By Suzanne Sparrow Watson
Hearty appetites are the hallmark of our family. That, and drinking. When we can combine both we are like pigs in slop. No one in our family says things like “Seconds? I couldn’t possibly” or “Gee, I’m so full I couldn’t eat another mouthful”. In fact and practice, we all eat like we are going to “the chair”. So how fortuitous that Bob’s daughter, Dana and her husband Joe, now own a restaurant (with a lovely bar) in downtown Monrovia, California. In our family, Joe is the rock star of cooking. For Bob’s 70th birthday he cooked for days and presented cuisines from five diverse countries. We think Dana married VERY well.
In May they took over an established Italian restaurant – the Bella Sera Trattoria- and completely renovated it. It has been a great success, with all tables full on many nights of the week. In a business that is notoriously tough, they have been a rousing success. Which goes to show that good food, beautiful surroundings and hard work are still appreciated in this day and age. We have been anxious to visit ever since it opened and this week on our way over to the Central Coast, we finally had our chance. I wrote Dana ahead of time to let her know we were coming, and would be meeting Bob, and his wife Linda, for dinner. We are simple people, but we do have a few requirements for any restaurant so I wanted her to be prepared. They were little things like:
- We can only eat salmon that has been caught on a Thursday, preferably by a native Eskimo.
- Salad greens need to come from California (of course) but need to have been carefully picked by a Swedish woman who uses Dial anti-bacterial soap.
- Our wine should come from Chile, with grapes grown on a south-facing slope, and from a vintner who also weaves his own serape (I like to incorporate my love of needlework whenever I can)
- For dessert, we LOVE chocolate but only if it’s been flown in that day from Belgium.
Oh…and we needed a separate chair for Dash the Wonder Dog, who loves to sit at the table and pretend he’s “in” on the conversation. Dana didn’t blink an eye. I think she already considers me “her crazy aunt”.
At last the evening arrived! We were amazed at how beautifully they have completely transformed the space. It is warm and inviting with a contemporary flair. But the main attraction was the food. We didn’t eat all day in anticipation but I think we didn’t start early enough – we should have starved for a week. Dana thought we should begin with some wine. I’ve always thought she was a very smart girl. Next, she brought out a plate of bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with ricotta, mascarpone and a blueberry reduction. That “light” little starter was followed by Portobello mushroom fries with a fabulous sauce that should be named “Straight from Heaven”.
Then we had more wine, followed by entrees that were all varied and all mouth-watering delicious – pastas, lasagna, halibut – each dish looked better than the last. And then as if we were in need of more food, Dana emerged from the kitchen with tiramisu and her special dessert creation of the evening, a chocolate cookie filled with marzipan cheese and then smothered in a chocolate ganache. I forget what she was calling it but I think it was “Watch Aunt Sue gain 10 pounds”. I wanted to lick the plate but some deep-seated shred of dignity kept me from making a complete fool of myself. Although in retrospect I’m thinking it would have tasted awfully good and besides, I’m never going to see those other customers again. Next time I won’t be so constrained.
As I sat back in my food stupor I watched as Dana and Joe bustled about, making sure every dish coming out of the kitchen was perfect and each customer was happy. The evening really was magical, not only because of the food and drink, but because it is really wonderful to see two young people, working hard, and realizing a dream. You can’t buy the look of satisfaction and happiness that is evident on both of their faces.
So if you happen to find yourself in the cute little town of Monrovia, be sure to stop by the Bella Sera Trattoria. You will be treated to delicious food, great service and a fun atmosphere. Just don’t blame me if your pants won’t button up the next morning.