Bella Vista Italian Restaurant is right at home in The Shops at Quarry Lake.
Though the restaurant, which opened in early July, lacks the Old World charm of a spot in Little Italy, it has the sort of broad likability that bodes well for its success. The kitchen turns out mostly well-executed, approachable Italian dishes and, while the setting is casual, the service is top-notch.
Scene & Decor Located in a corner spot in The Shops at Quarry Lake, Bella Vista gets plenty of natural light from two walls of windows. Italian-themed murals and marble-look ceilings don't make the place feel like it is actually in Italy but they do sweetly communicate the theme.
During a recent Monday night visit, the small bar in the front corner had a couple of customers actively watching Jeopardy and in the dining area, a few tables were occupied with young families and older couples.
The vibe was relaxed, friendly and community oriented. During our meal, we spotted several customers say hello to one another and chat about mutual friends, cementing our impression that Bella Vista will be popular with people living in the communities near Quarry Lake.
Appetizers We started with the antipasto misto ($12) — which very roughly translates as "appetizer combo" — and though it yielded no surprises, we liked each element.
The plate included a generous serving of nicely cooked calamari, with bright marinara sauce for dipping, several slices of creamy, fresh mozzarella and two triangles of mozzarella-topped bruschetta.
The bruschetta's chopped tomatoes were fresh and well-seasoned, with a bit of bite from garlic and vinegar. Though the thin layer of melted cheese wasn't absolutely necessary — the dish would've been fine without it — it also didn't detract.
Entrees Bella Vista's menu covers all the classic Italian bases and does so more or less successfully. Though we enjoyed all of our entrees, each could have used a tweak or two.
We might have added a dash more salt to a creamy plate of fettuccine al fredo ($17), but we loved that the big, sweet shrimp on top were cooked just right.
Conversely, the spaghetti Sofia topped with chicken ($16) was too salty. We liked the roasted red pepper and basil-spiked marinara but the addition of green and black olives and capers was more brine than the sauce needed.
Overall, we were impressed with the risotto fruiti de mare ($23). The seafood, including shrimp, squid, small scallops, and mussels and clams, both in their shells, was plentiful and cooked properly, without a single overcooked bite. That was impressive.
The garlic and wine sauce, too, was a hit; it was lovely and seasoned properly.
The only sticking point was the arborio rice. Instead of arriving in a slow-cooked, tender pool, as we expected, the rice was packed into a mound under the seafood. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't the creamy bowl of risotto we expected.
Drinks With our meal, a glass of Tenuta di Salviano ($7), a crisp Italian white wine, paired nicely with all three dishes — even, surprisingly, the briny red-sauced spaghetti.
A glass of Diseno malbec ($6) wasn't as much of a hit. Though the wine itself was fine, it was served a few degrees too warm.
Dessert The tiramisu ($5.99), a wide cylinder of cream and cake, wasn't as juicy or as coffee-scented as some versions of the dessert but it was still a sweet end to the meal.
Service Our waitress, a friendly and polite woman, was juggling the few occupied tables during our entire meal, and doing it well. Our food was paced correctly and she checked on us at appropriate intervals.
Her pleasant attitude and general competence reminded us that even when it is unobtrusive, good service can quickly elevate a meal. Bella Vista is a casual place, but she obviously took her job seriously. And that made us appreciate and enjoy the whole experience — from food to decor — just a little more.