After a day of running errands and driving to and from Janesville, we decided to end our Saturday by trying Bella Vita. Madison’s newest Italian restaurant is housed in the space that once hosted TGI Friday’s, Peppermill Grill, and most recently the Tilted Kilt. On first impression, it looks like mall shoppers and westsiders have a locally owned business that offers a quality alternative to the chains that surround West Towne.
We pushed our luck by taking a car bound 18 month old to Bella Vita but found the place to be very family friendly, at least at 5:30pm. The space still shows some remnants of Friday’s on the outside but the inside has been given a nice, if generic face-lift. White table clothed tables surround a bar with a few flat screens, and cozy booths. Our hosts were very accommodating. I first thought that could be because of the early hour, but after the quality service we received the rest of the night I could tell that the importance of service is clearly stressed here.
Food wise we were started off with a complimentary dish that should hook anyone who enters the door. A cone of breadsticks was thin and crispy and while they were good they were nothing compared to the bowl of dipping marinara provided alongside. I’m always surprised how many places have difficulty with their red sauces but Bella Vita’s has a nice up front heat followed by a subtle sweetness. The garlic and basil flavors linger pleasantly. Our side salads arrived shortly afterwards and they were notable for three reasons. One, the small size was appreciated as too often side salads take on dinner salad proportions. Two, the mix of greens and veggies were above what you’d expect from a side salad. Lastly, the vinaigrette was thick but not overly sweet. My partner enjoyed it so much she saved her dressing cup to dip the freshly baked bread we received next.
For our entrees we tried to sample the menu as much as possible. Our boy had the kid’s pizza that featured a slightly thicker crust than the breadsticks and sausage that alone would be worth a repeat visit. While a nightly special pizza of sausage, Italian beef and giardiniera tempted me, I instead chose the cannelloni. Often times I find this to be all sauce and cheese but Bella Vita’s chef really makes the meat and veggie filling the star and lets the other components stand for support. My partner had the NY strip, which was topped with a garlic compound butter. The steak was cooked perfectly and consistently but I thought the butter didn’t stand up to the steak on every bite. She loved it though and the side of rigatoni with marinara that came with.
Prices were mid-range and the menu is extensive almost to a fault. We were given a dinner menu, pizza menu, wine list and specials menu when we sat down. Since the place is new I’m guessing they’ll whittle that down as time goes on.
One last word about the service as our child began to reach his breaking point about 10 minutes into our visit. We took turns walking him around and watching the AFC playoff game in the background. The staff couldn’t have been nicer and they were great about boxing up our meals about halfway through and being quick with the check. Certainly the type of service that along with the food (especially the addictive red sauce) dictates return visits.
Bella Vita, 420 Gammon Place, Madison, WI 608-836-5866