Chef DiLuca makes dining at Bella Vita Ristorante a delight

Eloise and Rick Baldauf and Russ and Aurora Mulder being served graciously by Alan.

Eloise and Rick Baldauf and Russ and Aurora Mulder being served graciously by Alan.

An excellent chef-driven menu served by an experienced staff makes the drive to Sedona Pines Resort on West 89A worth the trip.

The Dunnery made it a part of their afternoon business trips to Cottonwood, especially for the Early Bird Menu (five entrées, each priced at $10.95).

"Early" means 4 to 5 p.m.! We were glad we called for reservations, because there were quite a few tables occupied by 4:45 p.m.

Our first true evening meal was shared with our anniversary buddies, Jan and Glenn Snowberger.

Outside it was pouring rain. Inside it was cozy with a fireplace and two separated dining areas set off from the bar. CEO Dan Cohen greeted us at the door and sat with us later to discuss the redo of the property and dining in general.

We recognized our seasoned server, Mikey, from our dining experiences at Dahl and DiLuca and Cucina Rustica. Mikey suggested the wine we chose: 2012 Adelsheim Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley, Oregon. We liked it so well, we selected it the next time we ate there.

The Dunnery was there to enjoy Executive Chef Andrea DiLuca's signature entrée, Saltimbocca, thinly sliced veal rolled with prosciutto and mozzarella and sautéed in a garlic-Chianti mushroom sauce. No disappointment!

We started with some of the area's best Calamari (lightly fried calamari and zucchini with spicy marinara) and a wonderful Caesar salad with anchovies. Glen and Jan shared the chef's special soup, Clam Chowder, and Mussels in a garlic wine sauce.

Glen finished with Tutto Mare (sautéed prawns, deep-sea scallops, calamari, clams and mussels in a light tomato herb broth, served on pappardelle pasta) and Jan the grilled salmon. Bella Vita's catch phrase is "high-end Italian food at a truly modest price." We all agreed.

On another evening, Russ and Aurora Mulder, owners of the Adobe Hacienda B&B at 610 Rojo Drive in VOC, and friends Eloise and Rick Baldauf joined us for the Early Bird Menu. Server Alan assured us even if our ala carte starters lasted past 5 p.m., we could still take advantage of the early-bird specials.

Cohen stopped by, as did the evening manager, Daniel, a fellow Yavapai Search and Rescue volunteer with Rick. Small world!

First were two orders of calamari and a Caesar salad. Fresh pasta made daily is the highlight of these early menu offerings. Jeff and Russ had linguine with meatballs and marinara sauce. Rick chose sausage and peppers with potato.

Aurora had Pollo (Chicken) Piccata, and Eloise and Suzie selected Rollato Melanzane (stuffed eggplant with pasta). Our table received baskets of focaccia and seasoned olive oil.

The service was just as nice as we would expect at any time of the evening. Aurora even received a decadent birthday dessert gratis.

Obviously, our dinner tickets were more than $10.95 per person with the appetizers and drinks tacked on, but we were most satisfied with the portion of the early dinners and the continued impeccable service.

Check out www.bellavitasedona.com, or call 928-282-4540. Soon to come is an on-property store where DiLuca's pasta and sauces will be available.

To your health and happiness, Jeff and Suzie at The Dunnery

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