Bistro Bella Vita

(Grand Rapids, MI) — With the hullabaloo of Grandwich having reached its logical conclusion, we found ourselves in need of a nearby and convenient place for dinner Monday night. Bistro Bella Vita is not too far away, as luck would have it. We’ve dined here many times in past, often choosing to sit out on their patio, enjoying the fresh air and abundant sunshine. Tonight, however, we sought the cool interior for an early meal...

He Fed:

Our OpenTable reservation is for 7p but we are starving, so head downtown an hour early. There’s a “Rock the Rapids” event gearing up next door, though the attendance is desulatory at best. The festival workers eye us hungrily and lurkers ask if we have extra tickets. We shuffle into the restaurant as quickly as possible.

Turns out, Bistro Bella Vita isn’t exactly hopping on an early Monday evening so we are able to snag a table, no problem. The hostess thoughtfully seats us far away from a large table where a big gathering is expected later. I really appreciate that! My mood improves as we order cocktails to start the evening. I choose The Cucumber martini, which is refreshing but slightly cloying.

Bistro Bella Vita offers a tasting menu Sunday through Tuesday. It’s only $25 for 3 smaller courses, with beverage pairing for only $12 extra. We are immediately in love with the concept and carefully choose our courses. When I say “carefully” I mean I didn’t listen to Juliet’s choices at all, because we end up getting the same second course! Doh. Live and learn.

For my first dish, I choose the Smoked Pork Tenderloin Salad. It’s a salad of fresh farm greens topped with olive oil poached potatoes, sweet corn, snap peas, and a charred onion vinaigrette. Slices of marinated and smoked pork tenderloin hide playfully amongst the contents of this cornucopia. The veggies are all very fresh and crisp, and the dressing adds a soulful tang. The Abarino-Grenache Blanc by Trenza (Edna Valley, CA) is too sweet for my usual taste, but pairs very nicely with the pork.

Potato Gnocchi follows, with little fluffy pillows drenched in a ragout of local meats and smoked tomato over farm beans and sprinkled with parmesan cheese. Each bite melts in my mouth. The beans are still a tad firm, which contrasts nicely with the succulent and seductive meat sauce. They select a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (San Lorenzo, Italy) to pair, and it’s bold, licorice-tinged body wraps around the meaty textures as if the two had been in love for ages.

My eye is on the Braised Pine Crest Beef (the same beef they used in their Grandwich entry), but Juliet beats me to it. And there’s no way I’m ordering two identical dishes! So I veer against the grain and get the Pine Crest Ribeye instead. Ribeye is not my favorite cut—a bit too fatty and rich—but I figure we’ll split the dishes and we’ll all be happy. My steak, medium-rare of course, comes with fingerling potatoes, snap peas, sweet corn, romanesco (a kind of brocolli), and house-made steak sauce. The beef does not give way to the fat, and all the vegetable components go nicely (if somewhat recycled from my pork salad course), and the sauce is solid steakhouse quality. My few bites of Juliet’s polenta and braised beef make me wish I’d ordered first, but I’m happy with my dish as well. A Shiraz by Shoofly (South Austrailia) matches the richness of the rib eye perfectly.

No room for dessert, unfortunately (and this time I mean it!) so we pay the very reasonable bill and head back out to wade through festival-goers once more. Bistro Bella Vita has always been a reputable eatery for authentic modern Italian cuisine, and this tasting menu has definitely put them a notch above any competitors, in my book. Fresh preparation, excellent wine pairings, and friendly, thoughtful service. I can’t wait to go back.
She Fed:

We tend to do Bistro Bella Vita for appetizers and wine. They have a solid selection of wines by the glass and a darn good cheese board. If the weather's cooperating, it's a lovely way to while away a few hours on their deck in the summer. Recently we stopped in to try their Grandwich offering, (and of the four sandwiches I tried during "Grandwich", Bistro's was my favorite, by the way) when we learned of Bistro's three course tasting menu offered Sundays through Tuesdays. Three courses for $25 with the option of adding a wine pairing with each for only $12 more seemed like a fun early week indulgence to us. So here we are!

There are three choices offered for each course—antipasti, primi, and secondo. For my antipasti, I select the black lentil salad with feta, arugula, chopped veggies, and cucumber vinaigrette. I bought some black lentils recently and haven't decided what to do with them, so I'm hoping for a little inspiration. The "chopped veg" in the salad is finely (and beautifully) diced red peppers, celery, carrots, and fennel. The lentils are earthy and deep. It almost tastes like there's meat in the salad, it's so chewy and dense. The feta and fennel brighten the salad, while the arugula adds a peppery punch. The dressing is mild with the tiniest bits of cucumber throughout. The entire salad is absolutely delicious and I know I must try to make a salad of some sort with the black lentils we have at home. Jeremy takes a few bites and agrees. The salad is paired with a Pinto Grigio by Villa Del Borgo in Italy. I have been favoring Pinot Grigio over Chardonnay for a few summers and this one does not disappoint. Grassy overtones with green apple and hints of lemon and honey cut through the dusky flavors of the salad.

I'm a sucker for gnocchi in nearly any form, so for my second course I gravitate to the potato gnocchi with ragout of smoked tomato, local meat, and farm beans. The words "local meat" give me brief pause. I usually like to know what I'm eating before I dig in, but I throw caution to the wind and order up. Turns out the tomato sauce is studded with pork shreds and sausage. The gnocchi are light and airy, while comforting and filling but not heavy. The smoky tomato sauce with grated Parmesan atop just takes it over the edge. The "farm beans" are tiny little green beans, steamed tender crisp and tasting of summer. Had I known this gnocchi dish would be this damn good, I would have skipped the secondo and asked for a double helping of this. It's paired with a Montepilciano d'Abruzzo from San Lorenzo, Italy. The wine is big and juicy with soft tannins. Just bold enough to let you know it's there, but not enough to overpower the gnocchi.

Finally, I opt for the braised beef with polenta, grilled asparagus, carrot slaw, and Dijon herb vinaigrette. The beef is from Pine Crest Dairy, a sustainable farm in Cadillac and the polenta comes from Jennings Brother's in Nashville, Michigan. The meat is shredded and slightly spicy, tasting almost like barbequed beef. The polenta is creamy and rich, while the slaw has a nice bite with the tangy vinaigrette and a smattering of caraway seeds. This is paired with a Cab from Lockwood in Monterey, California. It's a big wine with lots of tannins that cut thrugh the richness of the beef and polenta.

Our entire experience has been amazing. Each course and pairing is delicious and the service spot on. The price is certainly fair, if not a bargain, for what you get. We will remember this for an early week treat!

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