My husband and I finally went to Bella Roma SPQR on Robertson near Pico. We live in the area and were looking for a non-pretentious place to have a decent meal on a night when I didn’t feel like cooking. So I looked at Bella Roma’s menu online and determined that this would be our next venture to find our “regular” corner joint. I had called ahead to find out whether they had a beer and wine license and was informed that they were still in the process but that we could bring our own wine. I was also informed that the corkage fee was a whopping $4. . . So, Wednesday night, after a long day at work, we made the short trip to Bella Roma. As luck would have it, there was even a parking space directly in front of the restaurant.
The place is small but cozy. I believe that there are more tables on the outdoor pation than inside. The patio is comfortable and dark (but not in a bad way). The only problem here is the proximity to Robertson. Cars tend to speed by to and from the 10 freeway, and there is the occasional deafening siren from the fire trucks coming from the station down the block. However, all this can be easily overlooked given the warm reception from the owners and the simple and simply delicious food.
This place is not serving cutting edge dishes with complex sauces and flourishes. What is surprisingly cutting edge and new about Bella Roma is that it does not pretend to be anything it is not. They simply offer delicious food. We were told that Chef Roberto is from Rome and is trying to recreate the simple dishes served in casual restaurants in Italy. Add to the mix the chef’s personable and friendly American wife and you have a perfect casual dinner. They make you feel like you’ve just arrived for dinner at a friend’s house.
We brought our own wine – 2000 Mondavi Cab Reserve (at this point I did not think I’d be having fish). The waiter opened the wine and Lisa, the aforementioned wife, brought our menus. After we thought that we had made up our minds, Lisa indicated that they had some additional specials. I ended up ordering the antipasto misto from the menu and the branzino special. My husband ordered the special crab cocktail and the spaghetti carbonara. While we waited for the appetizers, we had some warm bread with olive tapenade. My antipasto was good, consisting of grilled vegetables, prosciutto, mortadella, olives and mozzarella. This is a dish that is hard to screw up, but alos generally does not stand out. My husband’s crab cocktail was delicious. It was served in a small goblet. It consisted of chucks of fresh crab (they didn’t skimp on this) and fresh cantaloupe along with lemon and some other spices that I could not decipher from the 2 small bites my husband was willing to share with me. He was ready to lick the goblet when it was all gone. While we waited for the entrees, Lisa brought out a small plate of Ubriaco (?) cheese, which is parmesan soaked for 90 days in merlot, for us to try. YUM. It was earthy and delicious with the wine.
Next, I got the branzino baked in salt (I think), which was served with sauteed spinach, potato puree, grilled polenta and a lemon-caper sauce. Roberto brought out the fish and de-boned it tableside. The fish was perfectly cooked, moist and fresh. There is nothing worse than paying $25 for branzino and having it smell fishy. The same could be said for the crab appetizer, which was also supremely fresh. The lemon-caper sauce was not over-powering and a good complement to the fish. I could have done without the grilled polenta with the fish, but my husband enjoyed it. His carbonara was also quite tasty, but whether intentional or accidental, it was missing peas. But even without the peas, it was very tasty and even light (odd to say about carbonara, but true).
Although we had no business ordering dessert, we did. We got the tiramisu and the spaghetti freddi. The dessert spaghetti is ribbons of vanilla gelato with raspberry sauce imitating marinara and white chocolate shavings standing in for parmesan. What can I say? I’m a sucker for a gimmick. It looked cool and tasted as one would expect. The tiramisu was good without too much mascarpone.
Overall, we both enjoyed our meals and will definitely be back. This may just become our new “regular”. Hopefully, we’ll still be able to get a table.
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