Cafe Reviewed: Wednesday, June 20, 2002
Bellagio Italian Bistro
Calamari Griglia $8.99
Crostini $5.99
Pollo Rossini $15.99
Conchiglia con spinaca $11.99
Almost Famous

Bellagio’s food is divine, but its atmosphere is lacking.


Bellagio Italian Bistro

4608 Bryant Irvin Rd, FW. 817-263-7900. Mon-Sat 11am-10pm. Sun Noon-8pm. AE, D, MC, V.

Bellagio Italian Bistro is what happens when a Tuscan restaurant concept lands on a strip mall in south Fort Worth. The overall effect is good cuisine hampered by boring atmosphere. A bistro should have small rooms, dark lighting, and visual intrigue. At Bellagio, the only interesting action is on the plate.

Go with someone you want to talk to, because there is absolutely nothing to look at. The walls are a pasty yellow. Tables are situated in rows like soldiers, marching from the front door to the kitchen. The only stabs at intimacy are the overstuffed couches near the entrance.

Perhaps it’s no accident that Bellagio takes its food out of the restaurant and into the community. Parties of six to ten can book an evening with a traveling Bellagio chef, who will visit diners’ homes and present a short food show followed by dinner. “It’s like Channel 13 [KERA] doing a cooking show in your kitchen,” said owner and executive chef Charles Spencer. Although it sounds like a dynamite idea, it’s been slow moving. Spencer said he has done only six shows since the restaurant moved from its space on Bluebonnet circle in early March. He said people are reluctant to let a food professional in their kitchens — for whatever reason.

Pity, because if a recent Sunday dinner is any indication, the food would be divine. We were really impressed by the Calamari Griglia appetizer. It’s a six-inch slab of squid steak that’s been marinated in olive oil and garlic and then grilled. The squid was so tender you could slice it with a sharp glance. It came with garlic aioli and marinara sauce for dipping — but try before you dip. The side sauces, found in most Italian restaurants, are necessary to the flavor of fried squid but actually detract from the Griglia.

The Pollo Rossini, a Bellagio specialty, is the John Hancock of signature dishes. It was a huge, sweeping entrée of bang-your-head flavors. Chicken breast meat was stuffed with goat cheese, golden raisins, and pine nuts and then lightly breaded and fried. The chicken roll was sliced and topped with brown mushroom gravy, which had a subtle hint of musky truffle oil. The goat cheese was of the mildest variety, soft and velvety.

I’m a sucker for a good alla panna sauce — marinara blended with cream. Eric, our server, said the blend my guest and I were about to try was 50-50 cream to marinara, and he was right on the money. Six huge shells of the conchiglia con spinaca rested in a saucy puddle of creamy, tomato-studded red gravy with squiggles of spinach all around. It was a regal dish of broad culinary strokes.

We ended the meal with Dolce Frittata, a Pan-Latin confection of cheesecake wrapped in a sweet tortilla. Although this was not the first such concoction we’ve reviewed recently, it was one of the best. Two tortilla cones were filled with a light, fluffy cheesecake that was a cross between the New York variety, which is heavy on the cream cheese, and a lighter, ricotta-cheese cannoli filling. Topped with raspberry sauce, it gave me shivers of delight.

A year ago, Spence and John Conn purchased Bellagio from “Stormin’” Norman Nazar, a Fort Worth nightclub maven. The pair made moderate changes to the menu, but more significantly they made big changes in how dishes were spiced and presented. Spence said the end result is a more flavorful and professional product. “We added finish to the food,” Spence said, “and got rid of redundant dishes.”

The restaurant moved from Bluebonnet Circle for visibility. The name of the restaurant is not on the shopping center marquee, and the façade of Bellagio is only visible if one is driving north on Bryant Irvin. So much for visibility. We damn near missed it. Twice. But it was definitely worth the hassle.

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