Last week was a big one for Kenny and me. We saw Pippin, attended the Iron Fork, celebrated his birthday, and were treated to a guided menu tour at Bella Luna. Surprisingly, Harry still recognizes us as his parents.
But boy was it a good one and the punctuation mark that was Bella Luna was a surprising, yet classic treat. We’ve been to Bella Luna countless times. In fact, when we sat down, I got all lovey-dovey because Bella Luna is often a place Kenny and I go when celebrating something special. I just have the most warm and comfortable feelings when it comes to Bella Luna.
So again, while we’ve been there scores of times, this particular trip was a completely new experience. We didn’t scan the well-known menu, pretending to consider other options before ordering the pork shank and lobster ravioli. We put ourselves in the weathered restauranteur hands of owner Harry Stephens to show us how it can and should be done. And ain’t that the way to do it…
First, an amuse-bouche. This bite was asiago cheese and a date, wrapped in prosciutto and drizzled with honey. It was sweet like dessert, which might be a surprising way to start, but it hit me right in the right spot and did exactly what an amuse-bouche should – get you excited about what’s to come.
Following the amuse-bouche was a round of appetizers that all worked together. We were served fresh sardines and calamari, alongside the bread, not after. For once, the bread wasn’t a stand alone filler (even though the focaccia alone is out of this world). My favorite bite was the combination of all three – a sardine, with the calamari, atop a piece of bread. Sardines can get a bad wrap, but these little buggers were just nice tiny slivers of fish that worked well with the calamari, as well as alone with the red peppers.
And the calamari, which was not fried, was equally as tasty. The broth it was served in was extremely light and flavorful, and a great option for dipping the bread, which added to why all three of these components worked in delicious harmony.
The wine that accompanied this round was Banfi La Pettigola Vermentino, a red that can only be exclusively found at Bella Luna. Harry shared how this wine came to be after visiting the vineyard in Italy and again, it is nowhere else in the tristate area.
After these seemingly uncharacteristic starters for an Italian joint (although Harry informed us that Italian eating is in fact, seafood/fish driven), we were served the prime rib cannelloni. This is their signature, their award-winner, and it is pretty obvious why. This one is rich with cheese and quality meat treated well. Kenny was all over this one. I kept talking while eating it, but Kenny kept stealthily quiet, which I think allowed for him to take more bites. Well played.
This too was served with another Bella Luna-exclusive Banfi wine, the Aska Bogherri Rosso. I remember this red being a bit more subtle than the Pettigola Vermentino, which is why it worked so well with the heavier cannelloni.
We were then treated to the final two main dishes simultaneously. First was the wild boar ragu. What was interesting about this pasta was that it was not necessarily a meat sauce pasta, but rather pasta with meat and sauce. That allowed the meat to shine more so than a concoction of it.
And for once (and finally!) I had octopus that I liked. The texture, which is generally my issue, was great! It was chewy without being tough, and rubbery(ish) without being work. It, plus a potato and some onion, was ultimately my favorite bite. And the broth it was cooked in was super light but full of flavor. It was honestly my favorite of the two.
Another Banfi wine accompanied these dishes and this time it was the Chianti Classico Reserve. This dry and full-bodied wine is known for working best with food and it did just that.
And last but not least, was a trio of desserts. There was the classic and basically forever award-winning bread pudding. We’ve had other bread puddings and each time we’ve tried to see if they can compete, but they can’t. Bella Luna’s bread pudding is literally insane. Fluffy, gooey, spongey, and rich – it’s in a league of its own.
But the autumn holidays are here and so is a pumpkin bread pudding option. The original is better in my opinion, but it’s kind of like M&Ms and Peanut M&Ms – you might have a preference for one, but both are classically good.
And then there was a slice of fudge cheesecake. It was as rich as you can imagine, but I was digging it. I thought it was going to put me over the edge, but I took my time with it and savored it down to the very last bite.
Ultimately what I liked most about this night was that for a place that I thought I knew so well, this experience was like being there for the very first time. Every single dish was new to me and showed me a standard of Italian eating that goes beyond a dinner of pasta that immediately calls for elastic pants. I left with those same deep feelings that remind me why I love Bella Luna – a night of good eating, with great company, in a warm and inviting environment. That is what classic Italian dining is.
This experience was thanks to my good buddy Shawn McCabe of McCabe Media…he’s the best! Check him out!