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Your Own Little Italy on the Destin Harbor

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As winter morphs into spring—and all that follows—there’s still time to try some of the many restaurants that crowd the HarborWalk area. The view is still great, the parking is still there for the taking, and the restaurant staffs are still delighted to see you.


With that in mind, my family and I ventured out on a recent chilly weeknight to Bella Sera Bistro. The restaurant occupies a ground floor, and through the windows you can see the warmly lit interior. The blue and white awning reads “Italian Restaurant,” and if that won’t pull you in on a hungry February night, you must have had a big lunch.


We were greeted on entry, and our hostess drew instant favor by telling my six-year-old daughter Grace (the Tiny Diner) that she looked like a princess. I agree, but my prejudice is ironclad, so I like hearing it from others. TD is polishing her restaurant manners, and these polite little exchanges go a long way. The hostess thoughtfully seated us at a table that offered TD and her working Daddy a perfect view of the dining room.


Bella Sera’s main dining room is rectangular, with tables neatly lining the walls and a line of seating down the middle. It’s simple and orderly. Floors are polished wood, one wall is lined with wine racks and bottles, and there’s a small bar with a few seats toward the back. The decor is likewise simple, symmetrical and calming. Co-owner David Seering has installed a mini-stage at the end opposite the bar, and the piano is not there just for display.


The menu offers appetizers, a list of pasta and pasta specialties, salads, fish and seafood, meat, and a separate menu of assorted house pizzas. In addition to a la carte, there’s an “Italian Family Style” option featuring a chef’s choice starter, two pastas, and a meat course. At $32.95 for two diners, it looks like a good deal.


We started with an order of fried ravioli, served with marinara. We got eight hot, crunchy pouches filled with creamy ricotta and herbs, and the tangy marinara nicely balanced the richness of the ravioli. Even TD, who is not quite as venturesome as I hope she will become, was tempted to try one, and enjoyed it thoroughly.


Other apps include meatballs, fried calamari, bruschetta, fried mozzarella sticks, mussels diavola (with spicy crushed tomato sauce), and shrimp al forno (baked with seasoned breadcrumbs). There’s an antipasto listed among the salads, and a daily soup.


The range of pasta dishes is wide, and you can go light or more substantial. My wife and I were hungry. I chose ravioli al aragosta (lobster) with vodka cream sauce. My wife ordered cappellini Toscana—pasta with shrimp, artichokes, capers, olives, mushrooms, roasted peppers, garlic and olive oil. TD played it safe, ordering the chicken strips. Oh well.


Mr. Seering took the stage, and moved smoothly through a mellow playlist that included songs made famous by Paul Anka, Neil Diamond, James Taylor and Jimmy Buffett. He livened the mood, sparked friendly conversation, and his cover of “Put Your Head on My Shoulder” went perfectly with the food.


The entrees came. Lobster ravioli is always risky for me—I have impossibly high expectations with lobster. Bella Sera delivered. The filling was generous—sweet and satisfying. The tomato tinged vodka cream sauce had exactly the right tangy balance, and the lumps of shrimp scattered on top did not bother me a bit either. My wife’s cappellini was picture-perfect, an expertly composed plate of food incorporating sweet (shrimp), smoky (roasted pepper), salty (olives, capers and artichokes), and meaty (mushrooms).


Other options include rigatoni with sausage, fettuccine Alfredo, linguine with meatballs, stuffed shells, meat or cheese ravioli, lasagna, linguine Bolognese, ravioli with kale and spinach, manicotti, linguine with mixed seafood, blackened salmon, baked sea bass, fried seafood, chicken parmesan, piccata, marsala or valdostana, mixed cacciatore pasta, filet mignon, or lamb chops alla Toscana.


The desserts offered that night were cheesecake, chocolate cake, tiramisu and cannoli. My wife declined dessert, so TD and I heeded Clemenza’s advice and took the cannoli. She’d never tried it and was full of questions, then full of cannoli. You get two, with dense creamy ricotta and chocolate chip filling. Just right, just enough.


“Bella Sera” means “beautiful evening,” and both kitchen and staff take that seriously. It’s a warm little enclave and an excellent choice for a family meal, or that much-needed romantic evening.


2 Harbor Blvd., Suite 200
HarborWalk Village, Destin
Hours: Open Mon.-Sat. at 5 p.m.
Reservations: Accepted
Children’s Menu: Yes
Dress: Casual
Here’s that “beautiful evening” you’ve been missing, with wine, lovingly prepared Italian food, music and whatever else the night may bring. Bella Sera offers a variety of traditional pasta, seafood, chicken and meat dishes, pizza, salads and house specialties. Ingredients are fresh, service is friendly, and Beachcomber Music Award winner David Seering is waiting to play for you. Wine and craft cocktails, $6-30.
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