Sunday, July 18, 2010

Café Bella Rosa

Café Bella Rosa
213 Sherman Ave., Coeur d’Alene
(208) 667-9640

"The New Age? It's just the old age stuck in a microwave oven for fifteen seconds." ~ James Randi

Our initiation into the world Café Bella Rosa was fraught with awkwardness. A recent newspaper article had left me with the impression that along with the vowel change, the new owners of the former Bella Rose were “spicing it up” with an array of menu items from south of the border. In other words, I was pretty much expecting a full-on Mexican restaurant, and had hyped it up as such to my lunch partner. We had chips-n-salsa, enchiladas, and chile rellenos on the brain, and our tummies were rumbling hungrily at the idea.

So when we sauntered in and were greeted by a sparse deli case housing a few sandwiches, pastries and packages of string cheese, we looked at each other with confusion in our eyes. Where was the Mexican part of this alleged Mexican eatery? “Albacore Tuna and Herb Mayo” read the placard in front of a pile of sandwiches. Not especially Mexican. “Cranberry Chutney and Turkey” read another. Definitely not Mexican. “Look, the bread is like a thick bun of some kind, maybe they’re Mexican sandwiches”, I theorized, grappling for an explanation. Not that they didn’t look good and tasty, they just weren’t quite what we had in mind. The only wall menu listed a variety of coffee drinks, but offered no further clues.

“A-ha, a breakfast burrito,” pointed out my friend, “maybe that’s as close as it gets.” Meanwhile, the counter girl had created another slightly awkward moment by making us wait to inquire about the apparent lack of options while she put together someone’s large order of fruit smoothies. She apologized kindly for the wait, but it still felt odd standing there tapping our toes for several long minutes, our heads full of questions and our appetites raging.

My friend pointed out a box of one-sheet menus on the wall, but looking it over didn’t help much to clarify things. It did broaden our options slightly to include a few salads and paninis, but still no Mexican, and there weren’t any prices printed anywhere. Not helpful at all.

Then I saw it, a special-of-the-day sign hiding in plain sight in front of us suggesting the idea of Mexican Sopes, two for six dollars. Bingo, a moment of clarity in the mental fog of decision. Having finally finished making the smoothies, our girl returned to answer my questions and take our order. She explained that they’re still basically in transition and are waiting the purchase of new kitchen equipment before they really ramp up the Mexican side of things. Meanwhile, owner and chef Alex Galindo will be featuring a different item every day as a kind of preview of what’s to come.

“Okay, I’ll take it,” I said pointing to the daily special. We found a table near the back of the spacious, provincially decorated room and while we waited for our lunches to arrive, we discussed the weirdness of Bella Rosa’s ceiling, which looks like a cross between a freshly-tilled patch of dirt and the surface of a distant uninhabited planet.

My food arrived five minutes before my partner’s did, and although the place isn’t really set up as a formal dining affair, the bad timing created more weirdness. Still, I’m rude and sort of mean, so I didn’t let the fact that my dear starving friend was as green with envy as salsa verde stop me from digging right in.

A "sope" is a traditional Mexican dish made with various toppings covering an “antojito”, which is like a thicker, smaller tortilla made with lime-soaked masa and gently fried. My plate came with two of these, topped with marinated chicken, tomatoes, avocados, onions, peppers, crema Mexicana, and a sprinkle of shredded cheese, along with a smear of beans that I can only describe as “creamy”. The sopes were remarkably tasty, a terrific marriage of flavors and the accompanying salad of fresh greens was a delight as well.

I had inhaled the majority of my lunch by the time my friend’s breakfast burrito arrived, and unfortunately he was not terribly impressed, saying that it tasted fair to middling, but that it suffered from being “killed to death in the microwave”. Hopefully, the microwave will go out of commission when the new kitchen gear arrives.

I couldn’t escape without nabbing a few cookies to go. The first was a bright pink Mexican sugar cookie, which was nice, but it paled next to the “Grandma Jarrow’s No-Bake Chocolate Oatmeal” specimen. It was the best no-bake cookie I’ve ever eaten, huge, richly chocolatey, and stuffed with chunks of real peanuts, making it number 425 on my list of cookies I can’t live without.

Café Bella Rosa seems to be in transition, and during former life as Bella Rose, I always heard great things about the sandwiches, soups, and salads. I can only assume that hasn’t changed a bit. After fully enjoying the one Mexican dish on offer that day, I am anxious to return for more once the transition is complete.


Anonymous said...

I'm lucky enough to work in their neighborhood and have experienced several of Alex's specials. Some of the best Mexican food I've ever eaten. Nicely balanced seasoning, homemade salad dressing, homemade salsa, and thankfully light on salt.

Valerie said...

I am hooked on Alex's breakfast burritos and caramel pecan sticky buns. In order to venture out a bit more I tried the grilled chicken panini and was amazed. I also blindly pointed to the bakery case and had a cream cheese/raspberry pastry that is now my newest guilty pleasure.