Friday, October 30, 2009
Cara Bella - Dear and Beautiful it was...Taste was just "Cosi Cosi"
Cara Bella - 47-02 30th Avenue, Astoria NY 11103
R/V/G train to 46th Street
Cara Bella is a new kid on the block, opening just about a month ago. I've heard some good things about it and wanted to try it for myself--so when my in-laws offered to take Dan and me to dinner for our anniversary, I chose it as the place to celebrate.
I immediately liked the vibe here--intimate, cozy and very down to earth. Loving the exposed brick walls and whimsical artwork, I immediately relaxed upon stepping in. A focus on wine is prominent, as you'll see a large wine rack against the back, left wall.
We had a lovely little table for four in the back, tucked away from the main dining room buzz, which was still pretty mellow. If you're looking to have a romantic dinner or a small gathering of close family, Cara Bella is your place.
The food offering was impressive, ranging from Cara Bella's talked-about fresh pasta to various meat, poultry and seafood options. We ordered a disparate mix of things, and in our customary fashion, we tried a bite from everyone's plate to placate our curiosity.
Going classic with the apps, the salads stood out to me, especially Vicki's pear salad. The flavors were nice and fresh, probably because of the seasonality of pears. Creamy gorgonzola, crunchy walnuts and smoky pancetta were also incorporated, giving this salad a sweet bite with a tangy finish.
The other starters weren't groundbreaking and included a classic Caesar salad, crab cakes with lentil salad and clams oreganata. Out of those, the crabcakes were the best, but they weren't great--they seemed fishy and not the freshest. Same goes for the clams--they had a slight funk and I wouldn't order them again.
Despite their hefty fresh pasta offering, none of us took this route and in hindsight, I think we should have. Instead, we ordered meat entrees that included the following:
I chose the most adventurous entree, the slow-cooked rabbit. While I enjoyed it, it didn't blow me away. The meat was very bony, as is usually the case with rabbit, yet flavorful. I liked the salty pepper and calamata olive sauce on top and bottom, which brought personality to the dish. The soft polenta on the side was nice too but I hoped it would be more plentiful.
The other entrees looked good and consisted of Dan's slow-cooked lamb shank, David's pork chop with a mushroom sauce and Vicki's stuffed chicken breast. I only tried Dan's lamb shank and liked the consistency and the sauce--it was falling off the bone and there was plenty to go around. When inquiring about the other dishes, my dining companions said they were "very good."
This was by far the best part of the meal, and we ordered two things to share--the profiteroles with chocolate sauce and the panna cotta with strawberry compote. Both were absolutely delicious but I had a strong preference for the profiteroles--soft, buttery and decadent, they were also topped with rich chocolate ice cream. After devouring them, I thought about the profiteroles I had a couple of months ago at Cara Bella's neighbor, Bistro Les Minots, deciding that Cara Bella's were much, much better.
The panna cotta was tasty too and I loved its firm yet still tender-enough consistency. Unfortunately it didn't compare to the stellar panna cotta that I recently had at Sapori D'Ischia, but still, it held its own.
Service and Cost:
Our server was very nice and knowledgeable about the menu. I was impressed that he knew nearly all ingredients in every dish and was able to go into detail about cooking methods. For a new eatery with probably very green staff, this was highly commendable. It was also nice that during the meal, the manager checked in on us to make sure all was OK. While this could get annoying, he was cordial and genuine about it, so we didn't mind.
Prices are moderate but veer on the high side for entrees. Pastas seem like a better option if you're watching your dollars. Here's the run down:
Lunch Special: 3-courses for $15.95