Bella Luna Ristorante Providenciales (Provo), Turks & Caicos IslandsReviewed January / February 2015
The Spring Room at Bella Luna Ristorante in Grace Bay
At Bella Luna Ristorante the inherent warmth and genuine hospitality seems to ooze from the walls, like cheese oozing out of an overstuffed calzone. It’s all about sharing and enjoying life’s simple pleasures... basking in the joy of food, wine, and friends. Where ‘mangia’ means so much more than just eating.
You’ll usually find Chef/Owner Cosimo Tripodi front-of-house, eager and happy to greet his guests. He is passionate about virtually everything, and talks as excitedly about food and wine as he does about wood and tiles. He talks with his hands... particularly animated when conversation turns to his Italian homeland. This evening, Cosimo was particularly energised, fresh off the heels from his recent trip to the ‘old country,’ his batteries now fully charged and raring to go.
Bella Luna has served as Cosimo’s ‘canvas’ for twenty years and is a constantly evolving composition of his many artistic talents. There are several dining rooms, and Cosimo has created each with its own essence and soul. Dine al fresco on The Terrace amidst greenery, soft lighting, and a trickling fountain. In The Treehouse, you’re so close to the coconuts, Cosimo had to hang a “Don’t touch the coconuts” sign. A popular photo op, the sign disappeared during Silly Season. If anyone has any information as to its whereabouts, please tell Cosimo. Indoors, Boticelli’s ‘La Primavera’ together with beautiful frescoed walls and ceilings, conjure up romantic memories of Italy in The Spring Room. The Bacchus Room features a larger-than-life portrait of Caravaggio’s Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, appearing vigilant and pleased with his perspective - the bar. A stunning and dramatic piece of Cosimo’s own glass art hangs suspended between The Terrace and The Spring Room. Ascending a flight of stairs past Raphael’s Three Graces brings you to On Top of the Moon Terrace, generally used for special occasions. Beneath it all, there is a Pizzeria serving authentic, hand stretched pizzas in a beautiful, romantic garden setting.
Dining on The Terrace at Bella Luna Ristorante
Bella Luna features a Caribbean twist to traditional Italian dishes. Fine dining pleasures range from: antipasti to insalata, pasta to pesce, vitello to pollo, manzo to risotti, and sweet endings of dolci. A Fixed Price Menu offers three courses at a very appealing price, and ‘Featuring Today’ invites you to choose from a wide-ranging selection of specials.
Familiar and favourite pre-dinner indulgences included Bruschetta, toasted foccacia piled high with fresh tomatoes, onions, and garlic drenched in EVOO, followed by thick slices of grilled foccacia bread served with a homemade marinara sauce with a perfect blend of herbs and spices. Intuitive and gregarious, Cosimo recognises the joy and pleasure of wine and food, advocating, “Any night could be a nice occasion to drink a nice bottle of wine.” This night was indeed a nice occasion. We began with a 2010 Marchese Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva, a fruity, bright, medium-bodied wine. We continued to celebrate this nice occasion with a full-bodied 2010 Poggio al Tesora Bolgheri Superiore Sondraia, soft and supple, and big on the palate with a long, lingering finish.
This evening’s Zuppa del Giorno of Gazpacho is presented in an interactive way, with shrimp, croutons, red pepper, and cucumber on the side, to add at your leisure or whim to the perfectly chilled, thick, rich tomato soup. “Add a squeeze of lemon and done. I’ve had this many times,” my fellow diner confessed.
Across the table, my favourite dining companion was surreptitiously stashing some chunks of that delicious foccacia bread aside for her upcoming appetiser, Chicciole. A half dozen tender and succulent snails were virtually swimming in a decadent and delicious sea of garlic, butter, and white wine sauce. She became silent, as she momentarily recoiled into her own shell of sorts, later emerging to simply say, “They were good slugs.”
For years, my husband has been seeking the ‘holy grail’ of ultimate Insalata Cesare - I am almost certain he is more interested in the pursuit than the final catch. It’s a culinary game he never tires of playing, with one unwavering request - “extra anchovies please!”
While hubby was enjoying his Caesar, he seemed to become increasingly distracted and rather preoccupied with my dish, Mozzarino Calabrese. Strips of melting Mozzarella enveloped in salami were smothered in an intoxicating balsamic and lemon sauce. Of course I shared; there was plenty.
In season, Lobster Fra Diavolo flies out of the kitchen. Fra Diavolo is Italian for ‘brother devil,’ referring to the spicy sauce. Chunks of tender, delicate lobster contrasted and complemented this devilishly fiery and piquant plum tomato sauce, and left a smoldering impression on my fellow diner’s palate.
Vitello Parmigiana is an Italian classic and a staff favourite. Tender slices of veal scaloppini were draped over a generous bed of spaghetti marinara. Veal is equally amazing as Picatta a Limone in a lemon butter sauce and Vitello Boscaiola with wild mushrooms and Marsala.
I took note of my favourite dining companion’s heartfelt and rather melodic “Yummm” for the Ravioli Genovese, homemade cheese ravioli tossed in fresh pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, and pine nuts. And with a little urging and further persuasion, she divulged, “Divine of course - you can’t make this at home!”
I was indecisive, wavering between Gnocchi del Fattore, potato dumplings in a Gorgonzola sauce with a touch of marinara sauce, and Tortellini Catalina, homemade beef tortellini with Virginia ham and portabella mushrooms in a rose sauce. Enamoured of gnocchi, I was still intrigued with the latter. Torn, I succumbed to the server’s suggestion of Tortellini Catalina. “Great call.” Every aspect of this dish was incredibly rich and extravagantly savoury. Its deliciousness was substantiated by my giddy and incessant moans and sighs, which incited envy among my fellow diners.
