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Honorable Mentions of the Ballard Restaurant Project 2011

This list of our next ten favorite restaurants is far more personal than the top ten. The top ten served us our favorite single meals of the project. The Honorable Mentions are a mix of nostalgic favorites, new-to-us restaurants that totally surprised us, and our go-to restaurants.

People’s Pub

We love People’s Pub partially out of nostalgia … it was the site of our first date … and partially because it serves good, hearty German inspired food. The sausage plate is one of the most affordable and tasty Happy Hour options in Ballard and the crème brulee is divine.

Café Mox

A nifty idea for a café where you can sit and play any sort of game. Great atmosphere.  Creative sandwiches and appetizers made with quality ingredients and one of the best Caesar salads in Ballard.

Shiku

Our favorite sushi restaurant in Ballard. Fresh fish. Really good gyoza. The best Long Island Iced Tea in Ballard. And the best women’s restroom in town.

King’s Hardware

Ballard’s best hamburger. A creative list of toppings for a patty that tastes like it actually came from a cow. The sweet potato fries are delicious and every Monday they offer an awesome deal on their tasty buffalo chicken wings.

Root Table

Tasty, Asian-fusion small plates served with good cocktails.

The Bal-Mar

Great cocktails and bistro fare. The twice-fried French fries with white truffle aioli is divine.

Shelter Lounge

A big surprise. Interesting appetizers … who would have thought that PB & J jalepeno poppers would be good. Really good sandwiches and entrees. Tied for the best Long Island Iced Tea in Ballard.

Ballard Loft

Another surprise. Delicious, fancy hot dogs with really good fries.  A fabulous jalapeno margarita.

India Bistro

Very good Indian food. I put it on this list because I really like India Bistro whenever a craving for na’an and Chicken Tika Masala hits.

Bad Albert’s

Bad Albert’s came back from the grave with an updated interior but most of the old favorites. Great breakfasts with a really good fried egg and bacon sandwich and outstanding huevos rancheros. Lunch and dinner are pretty good as well.

Other Honorable Mentions:

Portalis. The Hi-Life. The Market Arms. The Monkey Bridge. Pho Big Bowl . Uma Thai Cuisine. Staple & Fancy.

Next up: The five worst restaurants.

Categories: Restaurants Tags: , , ,

Best of the Ballard Restaurant Project 2011

Here it is. Finally. Our list of the top ten Ballard restaurants of 2011. When asked by friends, family, and strangers, these are the restaurants we consistently said were the best and we’ve had a number of people thank us for our suggestions.

It actually wasn’t that hard narrowing it down to ten from the 82 Ballard restaurants we visited. Our top ten turned out to be a good mix of cuisines and price points. They spanned the course of this project, which makes me think we spread out the good ones fairly well.

10. Tie

J’s Choice: Flying Squirrel Pizza

For J, Flying Squirrel Pizza has the best pizza in Seattle. Fabulous crust. Fresh and unique ingredients. Inexpensive for the quality. Quick. He looks forward to going whenever we decide to have pizza in Ballard. I like it, as well, but prefer the wood-fired crust of places like Veraci and Via Tribulani which is why I chose some place else as number 10.

H’s Choice: Bastille

The most beautiful restaurant in Ballard with food and cocktails to match. Delicious cocktails with a French twist. Good, solid French cuisine made with ingredients so fresh that some of them are grown on the roof. A great place to go for a special occasion. Our dinner there, for our first anniversary, was one of the more memorable of this project.

9. Copper Gate

In the top ten on the deliciousness of the Gravlax and Swedish Meatballs alone. J counts the gravlax, mustard, and pumpernickel bread as one of the best bites of food he’s had in his life. I liked the food, cocktails, and the fun décor mix of rustic Scandinavian furniture with old porn. A great nod to Ballard’s heritage.

8. The Boar’s Nest

Good, relatively inexpensive, hole-in-the-wall BBQ. Tender. Flavorful. Friendly staff. We loved how they provided different regional BBQ sauces on the table.  We have looked forward to going back ever since our first trip.

