Venue Review: Bellini's
Bellini's building in the center of downtown Lexington is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Its tile floor, with rich deep blues, and pressed metal ceiling are magnificent. As a restaurant, it projects fine dining, from long-stemmed roses to pristine white tablecloths to the opulent carved wood bar. (There is also a separate bar next door.) Only interested parties might notice the door's chipped paint, the theatrical drapes, the unsightly red runner and myriad other touches that seem less fine.
It's true that much is asked of upscale spots, especially in recessive times. After all, wonderful food doesn't require a lovely atmosphere, indulgent service or the elusive magic of je ne sais quoi. But those extras go from optional to essential as the tab edges upward.
The question of value is highly subjective, but here's what I know from a recent meal at Bellini's.
A welcome start was the lovely bread from neighboring Sunrise Bakery, served with good green olive oil, heavily splashed with balsamic vinegar, for dipping.
Then came two cheesy grilled portobellos ($10). They were pleasant and great for vegetarians, but the bread crumbs were charred and again, there was far too much balsamic on the plate.
Bellini's caesar (included with pastas, or $6 a la carte) was almost perfect, certainly the best I've tasted in Lexington: a cold plate for crisp, cold, perfectly bite-size pieces of Romaine and the ideal whisper of anchovies in the delicately creamy dressing. Someone had forgotten to rub the bland croutons with garlic, but even so this was a great salad — and reasonably priced.
Tonno fresco ($33) — two small pieces of sashimi grade tuna — with a delicious, fritter-like potato crust got zest from a drizzle of lemony aioli. It arrived medium rare, thus a little dry around the edges. A side of cauliflower risotto was gummy and skimpy on the cauliflower, but the big handful of haricots verts, lightly al dente and emerald green, sparkled.
A mountain of tagliatelle Bolognese ($25), fettucine's wider cousin (yes, I am a pasta nerd), was light, homemade and outstanding. I loved it in spite of the high price point. The "Bolognese" perfectly balanced sausage and ground beef but was really a meat sauce with fresh chunks of tomatoes rather than a rich, long-simmered ragù in which every ingredient melts together over time.
Finally, dessert was a slice of almond tart ($8), a fluffy filling of almond paste encased in a short, tough crust; a little pool of peach purée and crème anglaise were accompaniments.
Bellini's is a high-end restaurant whose high points are really high. It needs only to concentrate on details, both of décor and cuisine, to get another star. While this might sound overly exacting, in today's tense economy the critic has an increased responsibility to emphasize the relationship between experience and cost.
Dinner for two, including a glass of Volpi Barbara d'Asti ($8) and of Placido pinot grigio ($8), was about $105, including tax but not tip.