Monday, June 19, 2006

Blog from My Biggest Fan!

For the first time, the AAFC will post a review contributed by my biggest fan about a unique place called Cafe Bella. The food was very home-made and the chef/owner was a hoot. I would rank their food about 2.75 out of 5 on my yummy scale, but the experience was definitely worth for a revisit! So, without further adieu, here's the food critique from Tim J.

Some night when the two of you feel like an experience at the opposite end of the formality scale from Handke's, I recommend Cafe Bella. They're open, Carlo told us, every day except Sunday, and were open until 10 the night we were there, but other patrons (more about that below

My full account follows. I thought about posting it to the AAFC blog, but thought it was a bit unwieldy for the comments.

It's the kind of place I often dream about finding, and we found it through utter providence. After a stroll in the Park of Roses, capped by the sight of a party of people taking extremely short rides in a hot-air balloon, Michelle and I went in search of dinner.

Our intended target was closed, just minutes before we arrived. Racking our brains, we decided on a second place, but it, too, was closed--or anyway, not serving food. Then inspiration hit: someone had recommended a place to Michelle, years ago, a restaurant I'd almost never noticed and totally forgotten about. Glory of glories, it was open.

Or was it? When we walked in, we encountered a man dressing a little girl in a chef's jacket. It kind of looked like closing-time play to me. "Are you open for a while?" I asked.

In perhaps the most gravelly voice I've ever heard--Nick Nolte has nothing on this guy--he said, "What do you mean by 'a while'?" As I was fumbling around for something like, "Long enough for dinner," he helped me out: "We're open until ten."

He guided us to the patio out back, a tiny space walled off from a parking lot with a dark wood privacy fence and topped by a green canopy. Two people were already seated there, each at a separate table, but carrying on a lively conversation.

The girl, eight or nine years old, was pressed into service, and quickly and quietly set us a table and brought water. Then the gravelly voice came and sat down with us. There was, he said, no menu, but he laid out a number of ingredients, and he and Michelle and I quickly came to an agreement. A salad and garlic bread to start, some pasta with chicken, shrimp, and marinara, and I would run to the carryout across the street for wine, which he would happily uncork.

We couldn't believe our luck. What divine family-style hole-in-the-wall character! It got better, as our fellow diners turned out to be fascinating folks, one a reporter at OSU on a fellowship, who once interviewed Evo Morales; the other, a participator in cashless community exchanges and sometime catering staffer.

Our young waitress was well-trained, and carried out an impressive three-step dance with the back door as she brought us a gorgeous salad with greens, black olives, banana peppers, and a hearty vinaigrette. The garlic bread was super-crispy, cut in thin wedges, and well-treated with butter and herbs. (My wine selection was decent, given that it was seven bucks and change.)

The main course arrived, and we sighed at the mere sight of it. Penne pasta, sautéed shrimp, generous pieces of basil-coated chicken, a mild, slightly sweet marinara, and more strips of crispy garlic bread. We ate, and we talked about coca leaves and leaving slack for others to enjoy their wild moments. Our waitress and chef ("He's not my dad," she said matter-of-factly when asked whether she'd helped her father cook, "just my mom's boyfriend. But no, I don't help cook.") solicited our opinions, and got approval in spades.

Eventually, our fellow diners drifted away, she home, he to hang out with the staff inside. Night fell, Michelle and I cleaned the platter down to the last drops of sauce, sighed once more, and strolled out with swollen bellies and promises to return. And I mean to. I most certainly mean to.

Cafe Bella is at 2593 N High St,43202-2555, next to the Sunflower health-food store.


Tim J. said...

Hey, I wasn't expecting that, given that I hadn't made the requested addition. Thanks! Flattered to have made an appearance.

Anonymous said...

It was definitely quite the experience, and there is a very college-y or family type of atmosphere there...tho, don't go there when you're necessarily in a hurry ;)

Tim J. said...

Yeah, from the lack of a menu on, it puts you in a more casual, interactive mode, and it's definitely not for everyone on every night.