7.Pasta Bella

Do you want eat hearty, traditional Italian food and feel like you’re on the set of The Godfather? Then Pasta Bella is the place for you. A huge menu of fresh Italian dishes at reasonable prices plus a pretty fine wine list. Sure there are “nicer” Italian restaurants out there but they just don’t have the atmosphere of Pasta Bella.

6. Thai Thani

The best Thai food in Ballard and some of the best in Seattle. We’ve been back multiple times since our initial visit. The menu consists of the usual Thai favorites along with an extensive list of unique items. Huge portions and a fun cocktail menu round out a great place. Sure, it doesn’t have the ambiance of Thaiku but the food is way better.

5. The Sexton

Other than a plating misstep … that they subsequently changed after reading our review … our visit to The Sexton, on their opening weekend, was great. Rustic, comfortable space. Friendly servers. Fabulous, creative cocktails. Amazing hush puppies. Southern down-home cooking with a contemporary twist and quality ingredients. A great addition to Ballard’s mid-range, high quality dining establishments.

4. Ocho

We love Ocho, one of the first of Ballard’s creative, high quality restaurants. Awesome tapas. The bacon wrapped dates (La Carolina) continue to be one of our favorite single bites of food. The tapas are so delicious that it’s hard not to order everything available. J calls it “Spanish sushi”.

3. La Carte de Oaxaca

Best and most authentic Mexican food in Seattle. Fabulous cocktails. Small plates of amazing food made with the freshest of ingredients. Fresh tortillas that will spoil you forever more. Totally and completely worth the wait you will invariably have..

2. The Walrus and the Carpenter

If you think the nation has overhyped The Walrus and the Carpenter, you’d be wrong. It IS as good as everyone says. The only reason it is not tied for number one on this list is because it is so blasted hard to get a seat. Fresh, creative cocktails. Delicious, regional oysters. The salmon tartare is one of the best dishes we’ve eaten. Ever. Worth any sort of wait to get a seat. If you enjoy good food, you owe it to yourself to try The Walrus and the Carpenter, the best of the new flock of small-plate eateries in Seattle.

1. Plaka Estiatorio

We ate our review meal at Plaka Estiatorio way back in April and it has been at the top of our Best of Ballard list ever since. We have never had a bad meal here, lunch or dinner. Everyone is super friendly. The meze are fantastic with the best hummus we’ve ever had topping the list. The ingredients are either local or brought in from Greece giving every dish a fresh, authentic taste. Their lunch gyros … omg, the gyros are phenomenal. Anything you order will be cooked perfectly. Seafood. Lamb. Beef. And the avgolemono soup is a delight. Go to Plaka Estiatorio. Really. Don’t wait. You will not be sorry.

Next week I’ll post the Honorable Mentions. The ten restaurants that didn’t make the top ten but we want to highlight them. After that … the worst of Ballard restaurants.

Copper Gate – 12/29/11

Website

Location: 6301 24th Ave NW

Hours:

Mon-Sun: 5-12

Happy Hour:

Mon-Sun: 5-7pm

For the penultimate restaurant of this project, J and I went to Copper Gate with a couple of friends. We’d heard good things about Ballard’s only (for the moment) Scandinavian bar/restaurant and were looking forward to finally eating there.

Located on the north end of 24th, from the outside Copper Gate looks like a dive bar. A great art deco neon sign hangs over the red front door. The lighting inside and out is low, so at first we weren’t sure they were even open. The interior mixes the sparseness of Scandinavian décor with walls covered with old, pornographic art and photos. The huge Viking ship bar dominates the center of the restaurant, its dark wood contrasting with the white washed walls and furniture. Copper Gate has its own quirky style that makes it one of the neatest bars in Ballard.

Considering its long Scandinavian history, it’s surprising that Copper Gate is the only place in Ballard that serves dishes from Sweden and Norway. They offer small plates of dishes like gravlax, pickled herring, and Swedish meatballs along with a full bar with local draft beers, wine, liquor, and Aquavit.

The Service:

Our servers were friendly and unobtrusive. We ended up staying for a good, long time and they had no problem with us sticking around.

The Drinks:

Since we were there with friends for a few hours, J and I ended up having a couple of cocktails each.