Bella Luna Antipasto Platter for Two
Enjoy Dolci: Banana Al Caramello; Fondante al Cioccolato, reminiscent of a chocolate lava cake; and of course, the most infamous ‘dolci’ of them all, Tiramisu. Those more disciplined, or the more daring (depending on your perspective), may decadently indulge in dessert drinks, dessert martinis, specialty coffees, caffe, and rums. Who said you can’t have your cake and drink it too? Dessert Martinis for the ladies please, unadulterated Chocolate for me and a ‘Flirt,’ black Sambuca, vodka and cranberry, for my friend. The first sip brought about a mischievous smile and an emphatic, “That’ll do.”
It is true that many Bella Luna guests have become Cosimo’s friends, ourselves included. It was a pleasure to have Cosimo pull up a chair at the end of the evening and share his homemade Limoncello. He regaled us with tales from his recent trip to Italy with his wife, Kathleen, and shared many poignant moments. He returned to show her the pizzeria where he began his first job at the age of 14, and then the restaurant where he later worked. He had not been back to these places in 34 years. Of the restaurant and its owner/chef he reminisced, “I could not leave, because the food was out of this world.” He mused over fond memories of the staff eating all the specials together before the restaurant would open, and with a nostalgic twinkle in his eyes he said, “He was the most amazing cook. The most amazing food I ever tried in my life.”
Cosimo raised his glass of Limoncello and said with a smile, “It’s what we call the sweet life. La dolce vita.”
That my friends, sums up best what Bella Luna is all about... la dolce vita.
BELLA LUNA PIZZERIA
The Pizzeria Garden radiates an immediate sense of palpable warmth, unrelated to the 850 degrees F pizza oven. It’s an atmosphere of romance and charm, and just like Bella Luna Ristorante upstairs, so much has been created by Chef/Owner Cosimo Tripodi’s own hands. From the mosaic lighting to the tiled bar, and above the bar – his beautifully created, handcrafted glasswork symbols from vintage Neapolitan Scopa cards, a homage to his mother's favourite card game.
Opening Bella Luna’s Pizzeria Garden has long been Cosimo’s dream. “When I did this, I did it with the idea that young people, or anybody - young, any age - can come and have a romantic meal and have a pizza. You can choose a wine from a beautiful, extensive wine list. There are over 100 labels, and wines by the glass.”
This is authenticity at its most delicious, with a genuine Italian artisan pizza chef creating your pizza from hand-stretched dough. “Our pizzas are signature pizzas, very Italian,” says Cosimo. He encourages his diners to indulge in his carefully crafted 'designer' menu of Red and White Pizzas, but for those who insist on creating their own, there are plenty of toppings from the conventional to the avant-garde.
The welcoming bar at Bella Luna Ristorante .
We decided to approach pizza like we approach our wines … start with a white, and move to a red.
Contadina, our first white pizza selection, was a wonderful combination of sweet and salty flavours and fabulous textures - velvety Mozzarella, tangy Gorgonzola, mission figs, and walnuts. From the chewy figs to the crunchy walnuts, this creation was hailed for the cheeses. “Beautiful … that is good.”
The Quattro Assi was topped with buttery Brie, lean and luscious Parma ham, sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes, and arugula. A handful of peppery arugula is added post-oven, engendering a lively and refreshing crunch. The combination of Parma ham and arugula is, quite simply, a match made in Italian heaven.
We also opted for a Calzone Classico, a ‘folded pizza’ stuffed with tomato sauce, ricotta, Mozzarella and basil. The “Oh, so very creamy” ricotta was subtle and delicate, an engaging fusion paired with Mozzarella. The basil added a fresh, bright, and herbaceous edge.
Moving on to Red Pizza, Puttanesca featured many superbly salty and splendidly savoury toppings, including capers, olives, and anchovies, on a tomato sauce and Mozzarella foundation. This audaciously aromatic and palate-blowing union is also a popular pasta dish upstairs.
A departure from the traditional red tomato base, the ‘BBQ Chicken’ pizza featured a smoky and tangy BBQ sauce, the sweet nuttiness of Gouda, tender chicken, sliced red onions, and cilantro.
We all agreed the crust(s) were absolutely perfect. The excruciatingly hot oven crisps the pizza dough perfectly.
We went directly to red when it came to wine this evening, in an undisputed agreement to embark with Chianti. Always a great companion to Italian food, this bold La Cacciatora Chianti was dry with bright acidity. Next, a robust and full-bodied 2012 Allegrini Valpollicella poured thick and rich, with great fruit on the nose. Beer is also a great match with pizza, and Moretti Beer is Italian. It’s a smooth lager with a crisp taste that cleanses the palate.
The Bella Luna Pizzeria menu offers red or white sauce pizzas
It has been exciting for me to watch The Pizzeria Garden evolve from Cosimo’s ‘dream’ stage to its completion. On any given night, there’s a steady stream of take-out customers as well as plenty of groups, families, and, of course, those moonstruck couples relaxing and enjoying the beautiful garden ambiance. The evening air is abuzz with laughter, conversation, a little Andrea Bocelli, and the sound of happy and contented diners taking great pleasure in sharing pizza. Just like Cosimo dreamed it would be.
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