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May 4 - May 10, 2001

[Food Reviews]

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Veal is their specialty

Bella Costa

by Margaret LeRoux

Bella Costa
147 Cochituate Road
(508) 626-1726
Mon.-Sat. 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.
Sun. 10 am.(brunch)-10 p.m.
Full bar
Major credit cards accessible
Handicapp accessible
IN MY CONTINUING series of road trips, this week features an excursion to Framingham for Italian food. Why drive 25 miles when you don't have to leave the city to mangia on Shrewsbury Street? I admit, that was my question when a colleague told me about Bella Costa. Then a friend mentioned that the agency she worked for hosted a fabulous dinner party at Bella Costa, and not more than two weeks later another business associate pulled me aside at a meeting to rave about the veal at "wonderful Italian place east of Worcester." It was none other than Bella Costa. The coincidences were piling up; I decided to round up a small search party and check this place out.

One delay led to another and it was 7 p.m. on a Saturday and we hadn't even left yet. A quick phone call to Bella Costa brought reassurance: "You can have a table at 8, no problem."

The two large dining rooms were almost full when we arrived, but there was a booth ready for us. The staff is, for the most part, experienced; they are obviously used to crowds and very accommodating to the many regulars who populated the room. The charming young waiter assigned to us wasn't nearly so self-assured as his colleague who smoothly served a large table nearby addressing each diner by name, but he handled our most of requests efficiently. After reciting the evening's specials he brought us a loaf of hot, crusty bread to sample while we studied menus. The bread disappeared in seconds; when we asked for more, we got two loaves.

The menu is mostly Italian standards- heavy on the red sauce, and the wine list uninspired. We shared a large bottle of San Pellegrino ($3.95) and glasses of the house merlot and chardonnay ($5.95).

Appetizers include many familiar items: shrimp cocktail ($6.95); fried mozzarella ($4.95); stuffed mushrooms ($4.95) scallops wrapped in bacon ($6.95); and cherrystones on the half shell ($6.95) starred with an ominous and grammatically challenging warning in very small print at the bottom of the menu: "According to the Mass Board of Health, establishment is not responsible for consuming items marked above raw or uncooked."

We skipped the appetizers in favor of antipasto ($6.75) a platter of ham, salami, pepperoni and cheese slices, canned tuna, cucumber slices, artichoke hearts, olives, and tomato wedges over a mound of lightly dressed romaine topped with shredded carrots. This was almost a meal in itself; the four of us couldn't quite finish it.

Main courses here don't include salad, nor to my surprise did my choice, one of the evening's specials rack of lamb ($17.95), come with vegetables.

Instead, the large rack of eight chops were arranged atop a generous, though seriously under-seasoned serving of rice pilaf. A retro garnish of a sprig of parsley and a carrot stick provided the only bright colors on the plate. The lamb chops had been marinated- I could taste lemon and oregano-and were quite tender, but much more well done than medium rare as Iordered. Nevertheless, they were very tasty, and since I'd had plenty of salad greens from the antipasto, I didn't feel veggie-deprived.

My companions ordered from the regular menu which offers veal in eight variations, all except veal Parmigiana ($11.95), are priced at $12.95. They range from marsala and marengo to veal saltimboca with proscuitto and mushrooms. One of my friends selected veal Augustino, an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink arrangement of veal medallions sautéed with artichoke hearts, mushrooms, peppers, and broccoli in red sauce with sherry and melted mozzarella cheese. This is a dish where the quality of the veal is important; otherwise its delicate flavor surely loses out against all those other ingredients. Thankfully, Bella Costa didn't skimp on the veal; the taste was genuine.

Another companion chose one of the house specials, cioppino ($14.95), which usually means a seafood stew or soup. Here, the seafood is served in your choice of white wine or Fra Diavolo sauce over linguine. Bella Costa's cioppino features an assortment of shrimp, scallops, swordfish, haddock and clams - all of them fresh tasting except for the swordfish which had a thawed flavor and soggy texture - cooked well but not at all overdone. My friend's spicy palate favors pepper, so he selected the Fra Diavolo sauce and he was pleased at its punch.

The other house specials are spaghetti Bella Costa ($11.95) a mixture of shrimp and chopped clams in garlic butter; and a broiled seafood platter ($14.95) including stuffed shrimp, scallops, scrod and swordfish.

The fourth member of our group can usually be relied on to try something unusual; this night his dining compass must have been off, for his selection, shrimp parmigiana ($12.95) was the weakest choice. Two jumbo shrimp had been split horizontally, breaded, fried, then topped with marinara sauce and melted mozzarella. The shrimp would have fared better on the broiler, and the sauce had that almost bitter, overcooked taste. Bella Costa also offers nine variations of boneless breast of chicken, and a dozen seafood choices, baked, broiled and fried.

Despite the ample size of our dinners, two of my friends gave in to the temptations of the dessert tray. They gave high ratings to the carrot cake ($4.95) and rice pudding ($2.95). All in all, a pleasant meal, with a couple of disappointments; I don't think the Shrewsbury Street restaurants should worry too much about this competition from the east.

Our bill totaled $98.60 before tip.

Margaret LeRoux can be reached at feedmefeedback@hotmail.com.


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