For my first cocktail, I ordered the Stor Agurk, Aalborg aquavit, lemon, sugar, and cucumber. A bright, crisp drink with a flavor that reminded me of Thai food for some odd reason.

J’s first drink was the Epplecider, brandy, Gamel Dansk, curacao, and apple juice. He said it tasted like an alcoholic apple cider without the fizz. Very innovative in his opinion.

My second drink was the Kir Jaral, Heering cherry liquor and Marquis de Perlade sparkling wine. Very good. A nice cherry flavor without being overly sweet. Sparkling and crisp.

At the behest of J’s friend, T, he ordered a shot of Lysholm Linie Aquavit. He quite liked its stinging, strong alcohol taste. It was like Jaegermeister’s kinder, gentler brother.

The Food:

We started with the Pommes Frites with dill and curried ketchup. They had a nice dill flavor but were just not hot enough. We’ve noticed a trend with a few new restaurants lately of serving fries just over lukewarm. Fries should be hot, otherwise they tend to go limp quickly, like these did. The curried ketchup, on the other hand, was awesome with a strong curry flavor. The fries ended up a vehicle for the ketchup.

Our other starter was the Gravlax, cured salmon, pumpernickel, and dill mustard. J doesn’t usually like pumpernickel bread but found the combination of bread, mustard, and gravlax amazing. Every element complimented the other. The strong bread, the sharp-sweet mustard, and the smoky salmon with its hint of sweetness. The salmon was perfectly cured to a point between a soft lox and a firm smoked salmon. J said it was one of the best appetizers he’s ever had and when we go back to Copper Gate it will be ordered again.

For his small entrée, J ordered the Swedish Meatballs with celeriac-potato pure and lingonberry preserve. The combination of each component created a perfect bite. Exactly what a Swedish meatball should taste like rather than merely being an Italian meatball in Swedish style gravy. Our friend, T, says Copper Gate makes some of the best Swedish meatballs in Seattle. The celeriac-potato puree was perfectly creamy. All in all, J loved this entrée.

I chose a couple of small entrees to share with the table. First were the Fish Cakes with lemon zest, tarragon aioli, and parsley salad. Honestly, these chubby fish cakes were rather bland. The interior was the consistency of a sponge cake with a very mild fish flavor. The battered exterior wasn’t fried crispy enough to create the much-needed contrast with the spongy interior. The soft exterior and interior made the whole thing rather unappetizing. The tarragon aioli was nearly as bland and added nothing to the flavor of the fish cake.

My other entrée was the Coriander Honey Pork Skewers with apple salad. These were killer. Tender with just a hint of spice. The huge, porky skewers were seasoned so well that I savored each bite. Delicious. Another item that I will order again. The apples on the side were crisp and tart, contrasting well with the fatty, spicy pork.

Our friend, A, ordered the Mussels in Aquavit-tomato broth with bacon and let us have a bite. Amazing. The mussels were perfectly cooked. The delicious broth wasn’t too acidic and had just a hint of herbaciousness from the Aquavit. A mere taste of this dish convinced J and I to order it whenever we go back to Copper Gate.

For dessert, the four of us shared the Glogg Iskrem, Glogg poached pears and vanilla ice cream. The ice cream held up very well to the slightly warm, mulled wine sauce. The poached pears remained quite crispy in the spiced wine sauce. Very good.

The Price:

Stor Agurk: 9.00

Epplecider: 8.00

Kir Jaral: 9.00

Lysholm Linie Aquavit: 8.00

Pommes Frites: 6.00

Gravlax: 9.00

Swedish Meatballs: 9.00

Fish Cakes: 9.00

Coriander Honey Pork Skewers: 9.00

Glogg Iskrem: 6.00

The Verdict:

Copper Gate has really good food for what is essentially a bar. The atmosphere is creative and comfortable … unless you find photos and paintings of naked women offensive. The specialty cocktails are unique. The food shines with a nod to Ballard’s heritage. The gravlax, alone, is better than some entrees we’ve spent more money on. Sure the fries and fish cakes were misses but Copper Gate’s fresh take on traditional Scandinavian cuisine is well worth the trip. We will go back, no doubt about that.

