Last week my eating club went to Bella Citta (pronounced Cheetah) on the Hill. This is a departure from our regular budget, but we have to keep the economy going. Lol. As you enter the restaurant, you immediately know there is a difference between it and the rest of the Hill restaurants (with a few exceptions, like Lorenzo's). I heard that the Hill Restaurant Association pulled all their advertising from the RFT because in praising Bella Citta, the RFT reviewer insinuated that (or directly said, actually) the other Hill places were pretty lousy. Although I sometimes crave mediocre Hill red sauce (i.e. the tacky but loveable Lou Boccardi's), I have to stand on the side of the reviewer here. Bella Citta is a mile above most of the Hill Restaurants.
The entry is softly lit, with a well-venitlated smoking area and bar. The staff and management greet you very enthusiastically, making you feel like a Star. Bill DeWitt was there the same night we were, but the Maitre D' was just as ebullient in greeting us as Mr. DeWitt. The bar offers a full service with many wines by the glass, which are superior to most wines you can buy by the glass at other places. The dining room feels spacious because they do not crowd the tables. The center of the room is dominated by a big stained glass ceiling and again, a very genteel atmosphere. A sole live clarinetist played (softly, thank you) in the dining room. Best of all, service is truly superior here.
The menu at Bella is wide-ranging Mediterranean. We tried the Ravioli Nudi and the Mussels. The ravioli was house-made, with shrimp and scallops inside and served with a sherry sauce that was incredible. The insides were flavored with basil, making them almost pesto-tasting - a good result. The outside was more like a potsticker wrapper - all in all, a rich but light dish, not heavy like typical ravioli. The Mussels were Heaven. They were gian New Zealand mussels, sauteed and served with saffon and anise volute. There was much oohing and ahing over both dishes.
Salad were also wonderful. The house salad featured an unusual vineagrette, various truly fresh greens and ripe tomatoes and red onion and olives. The balsamic was obviously superior quality. The Ceasar was perfection to me - very garlicy with just the right amount of dressing. I like it a little heavy, so if you don't, order it lightly dressed. I am sure the staff would oblige. There are also lots of other salads to choose from.
The main courses we ordered were: Shrimp scampi, Shrimp Trio, Penne Marsala, Irish Whiskey-Marinated Pork, and Tournedos AuPoivre. The scampi, ordered by two Eaters, was enormous shrimp, classically sauteed in garlic and olive oil on a bed of Linguini with a Sherry butter sauce. It was declared to be the Best In St. Louis. The Shrimp Trio was prepared in three sauces - Moroccan, Sicilian and Spanish. The Eater who ordered it found it to be an overwhelming combination of salty/spicy/weird - really, an awful overload for the humble shrimp. The Penne Marsala, a truly gorgeous and huge amount of food, was perfection. It had marinated tenderloin (aptly put for this preparation - fork-tender) and a nice Marsala sauce. If I went back, this is what I would order. The Pork was also a sensation at the table - perfectly cooked and coated in a yummy caramel-colored sauce. Unfortunately, the Tournedos did not live up to the other dishes, at least to some tastebuds. The men at the table loved the profusion of pepper and spices coating the meat (which was cooked just right), the women were not so enthusiastic.
Included with non-pasta dishes were haricot verts, al dente and buttery, and a light (who knew this could be done right???) gnocci. The gnocci was better than any I have ever had, even in Italy. Bella has a lucious dessert and coffee and drink menu to follow dinner, but we were too stuffed. Next time. . . and there WILL be one soon.
After dinner, the Maitre D' took me on a tour of the kitchen, above whose entrance hangs a sign stating "Fuggetaboutit". The floor is cook-friendly, with a squishy floor and plenty of room. The kitchen seemed very friendly and happy to have a visitor. The Maitre D' also showed me the back, where they plan to have a patio one day. Soon, I hope, because this place is a real jewel, and could definitely benefit from an outdoor dining option. I was very impressed with the personality of Bella. Everyone at our table agreed, this is a Keeper. One more thing - they change their menu frequently, so it is safe to go here on a weekly basis.