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
If there is one thing Americans love it is donuts. In fact donuts even have their own day on the second of June each year. The great thing about donuts is the variety of flavors you can get them in. And no one knows variety like the Donut Whole on east Douglas. I had the chance to try out the Donut Whole last Friday after attending a riveting performance of “The Ugly Duckling” with my mom and three year old niece.
The Donut Whole is part donut store, part coffeehouse, but also includes a small art gallery and stage. The art changes each month with Final Friday and they have different bands perform on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday evenings. This is not your typical donut shop and in turn they do not serve your typical donuts. According to their website, all of their donuts are made from scratch using locally sourced ingredients. I guarantee that Krispy Kreme cannot claim this, in fact their batter is made in North Carolina. The Donut Whole also offers over twenty-five varieties of cake donuts each day. Phil and I have visited the Donut Whole once or twice before but we seem to hit it after a large crowd and several types of donuts are missing. This time though I hit the jackpot.
I was able to try the cherry cordial which is a chocolate donut with a chocolate and cherry icing. It was dang tasty. My niece ordered the Homer J. She is an avid fan of the Simpsons. Actually she probably went after it since it was pink with sprinkles. I was able to steal of a bite of hers (got yelled at for it) and kind of liked it better than mine. The icing had a strawberry taste to it. My mom ordered the Rainbow which had chocolate icing with sprinkles. She enjoyed it immensely. The crowning achievement of this visit however, was the chance we had to finally try one of their famous Maple Bacon donuts. These guys are topped with maple icing and bits of bacon. Phil was quite pleased to find one at home waiting for him. That donut is freaking fantastic people! A little bit of savory with a lot of sweet, and it completely works. The bacon is not overwhelming and the whole thing just feels like Easter morning breakfast as a kid.
I know it maybe difficult to give up the overly sweet and stomach churning Krispy Kreme (not to mention they have several more stores), but let’s not only support a local restaurant but one that only buys local ingredients. This is pretty rare even for chain free. And just a FYI: drive-thru is open 24 hours a day.
In case you missed the biggest news in the Wichita dining scene since Spangles started selling “Wok n Roll Bowls” Tanya Tandoc re-opened her famous restaurant two months ago. Tanya has been a chef in Wichita for quite a while and her restaurant Tanya’s Soup Kitchen was a very popular place until it closed about 7 years ago. I never had a chance to visit the original place, but luckily she decided to give the Soup Kitchen another go and opened it up in April. The new location is at Douglas and Hydraulic right across the street from the Donut Whole(Another delightful place to check out).
As you walk into the Soup Kitchen you are met with a great open floor plan, large windows make up two sides of the restaurant, and a trendy design scheme. The whole space feels very warm and welcoming. The most unique design characteristic is the front counter whose facade is made up of vintage weathered doors and their knobs. The menu is very similar to the old place with a few salads, soup of course, several sandwiches, and a couple of desserts. The soup menu changes daily with 3 or 4 varieties offered. The restaurant was rather crowded when we visited a few days ago, which did not surprise me due to its popularity. The staff is very efficient and friendly though so we only had to wait a few minutes in line to order. I decided to try the “Junie” sandwich which is Tanya’s take on the Cuban sandwich. When you have roasted pork and ham on the same sandwich typically you can’t go wrong. For my side I went with the chicken curry soup with chutney. Steph tried the chicken salad sandwich with a side of tomato dill soup. We had heard through the grapevine that Tanya’s bread pudding was wonderful so we also ordered a piece of that. Despite the crowd we only waited maybe 10 minutes for our lunch. As expected it was all delightful. The best part of my sandwich was the pepper and pickle infused mustard that was spread over the ham and roast pork. My soup was excellent. The curry gave it a good kick and the chutney provided the right amount of sweetness. Had it been about 50 degree cooler outside I could have probably eaten a giant bowl of this stuff. Steph’s chicken salad sandwich was equally impressive. The cherries and rye bread really set it apart from your typical chicken salad. The tomato dill soup was great as well. If you are a fan of tomato soup go try Tanya’s then sample Panera’s. Chances are you will never want to eat at Panera again. The crowning achievement of the Soup Kitchen was the bread pudding. After finishing our sandwiches we were told the bread pudding would be just a few minutes because they were making a new batch of whipped cream. You can’t complain about having to wait for dessert when they are making homemade whipped cream! The pudding came out warm, with a nice cinnamon syrup and huge dallop of whipped cream on top. There is really nothing more to say than, “perfection”.
Tanya’s was everything we had hoped it would be and much more. Great food combined with a great atmosphere and waitstaff equals a memorable dining experience. Tanya has recently added some wine and beer options to the menu and has plans to offer live music on the patio this summer. More reasons for you to check out this wonderful eatery gem right here in Wichita.
This coming up Saturday, February 26th, the Anchor will be playing host to a Loaf Off. It is a meatloaf competition from 11-1 that supports the Make a Wish Foundation. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children (5-12). So there are two reasons I am putting this on the blog. Number one is that events involving food and supporting charity are absolutely awesome. We are huge supporters of them when we can be. Second, Phil has entered the competition and will be making his delectable meatloaf. He has named it “The Smoked Trinity.” So we hope to see everyone on Saturday. Both of us will be at the chainfree table serving meatloaf and having fun raising money for an amazing cause.