Burrata alla Bella Vita
LA BELLA VITA RISTORANTE ITALIANO
4475 Northpark Drive, 260-4730, labellavitaristorante.net
Tiziano Cestari and Giuliano Cassuli: You probably can tell their names are Italian; they were born and raised in the boot. Everything in their restaurant is made from scratch, including the very good pasta. The signature Burrata alla Bella Vita is addictive. The creamy, luscious cheese appetizer served with grilled crostini, thick slices of fresh tomato, basil leaves and shaved prosciutto with a generous splash of olive oil is pricey. But it's almost a meal in itself. The real treat about this dish is that you don't have to wait for spring and summer menus to spot it. Cassuli, the chef of the team, keeps it on the menu even in the dead of winter.
Calamari Fritti Arrabiata
PARAVICINI'S ITALIAN BISTRO
2802 W. Colorado Ave., 471-8200, paravicinis.com
You can count on several things when you dine at this traditional Italian-American bistro: You'll enjoy the bustling neighborhood eatery and you won't leave feeling you didn't get your money's worth. You'll probably need a doggie bag. A classic example is the Calamari Fritti Arrabiata ($10.95), one of chef and co-owner Franco Pisani's signature dishes. This popular appetizer consists of a dinner plate piled with calamari fried to crispy perfection then topped with saut?d hot peppers, black olives, capers and sun-dried tomatoes.
Prime Beef Tartar
1025 S. 21st St., 471-2905, carlosbistrocos.com
Don't be surprised when you approach this dressy restaurant and see owner Carlos Echeandia walking in and out the front door, greeting arriving customers. That passion, dedication and seeing to every last detail of a superb dining experience continues until you've licked the last drop of garnish off the dessert plate. Not to be missed is the USDA Prime Beef Tartar ($23). Yes, the price is steep, but this is the gold standard for the raw beef dish and the portion can easily be shared. The chef has combined the perfect flavor and texture combination of beef with salty capers, sweet pickles, crispy red onion and tangy Dijon mustard. It's all glued together with fresh egg yolks.
Braised Cumin Chile Lamb Shank
LA ROSA SOUTHWESTERN DINING
25 Colorado 105, Palmer Lake, 368-7676, larosasouthwesterndining.com
Here is the newest and possibly the only eatery in the region where you can tuck into a plate of authentic New Mexico-style food. That's because Marina La Riva, one of the owners and the main force behind ingredient sourcing, goes back to Albuquerque, where she grew up, to buy chilies and other necessary ingredients to ensure the best flavors. Few dishes on the menu disappoint, but the lamb shank ($20 ) is braised to fall-off-the-bone tenderness with spices that enhance the flavor. It is finished with a thick coating of brilliant New Mexico red chili that is a flavor sensation. It's served with pinto beans, shredded lettuce, rice and a flour tortilla.
Three Color Pudding
6840 N. Academy Blvd., 592-1391
This is one of the few Vietnamese eateries in the region that doesn't pay homage to Saigon in its name. Don't be fooled, though. This is the place to have authentic French-infused Vietnamese dishes presented in a clean upscale space. The family-owned eatery features the predictable dishes of the homeland (noodle bowls, lettuce-wrapped egg rolls) but you'll find some other dishes with a twist on the traditional, such as the Lemongrass Three Amigos, a combination of chicken, beef and shrimp in a hot and spicy lemongrass sauce. Save room for a special dessert: Three Color Pudding ($4.50). It's a hard sell on paper. But once you taste this refreshing Vietnamese sweet you'll become a fan. Three colors refers to the cooked beans, which are layered with tapioca, Jell-O, fruit (longan, mango, durian, lychee or jackfruit), and coconut cream. The dessert is pure perfection at this popular Asian eatery.