The Sexton – 12/18/11

Website

Location: 5327 Ballard Ave NW

Hours:

Tues-Sun: 5pm-2am

Closed Monday

Happy Hour:

Tues-Sun: 5-7pm

The Sexton opened in Madame K’s old space last weekend. For months I’ve walked by the space wondering when they were going to open and curious to see what had been done to the place. Gone are the dark red walls and bordello chic, replaced with a  white washed walls and Southern rustic décor. The silverware doesn’t match. Some of the drinks come in tall jam jars. There’s even a trio of Mason jar chandeliers in the back seating area. The layout is still similar. Small bar in the front, open kitchen in the middle and a patio out back. The whole place is very airy with high ceilings. The Sexton has a certain style that is becoming more common in Ballard. The best way I can think of to describe it is … The Sexton is the type of restaurant I would expect to find on Capitol Hill. Simple. Stylish. A bit pretentious but not in a bad way.

The Sexton specializes in small-plates of Southern style food. Pork ribs. Hush puppies. Collard greens. Served along with their homestyle food is an extensive bourbon list and some creative cocktails.

We showed up at 5 on a Sunday night a couple of days after they opened with our friend, AJ. By the time we left an hour or so later, the place was nearing capacity. Considering The Sexton is, as J puts it, “the new hotness”, don’t be surprised if it’s crowded.

The Service:

Our server was really nice and friendly. Attentive without being intrusive. She was really apologetic when the first two bourbons AJ ordered off the list were not available. As we left, AJ stopped to compliment the chef and received a fist bump in return.

I think the only issue we had were the flimsy paper napkins. Considering a lot of the food on their menu is finger food, the napkins fell apart pretty quickly and there were not near enough of them. Yeah, nitpicky I know. Ask for extra napkins right off the bat.

The Drinks:

Since we were hanging out with AJ, J and I ended up each ordering a drink from their specialty cocktail menu both before and after our meal.

I started with Daisy’s Last Stand, Serrano-infused tequila, lime, grenadine, ginger, and soda. A very crisp, summery drink with a nice tequila burn. The heat from the Serrano was very subtle and combined unexpectedly well with the ginger.

My after dinner drink was The Phoenix Stakes, bourbon, plum syrup, lemon, and cardamom bitters. The opposite of my first drink. Rich, thick, and sweet with just a hint of autmny spice. It was almost like drinking dessert.

J’s first drink was Widsith’s Revenge, aged rum, lime, falernum, Aquavit, and Italian vermouth. Another summer drink. Light but not, as he put it, “foofy”. Not super sweet. He was impressed that he could taste each of the components yet it was still mixed quite well.

His second cocktail was the Lash and Steel, rye, dubonnet, amaro nonino, and absinthe. It wasn’t so much a cocktail as a mixed shot. An old-fashioned style cocktail with liquor and not much else. Mixed well with no one element overpowering the others.

The Food:

We each ordered a side dish and a main entrée style small plate.

I chose Hush Puppies with red pepper aioli as my side. So light and fluffy on the inside and delightfully crispy on the outside. The corn meal flavor was strong and there were chunks of corn kernels in the batter. Not greasy or heavy. The red pepper aioli could’ve been a bit stronger but it was tasty none the less.

J started with the Sexton Mac, bacon roux, five cheeses, arugula, and balsamic redux. A rich, perfectly cooked mac and cheese. He commented on how well seasoned it was, when other mac and cheese he’s had invariably need a little salt and pepper. The bacon roux gave it a faint hint of porky flavor. The addition of the arugula surprised J and really added a nice, peppery note to the dish. One of the best mac and cheese he’s had for quite a while.

My entrée was the Herb and Honey Twice Roasted Chicken with cider jus. Moist and tender with crispy edges. It was nearly half a chicken with a wing, thigh, and part of a breast. The au jus was honey sweet with an underlying herb flavor. It was so good that I took to dipping the hush puppies in the jus.

For his entrée, J ordered the Sage and Cider Braised Ribs with coleslaw. So good. The chef wasn’t afraid to give the edges of the pork a bit of char. The meat was so tender that it could be cut with the handle end of his fork. Moist all the way through. The au jus was delicious. He liked how nothing like flour or cornstarch has been added to the jus as a thickener. His only complaint was the plating of the coleslaw under the pork. The au jus made it soggy and the flavors didn’t mix that well. J wished they’d just served it on the side.

