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Bella's in Atlantic Highlands

I wonder why this little gem of a place isn't swarmed every night. Last night, I had marrow bones for an appetizer, served with a little pile of cornichon, along with chopped egg white, fresh parsley and some capers. It was absolutely scrumptious. Then, a perfectly broiled piece of salmon with a tangle of zucchini and yellow squash on top of a potato fritter. Really terrific.

Every time I go there, it's a pleasure, and I'm there at least once a week. Clearly, this is a self-serving post, because I would hate to see it close. The food is solid, fresh and wonderful.

Any thoughts from fellow chowhounds?

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  1. Radiogrl1
    There are a bunch of postings from 2006 RE: Bella's on First Ave in Atlantic Highlands NJ. I'm sending you the thread or you can put Bella's in the search bar at the top.
    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/188062
    It's interesting. Seems that CH'ers either had very good or very bad experiences.
    Uneven food/service is probably why the place is still open but not flourishing.
    Next time I'm in the area I plan to dine there.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Tay

      Add me to the very bad list. See my post in the previously mentioned thread.

      1. re: bgut1

        I am absolutely in love with this restaurant. It has its downfalls, but when it is good it is great. My favorite is sunday brunch. My significant other and I always start brunch there with a bottle of their Astoria persecco and ask for oj on the side to make our own mimosas. The persecco adds a moussey texture and an elegance that is not seen with their house poured sparkler. Most times I have the chef prepare whatever he desires, which is in my opinoin the best way to dine because you see how a chef meets your challenge. Sebastian's preparations are always superb, I can't say the same for his assistant Paco who runs the kitchen when Sebastian is on leave. Do try the seared scallops with potato pancake, I usually supplement this dish with poached eggs because what better sauce is there than egg yolk?

        1. re: grandpoobah

          granpoobah - I am truly happy that you enjoy this restaurant. All I can say is the one time I dined there it was horrible and I vowed never to return nor recommend the establishment to friends. To me if a restaurant has "downfalls" such inconsistency is enough to keep from being a patron. Good Luck.

          1. re: grandpoobah

            grandpoobah,

            I've never been to Bella's, and if what you say is true about the difference in the quality of the cuisine depending on which chef is in charge of the kitchen, I will never try it. Like bgut, I abhor inconsistency in the quality of a restaurant's cuisine. More to the point, the fact that the owner is willing to allow a much poorer chef to take over when the executive chef is away says to me that the owner does not truly care about providing patrons with the best meal possible *at all times*! Ergo, I'll be spending my dollars elsewhere.

            Edited to add: I should also have said that I value the opinion of my pal, bgut, and since he had such an awful experience there (I guess Paco was on duty that night?), that would be enough to convince me not to go there.

            1. re: grandpoobah

              poobah...I couldn't agree with you more. In fact, I could be sitting right there next to you on any given Sunday morning. Add some peach schnapps to the mimosa mix and it goes to a new level. The scallops and potato pancake are a thing of beauty. This place is also a must-do for dinner. The specials have merit of their own, but the braised short ribs on the regular menu are like a big bear hug in your mouth. The presentation is simple and kicks the Fromagerie version's butt.

        2. My wife and I stopped by this place in November to have a drink and sampling at the raw bar. We were so impressed that we ordered a Christmas Eve platter which was a huge hit with family.

          1. I have seen this place get bad press, anyway I will do brunch there in the morning around 11ish I hope for the best. After a busy busy night last night I am looking for a nice hearty brunch that is so big that I need to take a nap afterwards. Wish me luck!

            2 Replies
            1. re: chris the bartender

              Hey Chris - I'm interested to know what you think. Good Luck.

              1. re: bgut1

                Well I had a slight hangover from the night previous so I was in dire need of large quantities of meat and bread. I had the breakfast burger for brunch, it was very good. Sauteed mushrooms cheddar cheese smoked bacon lettuce onion tomato and an egg on top. It was more than filling, enormous actually, and I required a nap almost immediately after. Sunday food coma, one of my favorite past times. My girlfriend had the Challah french toast. It was well, french toast with fresh fruit and challah bread. While it was good it was anything to rave about, anyone could have done just the same with very little effort.
                Service was slow, but not horrible. I had a drink almost immediately when I came in, but the refill required a short wait.
                All in all I would say the experience was good and that I would go back again. I didn't find it as amazing as grandpoobah or as radiogrl, but it was certainly worth the $36 before tip for brunch.

                Though next week I might do the fromage for brunch again, they do a great spread, 3 course for around 30 bucks.

            2. Last night I hosted a wine dinner at Bellas. The wines were all Washington state reds and the food was all chef Sebastian's choice. We started the night with a duck and onion soup that was outrageous. The next course was escargot with red pepper and soft polenta, the red pepper really complimented the meritage blends and the polenta had a great soothing effect. The third course was Ostrich and scallops, the ostrich was tender and delicious and the scallops that they prepare are simple salt and pepper but perfect. The fourth course was a rack of lamb with carmelized salsify and brussel sprout leaves, great combination all around, truly fantasstic. The dessert was marscapone cheese with fresh berries and a truffle honey, splendid with the scheurebe. The food was amazing, unfortunately the wine was horrendous. I am embarassed to say that not a single wine that we brought showed well. We did get to try some 06 burgundy barrel samples which completely redeemed the evening, Thank God! Next time I will be sure to do a better variety of wines and will certainly have Bellas do another dinner for me. Cheers all!