Just a couple of months ago, I interviewed Cristiano Popescu, then-owner of Bella Vita Ristorante, about his upcoming new venture, Amici Pizzeria. He was running the small restaurant on Finn Hill and took the opportunity to expand into a downtown Kirkland location with Amici. Though the new pizzeria was slated to open in February, it has yet to fire up the wood-fueled pizza ovens.
In the meantime, the Finn Hill restaurant, , found itself with a new set of owners and a delightfully experienced team of managers. Carlos Kainz and Julie Guerrero have decades of restaurant know-how under their collective belts. Most recently, they were the owners of Dulces Latin Bistro in Seattle's Madrona neighborhood, an upscale venue with a seasonally changeable menu rotating through the Mediterranean cuisines of Spain, France and Italy.
After selling Dulces in January, the couple has been scouring the region for just the right place for a new restaurant. Promising deals came and went, forcing the couple to dip into restaurant proceeds meant for a new establishment. One of the new Bella Vita owners contacted the couple, asking them to come in and turn around the restaurant.
Kirkland’s Finn Hill neighborhood is a huge swath of residential land and surprisingly few restaurants. Its out-of-the-way location means that Bella Vita customers are almost exclusively Finn Hill locals, making excellent service a must.
Two of the hallmarks of the restaurant will be hospitality and cleanliness, Kainz said, noting that Guerrero will cook in nothing less than an absolutely spotless kitchen.
Though he hails from Mexico City, Kainz has spent the past 30 years in the Seattle restaurant industry. He is a self-styled “wine freak,” even running a wine import business in Mexico for a time. He claims that Dulces had the second largest wine list in the region, with more than 2,000 labels. His wine expertise is recognised by Canlis, where he is invited to a yearly sommelier wine tasting event.
What this means for Bella Vita diners is a great selection of wines. The basic wine list offers many bottles at a great value, ranging from $22 to $35 per bottle. Even the expanded and more expensive Captain’s List offers amazing values, the prices marked up only a fraction of that at other restaurants.
Kainz's warm and elegant manner has inspired the same in his staff, all of whom he brought with him from Dulces to Bella Vita. Customers will most likely be greeted by the very friendly Manny Alfonso. It is important to the staff that customers feel welcome, appreciated and remembered. Though they’ve been open only a couple of weekends, they are already trying to prepare for repeat customers.
“We discovered that a couple [of regulars] like garlic on their bread. So the next time we saw them walking up to the restaurant, we quickly grated some garlic onto the bread they would be served,” says Kainz, reiterating how customers love to have their orders remembered.
The menu has changed a bit, eschewing the three veal scallopini options in favor of braised chicken and veal ossobuco or a rigatoni bolognese with a large portion of the beef, veal and pork sauce. Chef Guerrero particularly enjoys making the slow-cook braises, the kind that taste even better the second day. And the insalate di arance, orange salad with sliced fennel and spinach drizzled in a vinaigrette, is a nice deviation from the standard bruschetta or Caesar salad.
Kainz and Guerrero make the rather long trek from just south of Columbia City to Finn Hill every day. Having spent their careers and leisure time in Seattle, the Eastside is a new experience for them.
“I’m used to customers ordering a bottle of wine,” says Guerrero, “but here they are very worried about the cops and so will only get one glass or one cocktail because they are too nervous to order more.”
If you haven’t been to Bella Vita before or in a while, it would be worth your while to give it another chance. At the very least, customers are treated well, the wine is sure to be good and the food will satisfy. Customers who fancy a bottle from Kainz's personal collection can purchase wine on consignment from a case in the dining room.
Beginning April 30, Bella Vita will also be open for breakfast on Saturdays and Sundays from 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Expect focaccia french toast, fresh frittatas and classic bacon and eggs.