The Price:

Daisy’s Last Stand: 8.00/6.00 Happy Hour Price

The Phoenix Stakes: 9.00/7.00 Happy Hour Price

Widsith’s Revenge: 10.00/8.00 Happy Hour Price

Lash and Steel: 10.00/8.00 Happy Hour Price

Hush Puppies: 6.00/5.00 Happy Hour Price

Herb and Honey Twice Roasted Chicken: 11.00/10.00 Happy Hour Price

Sexton Mac: 8.00/7.00 Happy Hour Price

Sage and Cider Braised Ribs: 13.00/12.00 Happy Hour Price

The Verdict:

The Sexton was very good for a place that had, literally, opened two days before. The service was great. The cocktails interesting and tasty. The food was delicious and full of flavor. The braised rib was crazy good. Yes, it’s a bit pricy but worth it. Honestly, one of our favorite meals of the project. We will go back no doubt about it.

La Carta de Oaxaca-11/14/11

Website

Location: 5413 Ballard Ave NW

Hours:

Lunch:

Tues-Sat: 11:30am-3pm

Dinner:

Mon-Thurs: 5pm-11pm

Fri-Sat: 5pm-12am

La Carte de Oaxaca is one of Ballard’s most well known restaurants. Most of the time, when I’ve told someone about this project, the first thing they ask is “Have you been to la Carte de Oaxaca yet?” After 6:30 on any given night (except Sundays), rain, snow, or shine, you will see people standing outside Oaxaca, waiting for a table. Its small space is packed with as many tables as they can safely get in there. There’s one long communal table, about a dozen two person tables, and a short counter that overlooks the open kitchen. A tiny bar sits at the back of the dining area. The bright white walls are covered with beautiful photos of Oaxaca, Mexico.

J and I arrived at 5:30 on Monday night to find Oaxaca already a quarter full. By the time we left, about an hour later, seating was down to a few seats at the communal table. The clientele varied from young hipsters to couples out for a night out to two construction guys sitting at the counter. If you go to Oaxaca after 6:30, or anytime on the weekend, expect a wait.

Compared to the typical Mexican restaurant, Oaxaca’s menu is small, mostly a selection of dishes unique to the Oaxaca region of Mexico. Meat is a main ingredient, as are peppers. If you don’t like spicy food, Oaxaca is not the place for you, Everything from the salsas at the complimentary salsa bar to the guacamole to the beans and entrees have a heightened level of spiciness. Their drink menu includes a list of mezcal, tequila, and specialty cocktails.

The Service:

The guy who waited on us was friendly and helpful and the food came out pretty quick.

The Drinks:

I ordered the Teq-Caliente, a shot of pepper infused tequila. It was a good tequila with an extra spicy kick. The drink was very spicy but not in an undrinkable way like the cocktail I had a Paratii. The initial burn faded quite nicely.

J chose the Chimayo, Sauza tequila, crème de cassis, and apple juice. Great. Sweetness complimented by the sharpness of the tequila. An unexpectedly tasty combination.

The Food:

We started with an order of Guacamole and chips. Delicious, creamy avocado paired with light, salty tortilla chips.

To go with the guacamole, we got an order of Tacos Carne Asada, beef in fresh, homemade tortillas topped with cilantro, onion, and hot sauce. The carne asada had a distinctive, smoky flavor. J said they were the best tacos he’s ever had. The tortillas were incredibly light and fresh. A squeeze from the lime wedge nicely enhanced the flavors.

I had the Lamb Birria, stewed leg of lamb served with beans, rice, pico de gallo, and tortillas. The lamb was tender and pleasantly spicy. The black beans, cooked in a variation of a mole sauce, were the best Mexican style beans I’ve ever had. The rich, spicy sauce was rounded out by a touch of crema Mexicana. The rice was the only item in our meal that was merely okay. Lightly spiced and well cooked but nothing special.

