I live quite close to Casa Bella, and ate there for the first (and only) time a couple of years back. I found the food to be even less than mediocre. My steak au poivre smelled EXACTLY like beef & broccolli from cheap chinese delivery. That being said, the service was some of the best I've ever encountered in SoFl. Everyone was so attentive, and just plain nice, I very well might go back for a second chance.
I agree that the restaurant is charming, but also agree that the food is just okay. The owners used to own Pasta Nosh on Biscayne Blvd. in North Miami years ago. I'm sure that there are some dishes that are better than others, but there are many more choices of places with way better food.
It's our all time favorite restaurant. My wife discovered it driving home from school in 2000. She thought it looked interesting so one night we decided to try it out. We've returned dozens of times. It's a charming place, as indicated in another post--an old cracker house, kitchily (is that a word?) decorated in a sort of Victorian, recycle store style. But the food, oh, my!
First the service, which is top notch. Much of the staff has been there quite a while, and they really know what they're doing. If you're only used to chains or "restaurants-around-a-mall", where the goal is butts-in-seats/hour, you may at first think you've been put on ignore. But early on, Larry, one of the owners, explained to us that their philosophy is to let the diner spend as much time as they wish at Casa Bella. If you want a fast meal, they'll help you, but the default is a leisurely pace. But you won't be forgotten, and you definitely won't be rushed.
Okay, the food. If the garlic bread (baked to order) isn't the best you've ever had, send me the bill (and the left overs). Although I've found several top notch entrees over the years, I find myself falling back on the veal marsala most often. None of my choices has ever failed to disappoint, however. Any of the veal dishes, the steak Diane, or various fish entrees have always been first rate. My wife declares the roast duck a l'orange to be the best she's had anywhere, and it has long since been the only thing she orders at Casa Bella.
Teddy, the other owner, does a lot of offshore fishing during his off hours, and often the daily fish special is something he caught. And for those dishes using a breading (veal parmagiana, for example), it's made from the leftover garlic rolls from the previous day. It's unbelievable.
They have several of the usual suspects on the dessert menu, but I found and have latched onto the chocolate cake. Let me know when you find a better one.
They also have an upstairs dining area suitable for parties of 25 or more (and it's often used for regular dining, too), so a group outing is possible as well. In 2002, we celebrated a significant birthday of my wife (which I'm not permitted to specify) with a surprise party at Casa Bella, and our friends and family still talk about it. It was a wonderful, wonderful experience.
I'm sorry to sound like a restaurant reviewer, but I can't believe anyone could rate the place as "mediocre" when our experience has consistently been anything but. Okay, it's not cheap. But you won't be disappointed if our experience is any indicator.
By the way, it's not like we've never eaten at top restaurants--we've dined at Morton's in Boca Raton, Houston's in North Miami, Shula's in Ft. Lauderdale, the 95th in Chicago, Lawry's in Chicago, The Berghoff in Chicago (and the Brauhaus, the better, though lesser known of the two), and other well regarded joints, and we think Casa Bella is the equal of any of them.