Although snow flurries are in the distant past, I have fond memories of last winter when in February I set out to find some of the best places in the Metro area preparing the brilliant dish, Osso Buco. The traditional Italian dish is comprised of braised veal shanks, loosely translated as ‘hollow bone’ or ‘whole bone’ for the prized bone marrow inside the shank. On a recommendation, I tried Bella Vita to test their version of Osso Buco.
When I arrived in the afternoon, snow flurries began to swirl around the historic buildings of downtown Elkhorn. Clearly, this was a sign; it was a perfect day to have Osso Buco. The atmosphere was very comfortable and inviting - attractive chairs with plush leather cushions and a polished art deco concrete floor. Then it was the music. I immediately returned to my past I heard songs from Frank Sinatra and Shirley Bassey in the background - some good times working with those classic songs.
However, when my family and I visited the restaurant a few weeks ago, on a slow summer Sunday evening, the atmosphere and the hospitality had melted some, though the food was again strong.
Although the restaurant is cute and has a great décor, the doorway opens to the middle of the dining room. When you walk in you are lucky to be greeted by someone from the service staff exiting the kitchen, shouting across the dining room. When we dine with our daughters, I'm aware their palates are somewhat advanced and their appetites are profound. But being a father I know the deal; ultimately, I will eat what is not finished. It goes with the territory.
We started with Calamaretti Mediterranean ($9) lightly breaded calamari tossed with olives, tomatoes, capers and pepperoncini. Everyone enjoyed it, although it was a tad over done. Bruschetta ($9) was the fantastic crowd favorite, full of flavor from the basil pesto and fresh mozzarella, drizzled with a balsamic reduction.
The Osso Buco ($23) here is pork, a delicious 16 oz. portion. Slow braised to achieve a great fork-tender texture, but then there's a twist - the chef will flash-fry the pork shank, giving it a unique crisp texture. The pork was moist, seasoned properly and the Marsala wine sauce was very light and not overly reduced.
My wife and I also ordered salads and were really excited about our choices. The menu recommends a few add-ons like shrimp, or gorgonzola. But alas, the restaurant was out of shrimp. We ordered the Caesar Insalata ($7) and the Insalata di Spinaci ($11) of fresh tender spinach, dried cherries, goat cheese, crispy prosciutto, and balsamic vinaigrette, (some advice, order the vinaigrette on the side). My wife added the salmon and I added the chicken, but both lacked seasoning.
Bella Vita has been open since January of 2007 and the main dining room seats approximately 60. The restaurant offers some fantastic events throughout the month. A wonderful private space is available on the second level.Happy hour is offered seven days a week and they have one of the most beautiful patios around, seating about 40.
The restaurant is not kid-friendly -- no kids menu, no smaller portions – which is fine, just plan accordingly. That night the kitchen moved rather slowly and even when we requested items to arrive as they were done, we experienced some down time. Plates we stacked at the edge of the table were overlooked by other servers.
The service my family received was likely just bad luck or an off-night. A manager emailed me the next day to ask about the experience and I replied, but never heard back. I stay as far away from chain restaurants as possible. There are plenty of mom-and- pop Italian joints in Omaha. Bella Vita is among the better ones for its food and ambiance.
Bella Vita is located at 2620 North Main St.in Elkhorn. Hours are Sun. – Thurs. 3 p.m. – 9 p.m., Friday 3 p.m.-10 p.m., Saturday 4:30 p.m.-10 p.m. Call 402.289.1804 or visit bellavitane.com for more information.