As an entrée, J ordered the Entomatadas, grilled, thin sliced beef with homemade tortillas in a tomatillo sauce with Oaxaqueno cheese, onion, and crema Mexicana. The meat was so deeply flavored that J found himself sucking the juices from the meat before chewing it. Nothing extra, like salsa or quacamole, needed to be added because the mixture of meat, crema Mexicana, and tortilla was  perfect.

The Price:

Chimayo: 8.00

Teq-Caliente: 6.00

Guacamole: 5.00

Tacos Carne Asada: 6.00

Entomatadas: 11.00

Lamb Birra: 9.00

The Verdict:

La Carte de Oaxaca really deserves the accolades. It elevates Mexican food to the level of some of the best restaurants in Seattle. The depth of flavor. The freshness of the ingredients. The variety in the menu all make it the best Mexican restaurant in Ballard and one of the best in the city. There’s a reason why people are willing to wait out in the pouring rain for a table. We will go back, no doubt about that.

One thing to keep in mind, though,  when you do go to la Carta de Oaxaca, is that this is not your typical Mexican restaurant. The huge platters of cheese laden food are replaced with small plates of authentic Mexican food with hardly any cheese. Going to Oaxaca has more in common with going to a higher end Seattle restaurant, like Poppy or Staple & Fancy, than, say, Azteca.

Naturally, Oaxaca is our favorite Mexican restaurant in Ballard followed by Senor Moose, more for their breakfasts than dinner. Technically, that puts Malena’s Tacos next but going outside the project guidelines, I would say I like the taco truck, El Camion, better than Malena’s.

The Boar’s Nest-10/23/11

Website

Location: 2008 NW 56th St

Hours:

Mon-Sun: 11am-9pm

Right after our terrible dinner at Golden City on Saturday night, we noticed that whatever had taken over the space next to Malena’s Tacos had opened. We investigated and discovered a BBQ joint called The Boar’s Nest. The delicious smells wafting out into the street made us decide to go back the next day to try it out.

The name, The Boar’s Nest, apparently comes from the name of Boss Hogg’s watering hole in the Dukes of Hazzard. It’s a tiny place with a distinctly southern flavor to the décor and three TVs playing sports. On one wall is a long chalkboard with the simple menu of various BBQ meats and sides and next to the order counter is a tall cooler filled with odd bottled sodas and beer. At each of the tables are five squeeze bottles of house-made, regional BBQ sauces.

The Service:

The guys at the order counter were friendly and knowledgeable about their menu and the sauces available.

The Drink:

J was pleasantly surprised to find Dad’s Root Beer in the cooler and I had a bottle of Shiner Bock, a nice, light beer.

The Food:

I chose the Smoked Beef Brisket Plate with fried pickles, baked beans, and cornbread on the side. The slabs of a little more than room temperature brisket had a pink smoke ring around the edges, something I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a BBQ joint in Seattle. The fork tender beef had a lovely, smoky flavor. Very good.

The Fried Pickles were really good, better than any others I’ve had in Ballard. The breading was just the right consistency, being neither too thick nor too tough. The pickles were a little limp when bit into but that was evened out by the nice, vinegar flavor that went well with the spicy aioli that accompanied them. The Baked Beans reminded me of my mother’s with a little added heat. They were good but could have been improved with a dash of BBQ sauce. The Cornbread had a nice density, holding up well when sliced in half. It came with a honey butter that contrasted well with the corn flavor.

J ordered the Half-Rack of Pork Ribs with coleslaw and fried mac and cheese. The meat on the ribs was so moist that it literally fell off the bone. J said he could have easily eaten the ribs without sauce, they were so delicious. The coleslaw looked like it was homemade with nice, big chunks of red and green cabbage. He also mentioned the fact that the fried mac and cheese was the best he’d ever had, the filling being neither dry nor soupy.

Considering the selection of sauces available, I should mention our favorites. After trying all but the mayo based Alabama sauce, we agreed that our favorites were the Kansas City, which is the most traditional of the sauces, the Kentucky Bourbon for it’s sweet, whisky flavor, and the Memphis, a spicy sauce with a cumin aftertaste.

