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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Bella Vita Bistro: Italy's boundaries expand in Wichita

A new Italian restaurant, Bella Vita Bistro, is making a name for itself.

BY DENISE NEIL
The Wichita Eagle

Review: Bella Vita Bistro
Rating: Three forks out of four
Where: 120 N. West St., 316-941-4500
Hours: 5 to 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 5 to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Also open for lunch Fridays only from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Type of food: Italian
Alcohol: Wine and beer
Reservations: Accepted

With Angelo's and Macaroni Grill shuttered, Wichita is short on Italian food.

Besides a few high-quality local offerings, DeFazio's and Marchello's among them, Wichita diners don't have a lot of options when they're craving pasta, veal and mozzarella.

But a cozy new locally owned restaurant — Bella Vita Bistro at 120 N. West St. —is earning buzz with its approach to Italian cuisine.

It's owned by Michigan transplant Lory Wooley, her daughter, Crystal, and her son-in-law, chef Adrian Prud Homme DeLodder.

Wooley's husband was transferred to Wichita from Michigan for work, and she lured her daughter and son-in-law here from Florida with the offer of partnering in a restaurant.

ON THE MENU: Bella Vita stays away from the typical (though tasty) WichItalian fare — tomato-saucy lasagna served bubbling in metal dishes and Italian salads topped with pickled eggplant.

The menu has more of a gourmet approach. Salads are topped with heaping piles of curly, shaved beets and carrots, and the menu includes entrees such as seafood crepes, steaks, swordfish and veal.

Also available are several appetizers, soups, salads and other pastas. Lunch, served only on Fridays, includes pizza, wraps and Italian sandwiches.

DON'T-MISS DISHES: We made it our mission to do thorough research of the Bella Vita menu, which was easy to do considering that the menu made everything sound so delicious.

Over several visits, we sampled seafood, steaks and pasta. We tried salads, soups and desserts. We even tried the lunch menu, which is served only once a week.

The restaurant is worth trying for its uniqueness alone. No one's serving exactly the kind of food Bella Vita is.

A good example is the lasagna al forno ($13.95), a white lasagna made with sliced prosciutto ham, porcini mushrooms and meat sauce, layered with noodles and topped with a three-cheese bechamel sauce. It didn't taste a thing like traditional red sauce lasagna, but it had a decadent cheesy richness that was quite memorable. Only criticism — it could have used a bit more sauce.

Several of the seafood dishes also were good, particularly the linguine frutti de mare ($18.95), a generous selection of shrimp, scallops, mussels, clams and calamari sauteed with shallots, sherry wine, basil and fresh tomatoes tossed with linguine. Though small, the mussels and clams tasted fresh and delicate, while the shrimp and scallops were tender and flavorful. Also worth a try: the shrimp a la vodka, featuring penne pasta and plump shrimp coated in a vodka tomato cream sauce. It's sort of an expensive bowl of pasta at $15.95, but the sauce was the kind you want to sop up with bread when the pasta's gone.

The seafood crepe ($16.95) had a nice flavor, thanks to a rich Mornay sauce topping. And it was stuffed full of shrimp, crab meat and scallops. But the serving was smallish, and the buttery sauce obliterated the underside of the crepe.

The KC strip Trattoria, a 12-oz. steak topped with a red wine reduction and crispy onion rings ($16.95), was good to the last bite and perfectly medium rare in the middle. The chicken dish we sampled, the chicken Bella Vita, featured a breaded and panfried breast that'd been rolled and stuffed with mozzarella, prosciutto and tomato and topped with Mornay sauce.

Two slight complaints: The chef was overly generous with the salt in some of the dishes we tried. And one of the house-made desserts we tried, a tiramisu brulee, was a disappointment. It was beautiful, with a perfect hard-sugar crust, but underneath was a saturated glob of mushy lady fingers that tasted overpoweringly of liqueur.

AMBIENCE: The dining room is small but cozy. It retains the somewhat dated-looking wooden booths from its previous tenants, most of them Mediterranean, but the owners spruced the place up with wall hangings, lace curtains and nice tables and chairs. Tall wine glasses set on each table add a classy touch.

PRICE RANGE: Appetizers are $5.95 to $7.95. Pasta dishes are $10.95 to $13.95. Entrees range from $13.95 for some chicken dishes to $21.95 for the KC strip.

SERVICE: Excellent.

Ratings reflect the critic's judgment of the food, service and atmosphere in relation to the price. If you would like to nominate a restaurant to be reviewed, call 316-268-6321.

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