Monday, March 12, 2012

Dine Around 2012 - Bella Montagna

this is part of a series of guest posts covering Dine Around 2012

March 2, 2012
About the Guest Poster:
I am a local boy; I grew up on the Saanich Peninsula, lived downtown for several years and recently relocated to Langford.  I have worked in the restaurant business for over 15 years in various positions, working my way from the bottom all the way up to management.  Every time I dine out I find myself watching the staff and evaluating the flow of service, pointing out every flaw to my dining companions.  I eventually decided to start my blog as a way to share my experiences and also to give constructive feedback to the restaurants I dine at.

The Food:
Last year I failed to take advantage of any Dine Around menus during the annual promotion so I vowed to change that this time around.  Life has gotten in the way, however, and it wasn't until last weekend that I finally got off my butt to try a new restaurant.  I am somewhat disappointed at the lack of WestShore restaurants participating in Dine Around, but one of the few eateries to get on board is Bella Montagna at Bear Mountain Resort.  I have eaten on Bear Mountain a handful of times, both at Jack's Place and the Copper Rock Grill, and have rarely been disappointed.  Hoping that Bella Montagna would continue that trend, my wife and I declared last Friday to be Date Night, and We Ate Their Food.
I often find that Dine Around menus are a tease - there is usually one item from each course that actually interests me. But here I was torn between two appies, two entrees and all three desserts.  My wife has the same tastes as me, but, not wanting to be a copycat, she happily ordered the items that I didn't. I opted for the BC VQA wine pairings with my meal.  $19 seemed reasonable until I realized that they were 3oz pours for the appetizer and entree wines, followed by 1oz of dessert wine (it was Late Harvest Riesling - not even Icewine).  I guess they are hoping to make up for cheaper meal with overpriced wine. After ordering we were given some warm bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping.  A bit old school, but tasty nonetheless.

Our appies arrived after a few minutes: Veal Rillette and Pistachio Terrine for me, and Hand Made Ricotta and Spinach Gnocchi for my wife.  The terrine was great - dense and not overly fatty with a nice pistachio crust on top.  It came with one token "cracker" that was enough for one or two bites of the terrine, so a few more of those would have been welcome.  But it was a great dish.  The gnocchi were perhaps some of the best either of us have ever eaten - soft yet firm with a nice sear on them.  The oyster mushrooms and onion cream sauce were rich and earthy, and the peas and tomatoes added a freshness.  My wife could have eaten several more portions and called it a night!  One question, though: aren't rillettes and terrine French dishes? Both Wikipedia and I seem to think so.  I guess "terrine" sounds better than "Italian forcemeat".

Pork Belly
The entrees were unquestionably Italian.  I had the Pork Belly and my wife had the Squid and Pappardelle Pasta.  The pork was perfect - soft and rich with nice crispy skin, with a pickled cabbage tart that helped to cut the fattiness of the belly.  The beets were cooked perfectly and the Marsala plum ragout was very tasty.  My wife's squid pasta was tossed in a parsley pesto with preserved lemons and braised tomatoes.  It needed perhaps a bit more sauce and a touch of salt, but it was still tasty.  A bit of a let down after such good gnocchi though.

For dessert we settled on the Yogurt and Olive Oil Cake and the Pear and Frangipane Tart.  The cake came with orange butter cream, citrus curd and almond ice cream.  The tart was served with espresso gelato and possibly the best thing I ate all night - Marsala sabayon.  The portions were smaller than we expected but they were just enough to satisfy our dessert cravings.

We found all of the dishes to be on the small side, but it was nice to leave a restaurant after a three-course meal and not feel like you needed to unbutton your pants.  And at $30 each for the dinner, it's like paying $7, $16, and $7 for each course.  I would have not blinked if that meal cost $10 more.  The quality of food was fantastic and we will certainly return.  It is probably the best fine dining restaurant on the West Shore.
The Service:
The hostess was pleasant.  She took our coats and gave us a choice of tables.  She did not immediately provide the Dine Around menu, however; we had to ask for it specifically (I suppose this is because the majority of their patrons are unaware tourists).  The table service was spot-on all night.  Our server was attentive without being overbearing.  She did everything right, at the right times.  Replaced cutlery after each course instead of waiting for us to ask.  Filled our water glasses without interrupting our conversation.  Cleared glassware and cutlery as they were not needed. Quality-checked once per course at the correct time.  I think the only thing missing (which would not be the server's fault, but rather a Manager's decision) was crumbing the table (the bread was very crusty and left crumbs all over the table).