The Price:

Dad’s Root Beer: 2.50

Shiner Bock: 4.00

Smoked Beef Brisket Plate: 12.00

Half-Slab of Pork Ribs: 15.00

The Verdict:

The Boar’s nest is a fine addition to Ballard’s growing array of BBQ Joints. Better than the Lock & Keel and The Viking. The guys running it were friendly. Its location, interesting sides, different sauces, and moist, flavorful meats will have us returning to try more. I hope this place sticks around.

Pasta Bella Ristorante – 10/14/11

Website

Location: 5909 15th NW

Hours:

Mon-Sat: 4:30pm-10pm

Sunday: 4pm-9pm

Another 14th comes along and it’s time for another trip to one of Ballard’s nicer restaurants. We chose Pasta Bella Ristorante, a smallish Italian restaurant in an old brick building on 15th Ave. With its rich wood paneling and dark green walls, Pasta Bella feels like an old school, almost East coast Italian restaurant. The type of place straight out of The Godfather or Goodfellas.

The menu at Pasta Bella is refreshingly large compared to most of the nicer restaurants we’ve been to lately. They offer virtually any Italian dish you can think of with just about any type of meat. Spaghetti. Ravioli. Gnocchi. Lasagna, as well as a fine selection of Italian wines and desserts.

The Service:

Our server was so Italian, he could have been a bit player in one of the Godfather movies. Very friendly. Very helpful giving recommendations about what was especially good.

The Drink:

I chose a half carafe of Stella Montepulciano, a fruity, red wine that went extremely well with everything we ordered. J liked that it was served at room temperature.

The Food:

For antipasti, we ordered Italian Bruschetta, slices of garlic ciabatta with fresh basil. Tomatoes, onions, capers, and balsamic vinegar. The char-grilled bread was neither soggy nor brick hard as some bruschetta we’ve had over the course of the project. The topping was rich and fresh with strong tomato and slightly sweet balsamic flavors.

J chose a Spinach Starter Salad of spinach, gorgonzola, caramelized roasted walnuts, onions, and red peppers. The spinach was crisp and fresh and the gorgonzola didn’t overwhelm all the other flavors. The dressing added just a hint of sweetness.

For my salad course, I had the Mozarella Caprese, fresh mozzarella served with Roma tomatoes, fresh basil on a bed of spinach with balsamic and extra virgin olive oil dressing. The mozzarella was so incredibly fresh and moist that it nearly melted in my mouth. The tomatoes were a bit pale and unripe but the spinach was very fresh and crisp.

J had the Pesto Gnocchi con Pollo, house-made gnocchi in a pesto-marinara sauce. The gnocchi were incredibly light. The marinara wasn’t sweet, rather very acidic and tart. J really liked the sauce although it might not be everyone’s cup of tea. The pesto also had a nice bite to it. The entire dish reminded him of something an Italian grandmother would make for her family.

For my entrée I ordered the Linguine con Gamberi al Diablo, linguine with black tiger prawns, Roma tomatoes, capers, fresh basil, garlic, and hot chili peppers in a light, tomato-lemon-wine sauce. Very good. The prawns tasted briney and like actual prawns rather than bland rubber. The lemon-tomato sauce complimented the briney prawns quite well with a faint tartness and an undercurrent of spice. The tomatoes were well cooked adding a bit of texture to the sauce. It was so good that, although I had eaten all the prawns, I still took the leftover linguine home for lunch the next day.

The Price:

Stella Montepulciano: 14.00

Italian Bruchetta: 6.95

Spinach Starter Salad: 5.50

Mozarella Caprese: 9.00

Pesto Gnocchi con Pollo: 14.50

Linguine con Gamberi al Diablo: 17.95

The Verdict:

We had a very fresh and traditional Italian meal at Pasta Bella. “Fresh” was the adjective both of us kept using through out the meal. The salads were fresh. The sauces were fresh. Even the wine was bright and fruity. A really good meal for a reasonable price in an atmospheric restaurant. Pasta Bella is a neat little joint that would be great for anyone who wants to feel like they’re stepping into a gangster film.

We were so full that we didn’t have a chance to try their desserts but both of us want to go back for dessert and coffee at some point. We’ll more likely than not return to Pasta Bella when we get a craving for traditional Italian food especially since it’s only a few blocks from our apartment.