That’s amore

Many of the ingredients Café Bella Sera uses in its dishes, like this heaping serving of eggplant marinara, are imported from Italy.

Many of the ingredients Café Bella Sera uses in its dishes, like this heaping serving of eggplant marinara, are imported from Italy.

Photo By David Robert

Café Bella Sera

121 Vesta Way
Reno, NV 89502

(775) 322-2300

I never thought I would do it. I never thought I’d buy a $6 bottle of water. I also never thought I’d be tempted to buy another bottle after delicately nursing the first. What type of fool splurges on something that’s abundant and free? But when the server at Café Bella Sera touted Italy’s Alisea mineral water as the champagne of bottled waters, I thought I’d give it a chance.

The water, like everything at Bella Sera, is a prize despite the price. My friend Bob and I showed up on a Monday evening around 5:30. I half expected the place to be closed—Monday generally being the restaurant industry’s Sabbath—but I was pleased to find it otherwise.

After the humble and affable server brought us our drinks, he addressed the evening’s specials. He read notes rather than reciting the specials in a soporific soliloquy. It made him seem less tense and more human than the average stuffy waiter. The special that caught my ear was red snapper ($36) prepared any way you like, but the eggplant marinara ($17) had already entranced my eye. Bob and I agreed that he should order the pasta ala vodka ($21), mostly because we weren’t entirely sure what it entailed.

Our meal was preceded by garlic bread: two spongy rolls topped with parmesan, sitting in an aromatic pool of olive oil, imported from Italy, like many of the restaurant’s high-quality ingredients. We sopped up every drop of oil. Bob also ordered a salad. The “fresh Italian salad” ($11) easily could have served four people. Crisp greens, kalamata olives and tomatoes were elegantly seasoned with a mild and sweet red wine vinaigrette. Salads don’t generally give the sensation of melting on the tongue; this one did.

As Bob ate his lettuce, and I nibbled, we were visited by Café Bella Sera’s youthful executive chef, Royce. With no hint of who we were, he came and welcomed us, shaking our hands and encouraging us to inform him of any special requests or allergies. His accent quickly gave him away as a Long Islander. Bob, a fellow New Yorker and a Mets fan, thought it sacrilege when he learned that Royce was from Queens and a Yankees fan. But Bob couldn’t hold too much of a grudge after Royce said he’d be giving us a complimentary dessert: a creamy, subtle and tantalizing ricotta cheesecake.

My jaw dropped when our food arrived. Bob’s pasta dish, made with prosciutto ham and peas in a white cheesy vodka sauce, was hefty. It was a subtle combination of flavors—pleasant, but nothing really took center stage. My eggplant marinara was an awesome and voluptuous sight; it probably consisted of an entire large eggplant. I like the tender purple nightshade, but it often runs the risk of being rubbery and meaty—inappropriate for a veggie. This eggplant, however, was sliced into paper-thin strips before being battered and fried. It was then folded and piled into a peak and topped with a tangy marinara. I’ve never had eggplant prepared so tenderly.

Given one Café Bella Sera already in Miami and another in New York, Reno may seem an anomalous place for a third, but as our server pointed out, Reno presented an opportunity for the restaurant to carve a niche for itself. Serving a full menu from 5 p.m. until 5 a.m., it’s a cool and classy place that you don’t have to walk through a casino to get to. It’s just what this 24-hour town needs.