To be truly ravishing, a menu must use ingredients in seductive ways, coax us to try new dishes and make it nearly impossible to decide what to order. The menu at Bella Città Mediterranean is alluring by any measure. When the restaurant opened last spring, its menu was crafted by owner Chris Heisler and executive chef Paul Hayes. They cast the requisite headliners: lobster claws, buffalo mozzarella, aged balsamic vinegar, Certified Angus Beef, jumbo North Atlantic shrimp and the like. But they also offered starring roles to ingredients that usually play bit parts -- frog legs, dates, mandarin oranges and monkfish, a homely species that looks like Lyle Lovett with Steven Tyler's lips. Onstage together, combined with Hayes' signature boozy sauces, these prima donnas and understudies gave a smashing performance.
But then Hayes moved on, citing that wearisome catch-all excuse, "creative differences." Dominic Scotino, a graduate of the St. Louis Community College-Forest Park culinary program, and owner Heisler are now in charge of the kitchen. At age twenty-one, Scotino is the youngest executive chef in St. Louis.
Bella Città's summer menu, which was introduced shortly before Hayes resigned, showed subtle but alarming signs of being drawn in by the Hill's forceful gravitational pull. Yet with such glorious offerings as Muscovy duck with preserved lemon, currants and couscous; Spanish-style bouillabaisse; and pheasant with sultanas, pine nuts and lentils, the restaurant still revolves in its own orbit.