Taste of Italy
By Ashley Bennett
There is only one solution for unbearable heat: a satisfying culinary refresher. There’s no better place to restart your engine after walking in the heat like Riverside’s very own Bella Trattoria Italian Bistro. While you might think that the Bella has a lot to live up to with the famous Mission Inn Restaurant right next door (in the same building, no less) but without even breaking a sweat, this southern Italian restaurant has won the hearts of lunch, dinner and dessert diners everywhere.
The word trattoria describes an eating spot that is less formal than a typical restaurant (ristorante) but certainly more formal than your average sandwich spot (osteria). To me, it has every working of a full blown restaurant save for the amount of seating available inside. The Bella consists of two small outdoor and indoor eating area. One long glass window separates these two seating arrangements and fortunately for me I got the best of both worlds: a window seat inside complete with air conditioning and a view into the calming vine-covered outside area. The allure of the Bella isn’t its fancy decoration or lack thereof. It’s a pleasant mix between practiced waiters and chefs you would assume work with a larger restaurant but fitted with casual atmosphere. I didn’t feel so bad wearing jeans here.
Waiters at the Bella knew exactly what would remedy fatigued diners on a day when the humidity was so thick it was palpable. The vibrant citrusy kick of the Garden Salad transformed my dry thirsting mouth into a much more satiated one. Sure it’s name is humble enough (it doesn’t explain anything at all, really) but the surprise of candied walnuts mixed in with various garden leaves all topped with a sweet orange vinaigrette will electrify your mouth better than a defibrillator brings back a person from almost certain death. And humidity can make you feel like you’re about to die. For the vegetable lover, the juicy tastes of the Caprese Salad offer a few freshly cut tomato slices alternating with sliced Buffalo mozzarella cheese and topped with basil for added flavor.
Italian restaurants rarely skip on offering pizza because even the pickiest of eaters are interested in the familiarity of the food. The Garden isn’t your average pizza though. Ultimately it’s a thin and crisp-crusted pizza covered in ingredients you would more likely see in salad than decorating a pizza. Each bite is either filled with a few spinach leaves, zucchini, artichoke, eggplant and creamy warm goat cheese. However the addition of pesto in place of your average marinara makes this the ultimate healthy and refreshing pizza. Don’t skip out on the “Italian experience” though. Less experimental and more traditional, the Sauteed Shrimp Pinturicchio was a flavored array of pink shrimp (an ample amount at that) mixed with penne pasta.
Before I could act on the temptation to go with a dessert right away my dining partner and I received something new: a dose of the Chocolate Cherry Latte. Now, I’m no coffee drinker but this was more hot cocoa with a hint of coffee rather than an energy fulfilling drink that others are familiar with. It even comes complete with a candy-rock stir stick that quickly melts and adds more sweetness to the concoction. It’s a pending menu item and one that I truly hope becomes a permanent addition to the menu. The desserts completely make the trip worth it, even if for some crazy reason you’re not impressed with anything else. The Bella’s popular Tiramisu proved to be a strong classic treat of soaked Ladyfingers, chocolate and whipped cream dusted with cocoa powder. If you want to keep up the fruity side of your meal, try the Bella’s Signature Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta, a lighter treat featuring vanilla bean custard sitting on a hazelnut spongecake that gives each bite a crunch to balance the thick but pleasant custard.
The Bella Trattoria brings a vast array of refreshing flavors of southern Italy for a much less expensive price than your average ristorante. If the Bella has found a good line of summer treats to remedy the heat, I eagerly look forward to what winter treats they’ll offer to help cope with the cold.
Bella Trattoria Italian Bistro, Mission Inn, 3649 Mission Inn Ave., Riverside, (951) 784-0300; www.missioninn.com/restaurants-bistro.php. Tues-Sat, 11am-9:30pm. AE, D, MC, V.