Bella (Blaine, MN)

By Karen Cooper and Bruce Schneier
Star Tribune North
January 24, 2007

"Fine dining" used to be the pinnacle of the American restaurant scene, when steak was king and wine with dinner meant you were having a fancy meal out. Whole books have been written on how much American dining has changed in the past 20 years or so, how new ingredients, preparations and attitudes have revolutionized the industry.

Meanwhile, we still have a lot of affection for classic fine dining. And we've found it in the northern suburbs, where Bella serves mostly unpretentious Italian fare in a modern, elegant dining room.

The room's exposed limestone, swooping lines and glowing bar all set the stage for a special evening out. Our expectations were lowered by the nametags on the wait staff, and the special card on the table, but Bella has a beautiful, welcoming space.

Bella offers familiar dishes with a bit of modern flair. Three kinds of mashed potatoes, vegetarian lasagna, five different salads. But while the presentations were as beautiful as the dining room, we had issues with many of the dishes.

The best entree on the menu is the grilled pork tenderloin. It's succulent and tender, served with a delicious wild mushroom sauce, fine risotto and nicely cooked carrots.

After that, recommendations become harder. The veal piccata was bland and tough; the salmon lacked flavor. We liked their accompaniments better than the main offering.

Better are the pastas. The shrimp linguini, in white wine sauce with tomatoes, garlic and red pepper, has a nice kick to it. Also good is the rigatoni Bolognese, with pieces of beef tenderloin in a hearty tomato sauce.

Bella also serves a variety of steaks, with kingly prices far beyond our budget.

All three ravioli dishes are tasty, if a bit greasy: butternut squash, lobster and spinach. You might want to order a vegetable side dish, as the raviolis come alone on the plate.

The side dishes are large enough to share. We liked the grilled asparagus and the sauteed spinach. The best potato choice is the purple potatoes, and the daily risotto is generally quite good.

For a lighter meal, we recommend the flatbreads. We especially liked the version with Capicolla ham, mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes and mushrooms. The flavors blended nicely, and the crust was wonderful. These are much better than the pizzas, which tasted too commercial.

The salads are large enough for dinner if you're not up for a full entree. These are all freshly made and nicely dressed. Try the sweet and nutty spinach salad, served with sun-dried apricots, pine nuts and apples.

Appetizers are hit-and-miss. We liked the simply prepared calamari, not overcooked and served with spicy pickled peppers. Less good were the steamed mussels. We liked the lemon, garlic and wine sauce, but the enormous mussels were bland and mushy.

Bella has a wine list, and we wish it were better. Fine dining deserves fantastic wine, but Bella's list is average and overpriced. Bring a bottle with you: The $15 corkage fee is a much better deal than the huge markups on the menu.

Bella is the best restaurant in the area, and we hope it continues to prosper and improve.

If You Go: Bella

Location: 10950 Club West Pkwy., Blaine
Contact: 763-746-9990 or www.bellablaine.com
Hours: 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5-11 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 11 am.-2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m.-midnight Fri., 11 a.m-4 p.m. and 5 p.m.-midnight Sat., 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. Sun.
Atmosphere: Elegant without being stuffy
Service: OK
Sound level: Not too noisy
Recommended dishes: Grilled pork tenderloin, rigatoni Bolognese
Prices: Entrees from $15–$40
Children: No special children's menu

earlier review: Yumi's Sushi Bar (Excelsior, MN)
later review: Highland Grill (St. Paul, MN)
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