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Classic Italian fare with flair in Colorado Springs

June 13, 2018 Updated: June 15, 2018 at 12:30 pm
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La Bella Vita Ristorante Italiano (located at: 4475 Northpark Dr.) "Vitello Marsala" - Veal scaloppine sautéed with fresh Garlic, Mushrooms and herbs in a Marsala Wine sauce Thursday June 7, 2018. Photo by Jeff Kearney.

The interior design at La Bella Vita mirrors the food; it's a light touch rather than heavy handed.

Absent are red-checkered tablecloths and wax-coated Chianti bottles. There is, however, a chef from the old country, and that matters more than the cliché décor associated with Italian restaurants.

Our server provided a brief history of chef Giuliano Casulli, who is from Italy and prepares "Old World Italian" cuisine. To me, this does not necessarily mean thick, heavily sauced dishes. Based on the entrees we sampled, I'm in sync with the chef. The food was rich, well-seasoned and plentiful, without overwhelming the palate or the belly.

We started with an order of carpaccio ($12.75). Paper-thin slices of beef tenderloin hidden beneath peppery arugula make you forget any worries about the meat being raw. Tangy capers, olive oil and Parmesan cheese make the appetizer even more savory. The only problem was the amount of time it took from the time we placed the order to when it arrived. Once served, however, we quickly forgot the wait.

According to food lore, carpaccio was created at Harry's Bar in Venice, which was frequented by the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Ernest Hemingway and Katherine Hepburn, among others of bygone days.

While enjoying the carpaccio, which is safe to eat despite the beef being uncooked, we heard oohs and ahhs from a nearby table as their entrees arrived. What had been a talkative group was suddenly silenced as they ate, clearly enjoying their meal.

Our food arrived shortly thereafter, and while we were more reticent in our reaction to the beautifully plated entrees, we were equally impressed.

My rigatoni alla carre combined the short, ridged pasta tubes with pieces of grilled chicken, artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes and mushrooms in a creamy pesto sauce. The basil complemented each component with its subtle licorice-like flavor offset by real cream. Even sharing bites with my dining companions and getting more than I needed to eat, I took home enough as a side for a home-cooked meal a few days later.

Lasagna Bolognese ($14.75) is surprisingly light. Multiple layers of flat pasta are covered with béchamel sauce and house-made Bolognese. The velvety béchamel with its trace of nutmeg sets it apart from heartier renditions.

The vitello Marsala, aka veal Marsala ($23.75), featured thin pieces of tender veal in a sweet and suggestively nutty wine sauce. Roasted potatoes and zucchini rounded out the meal while also serving as another means of absorbing the sauce. Although the entree had a substantial amount of food, this plate was nearly spotless by the time we finished eating.

As we enjoyed our food, I couldn't help but notice a couple at a nearby table waiting for their entrees. Their salads had arrived well before we received our carpaccio, so I was surprised they had nothing besides bread to eat. Indeed, not until we received our check did their meals arrive. The story doesn't end here for them. The woman sent her plate back. It's unfortunate they didn't have the enjoyable dining experience that we and others around us did.

It was disappointing that time constraints forced us to just say no to dessert. We were concerned that a delay like that with the carpaccio would occur. Still, the tiramisu ($6.50) was intriguing. The ladyfingers that make the cake-like layers are soaked in Amaretto-flavored espresso. This will be a next-time treat.

Italian references to the good life include la dolce vita, among others. But in Colorado Springs, La Bella Vita says it very well.

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