Bella's Cuisine has its charms but needs to focus on the dishes it does best | First Bite | Indy Week
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Bella's Cuisine has its charms but needs to focus on the dishes it does best 

When I first heard about Bella's Cuisine, the newest occupant of the building on Guess Road that looks like Snow White may have lived in it, I wanted very badly for this place to succeed.

It claims to be Southern and modern, with Latino influences. It is also close to my home and supposed to be quite family-friendly—it was even named after the owner's 5-year-old daughter. And though I heard the food wasn't exactly living up to the title of "cuisine," I was hopeful.

Like many novice restaurateurs, chef/ owner Claudia Barragan is taking on too much with her menus, all seven of them: brunch, lunch, dinner, dessert, wine, kids and vegan/ vegetarian. She offers lunch and dinner daily and brunch on the weekends. Unless you're The Cheesecake Factory, you have no business being open that many meals each week.

I brought my husband and 2-year-old son, and we narrowed our choices to the dinner, dessert and kids menus. The experience was hit or miss.

We started with the fried green tomatoes and shrimp crab cakes, as well as the bacon-lentil soup. All but the crab cakes fell flat, and even then the best part was the corn and bacon relish: the corn darkly roasted, the bacon perfectly crisped. The cakes were flavorful, though a bit dry. The lentil soup was underseasoned and though the base flavor was rich, the texture was a bit runny. It tasted best when dipped with a piece of the herbed rolls made in-house with thyme, milk and olive oil. They were among the best parts of the meal.

The batter for the fried green tomatoes was was flavorless, but the dish came with a rich chipotle aioli atop mixed greens, bacon and chevre. For some reason this was paired with a raspberry vinaigrette, which tasted like jam more than it did a salad dressing.

As for the entrées, the server said the shrimp and grits seemed to be a favorite. It was unlike traditional shrimp and grits, heavy on tomatoes and Latin-infused, spicy and flavorful. My bacon-wrapped port tenderloin was disastrous, however. The tenderloin had been sliced into medallions before being cooked, and based on the toughness of the meat after it sat a few minutes, I have no idea how that was accomplished. There was very little browning, though the bacon, which had sort of been looped around some of the medallions, was cooked to perfection. Overall the meat was salty, flavorless and dry.

The side of grilled zucchini was lovely, with dark grill marks. The risotto cakes, topped with a heavy chive sour cream, were a complete anomaly, battered in the same bland coating the green tomatoes fell victim to, and had niblets of corn inside. Sadly, they were absent of the creamy, Parmesan goodness one expects when the word risotto appears on a menu.

My son chose pizza from the kids' menu—the crust appeared to have been defrosted. I would have ordered him the grilled cheese on sourdough or perhaps the alfredo pasta dish. The children's side dishes were creative: The fruit salad was arranged to look like a flower, and the other options of sweet potato fries and macaroni and cheese were refreshing.

The desserts were a general improvement, with everything but the vanilla bean ice cream made in-house. We tried the tiramisu, which was gorgeous and pretty tasty but a bit dry, as well as the pecan pie, which might have been the best I've ever had if it hadn't tasted so boozy. The Kentucky Bourbon was heavy, the menu warned me, and I chose to ignore it. The pie was tall and thick and came with a very moist crust, almost like shortbread.

The tab came to nearly $80, too pricey for the quality. Nonetheless, we had a lovely server. She went so far as to take note that my son ate mostly the grapes from his fruit salad, and she packed us an extra box of them without our asking.

Bella's has possibilities but needs to rein in its ambition and focus on what it is good at: vegetables, fruits, seafood and desserts.

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