San Leandro Reviews
Note: La Bella Italia has re-opened under the name Tuscany.
Summary: Decent Italian food, a tad on the expensive side.
We were very sad some months ago when we found out that Pring's, our favorite coffee-shop, had closed. It had changed ownership sometime before and made a half-hearted attempt to have a 50's theme, but I guess business wasn't good enough and the place closed without any notice. A few months later, we were excited to see a sign for Bella Italia come up - we had been to La Bella Italia at its original location and had had quite a satisfactory experience. Still, that location was out of the way for us while Pring's is much closer to our house.
We went to La Bella Italia a week or two after it opened - on the Saturday night right after the restaurant had been featured in our town newspaper. The place was a madhouse. Not only were all the tables and bar stools occupied, but we were told there was a 45 minute wait for a table. Still, we weren't in a hurry so we decided to stick around. The wait ended up being more like 20 minutes so it was a reasonable decision. Or so it seemed at the time.
Perhaps we should have anticipated the service problems when the barman went to fill my friend's glass with wine and spilled it on my daughter! But it wasn't until we were seated and had the hostess spilled the remaining wine all over the table that we started to get worried. Dirty dinnerware, missing menus, melted butter, an annoying flashing neon Budweiser sign, and not having our drinks refilled (or our friend's wine replaced) certainly didn't help matters. Still, they were clearly understaffed and overwhelmed and one can only hope the service will improve as they get the hang of it. I also suspect this place won't be always this busy.
La Bella Italia offers traditional Italian-American food at reasonable prices. Prices have gone up significantly since our visit to their old location almost two years ago, so the place is no longer a bargain, (if you want a bargain, go to Pee Wee's) but it's still cheaper than most of the Italian restaurants in the area (appetizers are $5-8, pastas $7-12, main dishes $9-26). Their menu is also quite extensive, with more than fifty choices, including pastas, chicken, veal, grilled meats and seafood. They don't seem to offer desserts, however. None appeared on the dinner menu and none were offer at the end of the meal.
We skipped appetizers but gorged on the warm buns - they were quite good with butter and even Mika liked them. We had plenty of time to enjoy them because our entrees took more than an hour to come to the table. They weren't complicated dishes, but we figured the kitchen was just as overwhelmed as the waiters. The food, when it finally arrived, was very inconsistent. My friend's Linguine pesto genovese ($9) tasted of garlic and nothing else. Her partner's Spaghetti alla Carbonara ($8.50) was so mild that you almost had to send a search party for the flavor. Mike and I fared better. I had the lasagna bolognese ($11) and while I was not awed by it, I was quite satisfied. It tasted very homey. If it was indeed lasagna it didn't hold it's shape, it was just a mess of pasta, cheese and meat sauce, but that didn't affect the flavor at all. Mike was actually very pleased with his Pollo Scarpiello (chicken breast with hot cherry peppers, potato, sausage & brown sauce - $9). He liked it so much that I didn't even get an opportunity to taste it.
All in all, we think this place still has potential. We are planning to go back in a month or two, when hopefully they are over their growing pains, and I'll report back then.
2/04: I revisited La Bella Italia with my friend Lola a Friday night in February 2004. The long lines we found when we first visited the restaurant were no longer there, but we still had to wait about ten minutes for a table. Apparently they had closed a section of the restaurant.
Service this time was much better. The waiters didn't spill anything on or around us and we didn't have to wait much for our food or the bill. The bread was still hot but now this time the butter was not melted.
The food had similar problems as our previous visit. Lola ordered the pasta puttanesca and she was quite dissatisfied with it. It didn't taste like any other pasta puttanesca she's had and was definitely lacking in the flavor department. It's sad that at an Italian restaurant your best bet is to avoid the pasta.
I ordered the veal scallopini a la marsala. I've been looking for a good marsala sauce ever since I came back from Argentina, where I had great scallopini a la marsala in several restaurants. This was pretty good - not in the same league with restaurants in Argentina - but certainly much, much better than anything I'll be able to do at home. I'd certainly order it again.
3/04: In March 2004, I went to La Bella Italia with Mike for lunch. The lunch menu offers salads, pasta, pizzas and sandwhiches. When Bella Italia was at its old location, lunch there was a steal with pastas at $4 and pizzas $4-5. Prices have gone up a couple of dollars now, so that while the prices are reasonable, Bella Italia is no longer the bargain it was.
Mike had a sausage sandwich and I think he liked it, though it wouldn't win any awards. I had the tortellini bolognese, the same dish than Mike had had in our first foray into this restaurant, and my impression was similar. It was better than the other pasta dishes we had sampled there since, it was homey and perfectly eatable, though it was more a tomato sauce with meat added than a regular bolognese sauce.
6/05: We returned to La Bella Italia with our friends Boris and Regina on a Friday night in June 2005. This time we were overall pleased with the dining experience. Both Boris and I had the daily specials, lamb shank in his case ($10) and ossobuco (veal shank, $13) in mine, both identically prepared in a Marsala sauce. In both cases we liked it, though not overwhelmingly so. The shanks were tender and satisfying, but not particularly exciting. Mike had the lasagna bolognese ($11), which he and Mika liked. Regina wasn't hungry and just drank wine. Service was friendly and obsequious (they always make you feel like they are so happy you've come) but the waiter forgot the potato croquettes I had ordered. In all we had a good, though not great, meal. If La Bella Italia was just a few dollars cheaper, I would go here more often, but as it is I feel its too expensive to make it a frequent dinner destination..
La Bella Italian Inn
15015 E. 14th St.
San Leandro, CA