Bellini: Welcome in Weston

The recently opened Bellini Italian Bistro is a nice fit for the restaurant scene in Weston, with polished Italian fare, affordable prices and conservative decor.

Splashes of crimson and homey stonework line the walls, and a long bar with swinging stools runs the length of the rectangular, 66-seat restaurant. Outside are two small, low tables, each with two sets of wooden benches ideal for wine-drinking on cool days.

The menu is more expansive than that of the original Bellini on South Beach. This allows you to go casual and less pricey with sandwiches, pizzas and pastas, while still being able to treat yourself to a nice New York strip, sea bass or lamb shank.


Photos and review of country star Brad Paisley playing the Cruzan

The service, however, needs improvement. We were left sitting at our table for a while on a slow night and were asked what we wanted without any explanation of the menu nor much in the way of a warm welcome. That said, once the meal began, the staff swapped out our silverware, small plates and drinks like clockwork, keeping the pace of the meal steady but not rushed.

Appetizers are a delight here, beginning with a wonderful pair of meatballs ($7) in a pool of salty red sauce rich with oregano and paired with a dollop of ricotta. Fried calamari ($8) has a spot-on, crunchy exterior and light seasoning, served with red and tartar sauces. Many of the dishes here are on the lighter side when it comes to seasoning.

A trio of bruschettas ($7) sounded more impressive than it was: a traditional tomato and basil, wild mushroom with Parmesan and artichoke with fontina cheese. I'd advise you to forgo the three varieties and instead get three of the mushroom and shaved Parmesan, which was rich with the intense flavor of the fresh cheese.

The missus has a soft spot for white pizza, so she practically squealed with delight at the eight varieties of white pizza offered at Bellini, including variations with carpaccio, prosciutto and figs. Call us boring, but we went for a caprese white pizza ($13), a light and mild pie. More exciting was the "rustica" pizza with tomato sauce ($15), with slices of succulent Italian sausage, as well as red and yellow peppers roasted perfectly to tease out their sweetness. The crust has a nice singe without a strong coal or wood flavor.

The entrees were mostly standouts, beginning with the stinco di agnello ($24), a decadent braised lamb shank, gloriously tender and flavored with a rich, bold sauce. If that doesn't get you going, then perhaps the bed of cheesy risotto "Milanese" on which the whole thing sits will entice you.

Being suckers for risotto, we sampled the mushroom risotto ($14), accented with bits of tomato and parsley. It could have used more cheese, and the rice was undercooked.

On the other hand, four-cheese gnocchi ($13) was spot on, with a sauce made of ricotta, Gorgonzola, fontina and Parmesan, which combined for a delicate and very different experience than the uber-rich, creamy sauces we typically encounter. If you're a fan of ricotta, you are going to love Bellini's take on this dish.

Veal scallopine al gorgonzola ($18) is another excellent choice, featuring another bold sauce punctuated with generous amounts of sun-dried tomatoes and, not to be overlooked, some of the most delicious roast potato wedges we've ever had.

Growing up on Cuban desserts, I'm a sucker for custard, so it was a treat to find an outstanding crema Catalana ($5, creme brulee's fraternal twin), rich with vanilla, perfectly sweet and featuring an on-target, smooth texture. The panna cotta ($5) was also delicious, with its delicate, light sweetness, though the caramel sauce tasted a bit burnt. The "chocolatissimo" ($7), a chocolate bombe with vanilla ice cream, has a semisweet exterior with a bready texture, though the gooey interior is loaded with rich chocolate.

Bellini is a worthy addition to Weston's restaurant scene, offering delicious dishes at solid value, as well as a broad Italian menu. If the restaurant can adopt more memorable touches and better service, it should be well visited by its neighbors.

2780 Weston Road, Weston

954-306-0781, BelliniItalianBistro.com/weston.html

Cuisine: Italian

Cost: Moderate-expensive

Reservations: Recommended

Bar: Full bar

Sound level: Quiet-moderate

For kids: Highchairs, kids menu

Wheelchair accessible: Yes