My wife and I had a thoroughly enjoyable dinner last night at Bella, 20/Lombard. We arrived shortly before dinner opening, so we took in a few gin & tonics at the bar, a room separate from the dining room. The bar is well appointed comfortable chairs at the bar itself, plus a banquette and plushy sofa chairs with attractive wooden end/coffee tables. The whole restaurant has a light, airy feel, thanks to the many windows and the subdued, pastel color scheme.
We started with tastes I had free-range chicken liver pate crostinis, K had grilled octopus with a Romesco sauce. The liver was delicious, surprisingly light, almost mousse-like, but for a taste the portion was too generous six crostinis with a large dollop on each $4.00 (?!?) and nearly a meal in itself. The octopus was the only disappointment of the evening it was a bit dry and chewy. It was explained to us that the octopus is first blanched then quickly charred to prevent this, but its just a tough dish to execute. The Romesco was quite good.
First courses were marinated, skewered lamb (I cant remember the Moroccan [?] name) with hommus on grilled flatbread, and a Camembert fritter with endive, radicchio and pecans. The lamb was terrific, perfectly grilled to bring out the tangy marinade. Like the pate, the hommus was light but assertive. The fritter was delicious K buttered the melted cheese into the little boat leaves and ate with her fingers bitter, creamy, silky all at once. The only drawback again, a bit too generous with the salad leaves, methinks.
Second courses were maple-brined, boneless pork chop with a rhubarb relish and sweet potato fries, and a roasted half-chicken with mash and roasted lemon. The pork was excellent seared outside, moist inside. The relish was a perfect accompaniment. Im not a big fan of sweet potato, so I cant comment. The star of the evening was the chicken. Cutting through the flawlessly roasted, herby-savory skin revealed the most succulent chicken I think Ive ever tasted, deliciously infused with a tangy, marinated flavor. We later learned that the chicken, as well as many other meats at Bella, was also brined. Veggies come for the table, and they consisted of beautiful baby carrots (coulda used a little longer cooking) and superb first-growth asparagus that had been roasted and then grilled.
We finished with a honeyed almond semifreddo with a balsamic reduction. Now I happen to love a good balsamic with ice cream, and this version was truly accomplished creamy, tangy, perfect.
Wines were good: a pinot noir from San Joaquin County (with a label that featured the worlds largest chicken at 47 lbs. Rex ???) that was a tad too light, a glass of cab that I cant recall, and a Gan Eden Moscato that paired well with the almonds but shoulda had a better chill.
The chef, formerly of The Inn Philadelphia and (I think) The Unmentionable Restaurant, is clearly creative while pleasantly understated. The staff are attentive and friendly. And the enthusiasm of owner Ali Waks is evident. I look forward to a return visit soon.