, neither of us smoke, but we’ve read about it and seen it in movies. We selected and savored ‘Going, Going, Gone Bananas,’ a rum-soaked banana with passion fruit and vanilla bean gelato.
The Bella Vista, one of the finest most sophisticated restaurants we ever reviewed, has high standards which they live up to. Imagine if all restaurants were genuine and gracious to their guests while showcasing quality, healthy and innovative cuisine. But this review isn’t only about service and food, it’s about a type of rare hospitality—the perfect place to unwind, relax, and recharge after a long journey.