This weekend we decided to give Bella Vita a second chance visit. On our first attempt we drove all the way over to the west side only to find they had locked the doors 3o minutes before their supposed closing time. Well after a few months of trying to push that out of our minds we were up for round two.
Bella Vita is located in an inauspicious strip mall on West St. just north of Douglas. You could call it the Trojan Horse of fine dining in Wichita. From the outside it looks like you might be walking into some retro supper club where the Saturday night special is meatloaf with brown gravy. Once you get inside though you start to get the vibe that there is something big going down. We showed up with no reservations on a Friday night(the staff told us this was a no no) and luckily were able to get a table after a short wait. Beware: They like to keep the small waiting area rather cold, so make a note to bring a snuggie to prevent frostbite while waiting. The dining room at Bella Vita is small with only about 12-15 tables set up in two rooms. The decor of the restaurant, while nice, felt a bit dated. Fortunately the food made you forget all about your surroundings, well almost.
After being seated, our waiter rattled off the specials of the day. Although we were considering the calamari as an appetizer, the stuffed eggplant special won us over. It consisted of thinly sliced eggplant that had been stuffed with rice and peas and then fried. It was served with a delightful marinara sauce that complimented the fried eggplant nicely. Most menu items are A La Carte, so we both ordered side house salads before our entrees. The house salad comes with a lovely sweet balsamic dressing and is plated very nicely with strings of carrot and beet adorning the top. There were many tempting entrees, but in the end I decided to try the Osso Buco Veal special, while Steph went with the Cannelloni Crepes. My veal came served with a nice tomato based sauce and pappardelle noodles. The veal was wonderfully tender with the rich flavor that is expected from this meat. Strangely when I offered Steph a bite of baby cow she was a bit put off, but I eventually coaxed her into trying it. Steph loved her savory crepes. They came with a tasty Black Angus meatsauce and were topped with a wonderfully creamy bechamel sauce. We both thought the crepes were as good as those we had in France.
Bella Vita is the real deal when it comes to fine dining in Wichita. The food is top notch and perfectly executed. Although the environment is a bit lacking, they are planning to remodel in the coming months. Our biggest knock on Bella Vita was the noise level. When you combine a small dining area with a boisterous Friday night crowd, it can get a bit loud. At one point a woman who may have polished off a bottle of wine by herself was dropping F-bombs. Rather entertaining.
Bella Vita – http://www.bvbistro.com/index.htm
To commiserate the last day of summer break Steph was in the mood for sushi, so we headed to Hana Cafe. Hana is located in Old Town Square which happens to be a great place for chain free restaurants. You have Hana, Imbiss, Sabor, Caffe Moderne, and Lucca all in one convenient location. This was our first time visiting Hana since its recent renovation and we were impressed with the changes, although the entrance looks like you are going into a dance club.
As you enter the normal glass door from the sidewalk you find yourself in a small entry area with a windowless door that must be passed through in order to feast on Asian delights. Upon entering we were met with an upscale looking interior with a bar and divided dining area. They had clearly done quite a bit of expansion and renovation to the former space. We were seated in one of the oversized booths and began our menu deliberations.
We decided to try one of their Korean specialties, Bi Bim Bap as well as some maki sushi. Hana cafe offers a “bento box” lunch special which is like the Japanese version of a frozen dinner except that it’s not frozen and it doesn’t taste like steamed socks. You simply pick from one of several maki rolls and it comes served in a partitioned box that includes and egg roll, salad, and steamed rice. We ordered a shrimp tempura roll with our bento box and tried a crunchy California roll as well. The shrimp tempura roll was fine, but nothing spectacular. The crunchy Cali roll was very good served with a sweet sauce drizzled over the top. The best part of the meal was the Bi Bim Bap, which is a Korean dish with rice, eggs, spinach, carrots, sprouts, and your choice of meat. It is also served with a bowl of moderately spicy sauce on the side. This sauce must be mixed in with the rest of the food to get the full experience. I really liked the Bi Bim Bap, but Steph thought it was a bit too spicy for her.
Wichita has an ever growing list of sushi places and I think that Hana is one of the better ones. They do not have as large a selection as other places, but their prices are reasonable and their proximity to delicious gelato at Caffe Moderne are big pluses. Don’t forget about their Korean dishes because they are solid choices as well. So the next time you are preparing for a wild night of clubbing, just head toward all the pretty lights of Old Town Square and check out one of the aforementioned chain free places.
Steph and I finally got around to heading to the south side the other day to blog about one of our favorite places in Wichita. Usuluteco is a Salvadoran restaurant located at Hydraulic and Northern, just south of Pawnee. In my opinion, this is one of the best gems of the Wichita dining scene.
Usuluteco is a family run restaurant where the husband works the front, while his wife dominates the kitchen. There is always ample seating at one of the many tables, or if you want to test out your conversational Spanish, there is a counter which the owner is happy to share with customers. As well as having delicious food, Usuluteco also has a nice collection of futbol posters. Every wall is adorned with teams from around the globe. Now I have no idea if there is an English translation of “Usuluteco”, but if I had to guess it would be something along the lines of “we make awesome pupusas”. If you’re wondering what the hell a pupusa is then I feel sorry because you are missing out on something wonderful . A pupusa is a traditional Salvadoran tortilla made from corn flour that is typically filled with cheese, refried beans, and ground pork. The pupusa is flattened into a disk and then cooked on a griddle. It is similar to a mexican quesadilla, but much better. And if you are thinking to yourself, ‘I bet they aren’t as good as the pupusas at Sabor’, well then you are terribly wrong. Besides serving inferior pupusas at Sabor, they also cost about triple the price.
Usuluteco offers a wide range of Salvadoran dishes including fried plantains, tamales, fried pork chunks, and some of the best refried beans in town. Steph and I both ordered two pupusas and some fried plantains. As I have already mentioned the pupusas were great, especially when dipped in the salsa and curtido (Salvadoran cole slaw basically) that are provided. Our fried plantains were wonderful as well. They had a sweet fried glaze on the outside while inside they were soft and warm. Served with crema and refried beans it is a great dish. While we did not have the fried yuca and pork meal this time around I certainly recommend it as well. The yuca is fried so perfectly that it actually tastes like you are eating a french fry.
This filling meal while delicious was also affordable, costing us only $15. Usuluteco is a great dining adventure and definitely worth the drive to the south part of town. Don’t let the outside of the building or the area scare you off, inside you will find great food and friendly service.