Friday, March 7, 2008

Bella Maria Cafe Naples

We stopped by Bella Maria for a sampling of their primarily Spanish dishes, with a good variety of tapas, and to taste from a handful of Chilean specialties, classics like their signature Chilean Sea Bass, and the Chicken Corn Pie.

Owners Maria and Carlos, and son Franco have tasty nuggets of Spain, Italy and Chile's cuisines in this all but hidden spot on Naples otherwise pricey 5th Ave South. We ate al fresco, perched near enough to 5th Avenue, at an iron table, several feet from the foot traffic on the sidewalk. It was quiet enough to talk, and a great spot for people watching. It's also kids friendly, having the outdoor seating, however I don't know how many US kids would leave a burger or mac'n cheese for these delights.

We very much enjoyed the Pastel de Choclo, or Chicken Corn Pie, a traditional Chilean dish made of ground fresh corn or maize (choclo), and chicken or beef. This is a bubbling hot, rich home cooking-comfort cooking I'd like to duplicate in my home, especially on a chilly night! My South American dining companion said this was the real thing! There are countless variations, some sweeter, some saltier-here's Whole Foods take on it:
http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipes/meat-poultry/chicken_pasteldecholo.html

Then, in a tapas mood, we continued with the Marinated Octopus, sauteed in garlic and oil, and then the Fried Calamari. The octopus was about the tenderest I've had in a long time, appropriately hot,and the sauce was good. The fried calamari was crisp, with smaller rings, and was as good as any in Naples. The service was very good throught the meal.

Maria makes her own desserts-well worth trying are the fruit based ones. We thought the raspberry tart, a perhaps 4 inch diameter perfectly baked little pie, wonderfully displayed the naturally luscious sweet/tartness of the raspberry. The flan was ok, and we've had many, many flans in our time. There were other desserts, like a cream and mascarpone filled cannoli, a Chocolate Pear Tart, or a Napoleon, to try on another visit. We were more than filled up, for two very good eaters, and the bill came to $51, for two. Very, very good pricing for a Naples 5th Avenue location! Anywhere else, we'd spend over $100 to be filled and happy as this.

With all the tapas to try, and the enjoyable quality of food and service, I'd recommend also trying it for lunch. Sample the menu's classics like the Chacarero sandwich (Beef tenderloin with green beans, tomato and fresh chili), the Barros Lucos sandwich ( Traditional beef churrasco-melted cheese), Churrasco a la plancha (grilled beef with avocado and tomato), or the soups and salads-with another dessert, of course.

Bella Maria Café. 489 Fifth Avenue South Naples, FL 239-403-7222

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