Sunday, June 6, 2010

Mia Bella

12200 Mayfield Road
Cleveland, OH 44106
(216) 795-2355

By Beau Cadiyo

It's long been difficult to actually get a good sandwich in Little Italy. Presti's, of course, has superb chicken salad, but for a regular sit-down place the pickings are few and far between. Thus, when I learned that the head chef had left La Dolce Vita to start his own restaurant directly across the street, I was glad – while the Dolce food was generally good, I didn't like the restaurant itself. When I heard that the chef would be making sandwiches at his new restaurant, Mia Bella, the heavens opened, angels sang and I had a vision of a promised land of delicious leavened bread and filling.

I arrived at 8:30 p.m. on the night of their soft opening, which coincided with the Little Italy Art Walk, just as a group of four were turned away at the door. Tables all along the sidewalk were packed. I strode purposefully past a perky blonde hostess and went inside; every single table was taken, and the air was full of excited conversation. Both the interior lighting and the huge, open windows made it feel light, airy and pleasant. I walked to the very end of the bar and leaned against the only open seat in the entire restaurant, which also happened to be just above an air conditioning vent. Immediately, two women started talking to me and the bartender came over to shake my hand.

Things were looking good.

Frank arrived and suggested we go outside. I was skeptical; after all, I had a perfectly good perch in a very, very crowded restaurant - how were we supposed to get a prime table on a beautiful night when so many others were being turned away? She marched outside, spotted an empty table at the very end, said a few words to the hostess and we were seated.

We waited. Water, silverware, fresh bread and herb butter were brought out at different times, as were our menus, and eventually someone arrived to take our order. Meanwhile, people walked past – friends walked by and said hello, our water glasses were filled and refilled again, and we passed the time by ignoring our cell phones and talking.

Months ago, I received a few angry messages about my B-Spot review; the gist was that I reviewed it when B-Spot was new, and that I should have cut them some slack. The thing was, the food at B-Spot was terrible and we were charged full-price. Mia Bella, on their very first night, couldn’t have been more different. While it took a little time, when my Sopa di Pesche and Frank’s Calamari arrived, both were artfully presented in elegant four-sided, high-walled bowls. From the first bite, I was impressed. Mia Bella’s soup is fresh: everything from the fish to the vegetables to the parsley tasted as if it had been caught or picked immediately before being cooked. The thick stock swirled with oil and herbs; the warm bread they served had the harder shell and soft interior indicating that it had just come out of the oven. Frank, who normally doesn’t like any seafood, had one spoonful of my soup, then two more, then used her fork to get half of a piece of fish from the bowl; her calamari was similarly delicious, although for some reason she didn’t think it should have been served with the small triangle of bread in her bowl.

Then the sandwich arrived. It wasn’t on the dinner menu, but when I’d asked the waitress she smiled, winked and said she’d see if the chef could make me one. On such an important, busy, chaotic night, I was impressed; when I actually got the sandwich, I was floored. If this was indicative of what Mia Bella can do with a last-minute sandwich request, the rest of the previously-planned entrees must be phenomenal.

The bread was a seemingly fresh-baked flat loaf of slightly leavened bread, folded over on itself. Lettuce, tomatoes, red onions and charbroiled chicken were stuffed inside with a generous slathering of pesto. The chicken was exceptionally tender and tasted of recently applied flame; there were blackened bits, but he avoided burning it beyond what was necessary for flavor. The lettuce was crisp, but not texturally overbearing. The tomatoes tasted like actual tomatoes, not like cardboard. The red onions were arranged so that I tasted their new-cut, pungent flavor in every bite, but just a little.

The standout, though, was the pesto. At first, the newly crushed basil was the most powerful flavor, but after a few bites I realized that I’d also been tasting garlic; the olive oil played a few pleasant, lingering notes and held all of the other flavors together, as good olive oil should. I’ve never had pesto which tasted this fresh, and I’ve only rarely had a sandwich where all of the parts worked so harmoniously. Within a few bites, I had a new favorite summer sandwich.

