Monday, November 1, 2010

Restaurant Review: Caffe Bello

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Caffe Bello

The Background
Caffe Bello, the Vallone’s latest culinary venture, has been written about a lot of late. I had read theses reviews and was very excited to check it out—plus, it was a chance to meet some fellow food bloggers at a media dinner organized by Htownchowdown. CB (located on Westheimer near Montrose) has a very modern and classy feel. The semi-circular bar, brick walls, exposed (yet painted) duct work, and modern art all help contribute to a cozy dining experience.

The Scene
I walked in, gave a quick scan of the establishment, and was told to head to the back. Times have definitely changed in the world when you meet someone and the conversation goes like this:

“Hi, I’m Kevin.”
Other person: “Hi Kevin, I’m John.”
We both look at each other cluelessly.
“I’m sorry…I’m The Mighty Rib.”
Other person: “Oh yeah, I’m John123Cooks-A-Lot.”

Get the drift? Thank you, Twitter. Anyway, I got a glass of wine and sat my butt down. The food had arrived.

The Food
I won’t go into every course, because writing long, comprehensive reviews just isn’t my style. I’ll give you the gist of how things went—the highs and lows. We started out with some pizzetas. They were made well, with a flat and crispy crust, and unique toppings, but when I’m at a place like Caffe Bello, I could care less about eating little pizzas. If this type of thing floats your boat, they have several to choose from, although I would stay away from the pumpkin one—all others are good. The rigatoni bolognese and pappardello al telefono came out next (on the same plate). The bolognese was average (just had better at Giacomo’s), but I loved the telefono. The flat noodles and sweet sauce made me want another portion.

Next came the burrata with shiitake, butternut, and balsamic caviar. This too was excellent. The texture of the mushrooms, along with the sharp bite of the balsamic, provided for a flavorful dish. Out came the red snapper on top of a tomato-shrimp ragu. The snapper was mild, under-seasoned, but perfectly cooked—crispy skin. I thought the somewhat bland fish worked well in this case, because the ragu was the best thing I had that night. The hint of sweetness worked so well with the fish. My lone shrimp was overcooked, tasteless, and not needed. This dish was fine without it. By the time the veal shank with creamy, cheesy polenta came out—I was just about done. Just about—I took a few bites and was quite pleased. Very tender, well-seasoned, and I thought a great value (even at its $27 menu price). They handed out straws to suck out the bone marrow. I gave it a shot (so I wouldn’t look like a douche). I acted like I got some, but didn’t. Oh well.

The desserts were forgettable. Although, it certainly didn’t help that I was stuffed. I took a bite of the cheesecake. I didn’t take a second. I’ll leave it at that. The mixed berry tart was not good. I enjoyed the mixed berries, but the cream was too runny, and the little crust barrel was too thick.

The Verdict
Caffe Bello had some misses, but all and all, served some excellent dishes in a beautiful and relaxed atmosphere. Hopefully, they can get their desserts straightened out to match the high quality of entrees.

322 Westheimer

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