Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Bel-Lago Waterfront Bistro

Formerly known as The Hoover Grille (yeah, kinda like the artist formerly known as Prince), Bel-Lago Bistro has one of the most wonderful views in the city. When I learned that the restaurant had changed ownership and had a new chef, I was anxious to try it. While the view wouldn't change, hopefully the experience would. Like many others we've heard about, Bob and I had not had good luck at the Hoover Grille. I had high hopes for this lovely establishment under new owners Dave Bianconi and Jim Meadows, along with Executive Chef Jeff Heisler. So it was with great expectations that I braved wind and rain and headed to Bel-Lago for lunch today.
The decor was warm and inviting on this dreary day. My fellow blogger Jane and I were greeted and shown to our seats by the window; a great view of the choppy waters of the Hoover Reservoir. We requested hot tea to help us shake off the chill.
Our waiter was friendly and knowledgeable about the offerings, although now that I think about it he never did tell us what the soup of the day was!
I had spent considerable time pouring over the menu on the website and already knew exactly what my plan of attack was going to be. Jane, however was not so well prepared (amateur!). I ordered the polenta frites to tide us over while she perused her options. The Polenta Frites are described as "romano cheese, basil, spinach, and
pancetta polenta with savory house-made marinara". As you can see, they were lovely. Steaming hot, the aroma tickled our senses as the plate was set down in front of us. We dug in! And they were delicious! There was a great crust was on the outside of the frites that gave a nice crunch when we bit in. The inside was soft and creamy. The spinach and romano were evident, but we couldn't quite locate the pancetta. Nevertheless, we thoroughly enjoyed them. The marinara was wonderful!
Jane had decided (huh...finally...) on the Jumbo Lump Crab Cake Salad. This was a very generous sized crab cake served on mixed greens with a lemon shallot vinaigrette. It was gorgeous. And may I just say that when Janie bit into the crab cake I do believe I heard the girl moan. For real. After conning her out of a bite I fully understood the moan. That was one heavenly crab cake! Huge pieces of crab, perfectly seasoned with ever so little breading. It really was quite wonderful. But I had other matters to attend to. My Spaghetti and Meatball had been served! Wow, was it pretty. The meatball sat in all it's glory atop the mound of spaghetti. Freshly grated cheese was offered and I accepted!
I had read that the pasta is house made and our waiter confirmed this. The dish looked great. The steam coming off of it told me this dish had definitely not been sitting under warming lights waiting to be served. I twirled my fork around those lovely strands that so obviously were homemade, anticipating delight...
Okay, here is the verdict. The sauce was good. It had a bit too much fennel for my taste, but it was good. The pasta was delicious. There was a clump in the middle that told me they either didn't cook it in enough water, or they slacked off on stirring it to separate the strands (which is really important with fresh pasta). But overall I liked it. The meatball was the best part. The kitchen staff makes the meatballs with beef, veal and pork. It is light; not densely packed like some meatballs reminding you of biting into a baseball (okay, not that I've ever bitten into a baseball, but you know what I mean). Unfortunately, upon biting into it my first thought was, "Too salty!" Those were also my first words. That didn't stop me from eating it though! The flavor was wonderful. But they really need to back off on the salt. There isn't a one of us that is in need of extra salt!
Now, there is one thing I'd like to point out. We were never offered any kind of bread. Neither with Jane's salad nor with my pasta. And we missed it! I even asked our waiter why they did not serve bread. He puzzled over this with us and said he'd pass on our suggestion to serve bread, or at least a bread stick with the pasta. However when I stopped at a friend's table to say hello on the way out and to ask her opinion of the spaghetti & meatball she was having for lunch, there sat a basket of rolls! I asked if she'd ordered them separately and she said the server brought the bread without being asked. Hmm. (And by the way, her take on the meatball? "Too salty!")
The restaurant is new and new restaurants need to work out the kinks. I will definitely return to Bel-Lago. The service was good. Overall the food was good. And I love the atmosphere. You bet I'll give them another go. But next time, I want bread!!!

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