Bella Vista: Cozy nook in the North End serves up comfort cuisine

by Beacon Staff • December 6, 2006

Located in the North End at 288 Hanover St., Bella Vista is a taste of Old World Italy only a 20-minute walk from the Emerson campus.

The restaurant's lighting emits a soft glow through the arched windows, which are decorated with ornamental metal grates reminiscent of Italian architecture.,When the holidays have you yearning for home, head to Bella Vista for authentic Italian comfort food at pleasant prices.

Located in the North End at 288 Hanover St., Bella Vista is a taste of Old World Italy only a 20-minute walk from the Emerson campus.

The restaurant's lighting emits a soft glow through the arched windows, which are decorated with ornamental metal grates reminiscent of Italian architecture. A wooden bench outside the door welcomes passersby to stop and rest their feet.

The warmly lit dining area is decorated with festive holiday wreaths and small, white Christmas lights. Three of the walls are faux-finished to look like Tuscan plaster; the fourth is exposed brick.

Latticework and Italian-style wall lanterns complete the feel of a private villa.

In the background, authentic Italian music plays softly. Opera fans will be happy to know that the music includes songs by tenor Andrea Bocelli and other prominent opera singers.

Missing is the typical host podium, but a waitperson promptly appears from the back of the restaurant upon a visitor's entrance. On a slow weekday, two waiters work the tables; both are male and cleanly dressed in crisp, white dress shirts and black pants. They are also well groomed and polite, though not bursting with charisma or overly chatty.

The menu includes typical Italian dishes like chicken marsala, shrimp scampi, eggplant and chicken parmigiana and tortellini alfredo.

The prices for entrees range from $8 for simple pasta dishes to $15 for meals involving veal or seafood. The restaurant also offers a lunch menu, which has smaller portions for about $8.

The escarole and minestrone soups are each $3.95. Both offer a yummy addition to the freshly baked, hot-from-the-oven rolls that are served with drinks.

The only wine available is house, but from observing the other diners who ordered it, it appears to be satisfactory. Beer is also available upon request.

For a caffeine boost on a blustery day, the cappuccino offers a rich, delicious cup of comfort. Unlike the coffees found at most franchise restaurants, the cappuccino at Bella Vista is not syrupy or chalky. At $3.75, a mugful is a little pricey, but the presentation is key. Atop the steaming liquid sits a perfect patch of frothiness with a liberal sprinkling of cocoa powder. The regular coffee is roughly half the cost and soda is $1 straight from the can.

The food arrives within a few minutes, hot and fresh. The meat portion of the chicken parmigiana covers just over half the plate. The remainder of the plate is filled with succulent, sumptuous strands of thick spaghetti in a sweet, savory sauce.

The pace of the restaurant is relaxed, giving diners time to really enjoy their meals and have a conversation without constantly feeling pressured to clear the table. Some people might perceive this uninterrupted time as neglect on the part of the waitstaff, but they seem to know just when the glasses are getting empty.

Tiramisu is the only dessert on the menu but makes for an enjoyable ending, especially when coupled with the cappuccino. This traditional tiramisu is a good size for the $4.75 price tag. Moist and flavorful, the recipe contains light ladyfingers soaked in rich espresso coffee, rum liqueur and cocoa, and is layered with mascarpone cheese.

The restaurant may not be busy on weekday afternoons, but the place is filled with people, both regulars and first-timers, during peak hours. The dining room can become quite noisy with the chatter of friends and neighbors.

Where you are seated dictates just how close you will be to fellow patrons. Along the walls are tables to seat four or five people, and in the center of the room is a long, continuous row of two-person tables, which are not conducive to privacy.

Bella Vista opens at 11:30 a.m., just in time for the midday rush, and closes at 11:30 p.m., allowing students with evening classes to grab some grub. Open seven days a week, the restaurant accommodates people with busy weekday schedules.

For an intimate dining experience, stop in during off-peak hours for more attentive service and a quieter noise level. Be sure to stop by an ATM on your way because they only accept cash and American Express.,Lynette F. Cornell