This past week we had an opportunity to dine at the Bella Mia Grill, an Italian restaurant located in a yacht club in Palmetto, FL. Located just off of Highway 301, this is a reasonably good location for this restaurant but it is tucked away on a side road and towards the back of the club making it somewhat difficult to find if you did not know it was there.
Decor and Ambience
As noted, this is located in a yacht club and appears to have been other things before its present incarnation as an Italian restaurant. The dining area is bisected by a large, dark wood bar that completely dominates the space. The dining area as a result feels somewhat claustrophic, with the tables being very tightly packed together. Had the restaurant had more than 2 other tables in use the night we were there it would have been loud and probably an unpleasant evening. The lighting is good, with just enough light to give it a homely feeling. The table and chairs have seen better days, with numerous nicks and scratches on all of the chairs that we saw. The dark wood theme from the bar carries over into the dining area, but is then offset with a bight, Italian looking mural in primary colors. All of the tables are set with white table cloths, which are then in turn covered with white paper.
We found the food to be consistently good to very good, although there were a couple of things that stood out which will be addressed below. We had two appetizers, fried calamari and bruschetta, which easily could have served 4 or more people. For just the two of us, these alone could have been a meal. The bruschetta was absolutely delightful, and probably our favorite dish of the evening. Fresh, vine-ripe tomatoes with garlic, herbs and EVOO served atop ciabatta bread and topped with shaved parmesan (which we had on the side). All of this was then drizzled with a balsamic vinegar. The calamari was lightly fried, although several pieces were somewhat tough and chewy. The menu indicates that these are hand floured and seasoned for each order but I honestly could not tell. In addition to the marinara sauce we asked for the creole remolaude sauce normally served with their grouper bites. Personally, I thought that the remolaude was a much better pairing than the marinara sauce.
For our entree’s we selected a filet marsala which is an 8oz filet cooked with fresh mushrooms and served with a marsala reduction. The steak was cooked exactly to temperature (medium) and marsala reduction was very well prepared, which deep, rich flavoring. We also ordered the osso bucco which was a more than generous 24oz portion. Peppercorn rubbed and served with a white wine demi-glace this was slow braised and finished with fresh mushrooms. Had this been served hot, I think that it could have been spectacular but it was more lukewarm and this caused it to lose some of the inherent tenderness from the braising. The flavors were terrific, but the dish as a whole was very, very heavy. Both entree’s also were served with vegetable medley consisting of zucchini, squash and cauliflower florets as well as garlic mashed pototates. Both sides were tasty but the seem to be more of an afterthought to the dish and were not plated well at all which detracted from the overall presentation of the dish.
For dessert we split a decadent chocolate cake — flourless chocolate cake accompanied by a fudge glaze, fresh whipped cream and raspberries. This was a wonderful dessert. The cake was a bit heavy but the light whipped cream offered a good counter balance.
Frankly, the wine list is sub-par, overpriced and seems to be an afterthought to the concept. The emphasis seems to be more on beer and cocktails, and in fact we were first asked if we would care for a cold beer while we looked over the menu. There is a smattering of decent quality wines intermixed with what appears to be a hodgepodge of “grocery store” quality wines. And the prices all seem to border on at least 3 times retail, with several that were well above even this. For an Italian restaurant, this wine list is appalling.
With that being said, we were able to select a couple of things to enjoy with our meal. First, with the appetizers we each had a glass of Kono Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. I did not note the vintage, but suspect it was 2011 or perhaps 2010. This white showed classic grassy, herbal overtones with good acidity that balanced well with the appetizers. For our entrees we selected the 2010 Antonio Sanguineti Nessun Dorma Super Tuscan. A blend of 50% sangiovese, 30% merlot and 20% syrah it opens with bright red fruits that give way to earthiness and tannic acidity on the finish. While not our favorite super tuscan, it worked well with the entrees and dessert courses. The white wines were $7 a glass or about 3.5 times retail while the bottle of red was $39 or about 3 times retail. Again, not great pricing on good, but not great, wines.
All of the food was very good, although there were as noted above a few missteps. The food prices were reasonable, and considering that the portions are simply way too large probably represent a good value. Plating was not consistent and at times we wondering if there was any love for the food, but then other plates were spot on perfect. Service was impeccable for most of the evening, only seeming to taper off as we reached the end of the meal. As we noted, the emphasis is not on wine and this is a severe detraction for an Italian restaurant where wine should be integral to the entire experience. Conveniently located, if you know where it is, is a plus but it was a bit of a drive for us (about 30 miles) and while we would recommend it to anyone in the area I cannot say that it would be worth going out of your way to try.
DISCLAIMER: We had been selected by Towntaster magazine for their monthly tasting and we provided feedback to them which will be featured in their next month’s edition. As a result, our meal and drinks were complimentary.
Bella Mia Grill
102 Riveria Dunes Way
Palmetto, FL 34221