Friday, October 29, 2010

Third Time’s the Charm . . .

or so the old saying goes.

Yesterday, Chuck recounted our quest for lunch. The Culinary Academy dining room was closed for a special event. Simple Simon’s was too busy. But across the pedestrian mall lay Bella Trattoria on the street level of the Mission Inn. This small bistro was the site of a pleasant lunch during our visit to Riverside last summer with Chuck’s Aunt Margaret and his cousin Sandra.

Listed as one of Riverside’s twenty-five top restaurants on, it was described as being “a relaxing outdoor bistro that features delicious Southern Italian dishes with the same high quality you would expect from the Mission Inn. The food is fresh and the menu is simple, yet oh so good!”

Almost all of the seating is on the outdoor patio, but since the weather had been uncharacteristically wet and rainy, we chose one of the few indoor seats just across from the semi-open kitchen. The high counter prevented us from getting a good view of the food preparation, but didn’t prevent our hearing one of the chefs with a bad case of hiccups.

There is a small list of wines by the glass that are served from one of those high tech automated wine dispensers that keep oxygen from spoiling the open bottle.

As the reviewer noted above, the menu is simple. There is a list of twelve-inch pizzas that includes: The Mission--made with chicken breast, mozzarella, olive oil, onions, cilantro, and barbecue sauce; The Garden--made with roasted peppers, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, and tomato sauce; the Americana--made with mozzarella, pepperoni, and tomato sauce; and the classic Margherita--with mozzarella, basil, tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil.

There was also a short list of pannini including: the Curry Chicken Panettone--made with diced chicken, walnut, celery, roasted garlic, dijon, and light curry dressing on panettone bread; the La Trattoria--with Black Forest ham, provolone, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pepperoncini, roasted bell pepper and aioli; the Genovese--with spicy Italian sausage, roasted bell pepper, onions, and provolone cheese; the Pulled Roasted Chicken--with Roma tomatoes, arugula, provolone, and jalapeno mustard; and the Oven-Roasted Vegetable pannini--with roasted eggplant, squash, onions, basil pesto, and mozzarella cheese.

And the menu also included salads and soups including the restaurant’s signature soup, the Tomato Basil Bisque (cream of tomato with fresh chopped basil, and roasted garlic and served with herbed croutons).

But both of us looked to the pasta listing for our choices. For Chuck, it was to the The Innkeeper’s Spicy Penne, which consisted of perfectly al dente penne pasta in a rich tomato cream sauce containing bits of spicy Italian sausage. And it lived up to the spicy description. Chuck would take a few bites and exclaim: “Boy this is spicy.” Then he’d take another few bites and exclaim: “Boy this is really spicy.” Before you knew it, his bowl was empty.

I chose the Spaghettini Amatriciana, which was thin spaghetti--in this case, cappelini--with a sauce composed of onions, smoked bacon, tomato sauce, pecorino Romano cheese, pine nuts, and fresh basil. While, like with Chuck’s pasta, the cappelini or “thin hairs” was perfectly cooked, I would have chosen sturdier pasta to go with this chunky sauce. But the sauce was delicious. It was slightly smoky from the bacon. It was slightly sharp and salty from the pecorino cheese. And it was slightly sweet from the reduced tomatoes. And the pine nuts gave the dish an unexpected crunch.

For dessert, we shared the lemon tart served in a flakey shortbread crust. This was served with both raspberry and lemon reductions and was a tart and light finish to a meal of filling pasta.

So if we struck out on our first two attempts to find lunch that day, we finally hit a triple at the 4.5-Addie Bella Trattoria.

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