We finished just as it started raining, so we moved inside. On the back wall, two paintings in progress – detailed murals of a castle and a bridge – were lit up with spotlights, inviting patrons to see art in progress. "Life Is Beautiful" was on the widescreen. "Take a look at this belly button! What a knot! But you can't untie it, not even with your teeth! Those racist scientists tried it. Not a chance! This is an Italian belly button!" We laughed, and Frank sipped her wine. It was 11 p.m., and people still milled about, talking, laughing and finishing their food.

Little Italy has a new, outstanding restaurant in its heart. I’d suggest letting them run for a few weeks to let the chef and the waitstaff adjust to their new digs and perfect their techniques. Then you should make reservations; Mia Bella is going to be too popular to leave getting a table up to chance. Go, enjoy the experience, and taste the real sweet life.

Mia Bella on Urbanspoon


Bite Buff said...

Great find! Looking forward to checking them out.

Anonymous said...

The article is a bunch of horse manure and lacks every bit of professionalism, since the critic considers himself so knowledgeable in the area of fine food, let’s let aside good manners.
It seems to me as whoever wrote this article was paid by Mia Bella not only to say all the good things about the newly opened restaurant, but also to go raging like a backyard angry dog about La Dolce Vita.
The food at La dolce vita is very good and will continue to be great even after the chef, who used to be a mere kitchen aid, has left.
La Dolce vita has been around for more than 20 years and will more likely will be there for much longer. Just take a walk around Murray hill- Mayfield corner on a weekend evening to prove the ignorant wrong.
It’s true that the chef has left La Dolce vita to open his own business just across the street. But let’s not forget that this same chef started as less than a kitchen aid many years ago at la dolce vita where he was thought the art of Italian cuisine by the one and the only one TT.
Where is the loyalty in all of this? Two generations, every single member of the this extended family of Albanian refugees that now owns Mia bella worked for many years at la dolce vita and took advantage of the good heart and the generosity of its owner. It just gives you an idea on the kind the people and the background they came from. How can you bite the same hand that fed you and your family, and allowed you to get where you are right now?

Anonymous said...

Cry me a river...everyone is entitled to open a restaurant. The owner of Dolce Vita should not be worried since he has been there for 20 years plus, unless he is feeling insecure?

Anonymous said...

I find it amazing that people find time to trash each other. La dolce vita is a wonderful place to eat. The food is very good. Mia Bella is new and has yet to make its own mark. Time will tell.

Anonymous said...

How about winning 1st place in the taste of little Italy 2010 . Im wondering if that's considered the first step towers making they 're own mark ..Congrats guys keep up the good work ...time will tell ...

Anonymous said...

After reading the negative comments about his previous staff, of someone who has been a successful businessman in Cleveland for over 20 years I don't understand why you feel like you do?
In life, "to give of one's self to enrich the life of others is greatest gift one can give." Why do you be-grudge someone for trying to better themselves and their family. After all, they helped make your restaurant the success it is. You should be focusing on your restaurant and how you can continue to make it even more successful today.
There are many other restaurants in "The Neighborhood" and I don't see or here of them making negaative statements about a new restaurant that will bring additional business to everyone.
Every restaurant in Little Italy has it's own niche'. What is wrong with bringing something new to the area. There are always people waiting to enjoy good food and good service at all the restaurants in Little Italy. My family has been ding there for years. We've enjoyed good food at La Dolce Vita, Maxi's, Nito Italia, Gusto, Valerio's, Etna, Il' Bacchio, Mama Santa's, Primo Vino, etc.
You should all embrace a new restaurant because it keep the neighborhood fresh and moving forward. Look at Tremont, E.4th. St. W.6th St. The entire area will prosper more if you support each other with the same desire, To continue to bring great food and enjoyment to a great and historic Cleveland landmark "Little Italy." Cleveland doesn't need any more negative publicity. It's time to move forward because "everyday you look at yesterday, you never see tomorrow."
I hope you understand I want the best for everyone and "The Neighborhood."