You know those times when you meet someone, and even though you just them, you feel like you have known them for years? That happened to me about 3 weeks ago.
My sister treated me to a dinner which I like to refer to as the “8 time Flavorgasm” put on by the Texas Cooks Co-Op. It was the first of their monthly dinners and lots of people were there to show love and support to their favorite cooks :) Before the dinner started, I had the extreme pleasure to meet Dave Snyder, the owner of the fabulous Riverwalk restaurant Bella On The River, and his lead server Steven. To tell you the truth, neither of them stood a chance … my sister and I decided they were the lucky two fellows that were gonna experience the craziness we call being a “Barretto”.
We waited til they had a cocktail and then went in for the ‘kill’. It took us all of 3 seconds to figure out they were ‘crazy’ just like us!! :) After lots of talk about wine, food, travels and enough humor to make you look like The Joker from Batman, Dave and Steven decided the my sister and I (and our posse) had enough missing screws in our head to invite us out to his restaurant for ‘dinner on him’ … errr, well not actually ON him, lol … and being that none of us had ever been to Bella On The River … we were all over that invitation like a dog on a Dingo bone :P
So we made a reservation for all of 2 days later … little did we know how much of a treat we were in for!
Bella On The River is located on the River Walk’s South Bank, down the river West, and away, from “Restaurant Row” (Casa Rio, Bourdo’s, County Line), just past the Aztec Theater and under the St. Mary’s Street overpass. Bella is right next to the historic Esquire Tavern and across the River from the Texas Land and Cattle Restaurant.”
You open a wooden door and BAM! You are transported to a cozy southern European restaurant with thick stone walls, large wooden beams across the ceiling, dancing candlelight, white table cloth covered bistro tables, a vintage bar overflowing with wine bottles … all that is missing is host(ess) with any Mediterranean accent :P
Photo: TOM REEL, Tom Reel/Staff / © 2011 San Antonio Express-News
We started out with one of the best Bellini’s I have ever had, Steven sure knows how to make them! Not overly sweet, and just the right ratio of flavors. While we were waiting for the rest of our party to join us, Steven brought out fresh bread and olive oil with roasted garlic clove for us to munch on … beware this is dangerous and if you aren’t careful, you will spoil your appetite on this deliciousness :)
Once our party arrived, we decided the best course of action was for each of us to order a different appetizer and entree so we could try as many things as we could. (All food photos are in a slide show above and in the photo gallery below) The menu just had so many mouthwatering choices, its nearly impossible to narrow it down! Eventually we decided on the following appetizers:
- Thinly Shaved Beef Tenderloin Carpaccio w/ Capers and Red Onions, Parmesan, and Truffle Vinaigrette
- Baked Gulf Oysters w/ Roasted Red Bell Peppers, Spinach, Chervil, Parmesan, and Sauce Mousseline
- Fried Eggplant w/ Sauteed Texas Gulf Shrimp, Sauce Diablo, Mozzarella Cheese, and Hollandaise Sauce
- And two orders of an off-menu item … the Texas Sized Frog Legs!
MAN OHHHHH MAN! Were all these appetizers deeeeeelicious! Everything had just the right amount to seasoning, complements, ratios, etc! Just like European cuisine, the main ingredients were allowed to shine through without being masked or hidden by superfluous ingredients or toppings! I wish I could tell you one of them stood out for me more than another, but your best bet is to go to Bella with a group of 6-8 people and just do a family style meal, so you can try a bit of everything, they are alllll worth it!
And to quench our thirst and pair with our appetizers, we decided to stay local and sip one of my favorite Texas wines, the McPherson Cellars Viognier. A great and refreshing wine that was able to hold up nicely to each of the appetizers we had! It had gorgeous aromas of grapefruit, lemon blossom, with hints of pear, green apple, and tropical fruit. It is a dry aromatic wine the paired great with our fish, seafood, and cream based appetizers we had. And even though we had beef carpaccio, the capers, red Onions, parmesan, and truffle vinaigrette tied in with the Viognier beautifully.
For our main courses we moved on to a red wine, the Barahonda Sin-Madera, from 100% Monastrell grapes aka Mourvedre, coming from the Yecla region in South East Spain. This wine was sexy! With light earth notes, hints of lavender, incense, and black and blue fruit flavors, delicious spice notes, and a lengthy, fruit-filled finish! If this wine were a person, it would be that sexy brunette in a killer red dress and red stilettos, blowing you a flirty kiss with her luscious red lipsticked lips! Mmmmyum! Our main course selection went like this:
- Short Rib Osso Bucco – Braised Beef Short Rib, Classic Osso Bucco-style, Trumpet Royale Mushrooms
- Paella – Chicken Breast, Chorizo, Saffron Rice, Roasted Vegetables w/ Texas Gulf Shrimp, Clams and Mussels
- Grilled Atlantic Salmon – Green Grape Sauce with Chervil, Crisp Pear Slaw
- Shrimp & Chicken Piccata -Texas Gulf Shrimp, Chicken Breast, Artichoke Hearts, Baby Bella Mushrooms, Capers
- Pasta Bella – House-made Fettuccini, Sauce Vin Blanc, Market Vegetable, Green Peas, Baby Bella Mushrooms w/ Sautéed Texas Gulf Shrimp
Let me pause while I wipe up the pool of salivation that just fell on my laptop as I type this …. Oh wait, let me tell you what we had for dessert first, so I don’t have to wipe twice …
- Virginia’s Pistachio Cake
- Cheese Cake Trio
- Chocolate Fondant
I hope you enjoy all of the delicious food photos below (or in the slideshow up top)! Dave sure does have an amazing cooking crew over at Bella On The River… bravo gentlemen! When you stop by, be sure to send your compliments to the Sean, Luis, or James in the kitchen, they are all noteworthy cooks and new friends of mine!
I know I will be returning to Bella On The River very soon, Frenchie Le Boyfriend will be here in town this Thursday and Bella On The River is one of the places I will definitely be taking him! The food is incredible, the wine list is tempting, and you will be transported to a Mediterranean restaurant for the evening :) And be sure to request some songs from the man behind the piano, Luvine, he’s cool people :)
Dave, Steven … thank you for making us feel like we were close friends dining at your home! We felt very welcomed, spoiled, and look forward to supporting your restaurant and letting all of our food and wine loving (and good tipping!) friends know they MUST dine at Bella On The River! Merci Beaucoup!
For another great review of Bella On The River, check out food critic Edmund Tijerina’s SA Express Review.