Quite a while ago, I came across a Fall River Herald News article online about a new restaurant opening in Fall River. The city already has a well-travelled reputation for having a large Portuguese community and great restaurants serving popular Portuguese cuisine. There are also many bakeries and grocery stores that have been serving the community for years, and some for decades.
So, adding to this mix of well-established restaurants are newer ones like Bella. Located in the beatutiful, red brick building across the street from city hall, on the corner of Main Street and , this small and cozy restaurant offers diners the chance to experience Portuguese food prepared with attention to tradition and to flavor.
It was a Saturday night when drove down Main Street in Fall River and took a short right at City Hall. Gladly, there is plenty of on-street and off-street parking on what is generally a busy area on week days. Walking in, the nicely appointed restaurant looks so perfect at its located that you'd imagine they've been there forever. It was a quiet night, so we were free to choose any table - and sat by the window. Looking at through the menu, I found many of my favorite dishes. The menu is not over long and we could quickly make our selection.
Amêijoas à Açoreana
In the list of appetizers we found Amêijoas à Acoreana, [Little necks in garlic and wine sauce] which I agreed to share, reluctantly. The description read like Amêijoas à Bulhão Pato with the addition of chouriço. I generally find this dish dissappointing because I usually find the quality of the broth a bit weak in flavor, and I often find the ingredients haven't cooked and unified enough. HOWEVER, Bella takes this classic to a much higher level. The flavors are strong and well-balanced, like the broth had been brewing for hours. The added chouriço added another layer of flavor and spice. Before I knew it, I had gone through three small loaves of bread, tearing pieces off and dunking them into the broth to savor as much as I could before the waitress took the pot away. The clams themselves were equally great. There were plenty for two people to share. They were mid-sized clams, and they were fresh and juicy. In each clam shell sat plumb, juicy meat that offered a sweet and salty flavor that could only come from very fresh seafood.
Stuffed Chicken Breast and Mariscada
I sipped from my glass of the house red wine, while we waited for our entrées; stuffed chicken breast for my friend and what I was hoping would be a star selection- mariscada (fish stew). The waitress came to the table delivering to me a large stemming pot of mariscada. It contained all the usual players, clams, mussels, shrimp, calamari and peppers in a tomato-based broth. The rising aromas were great and I served myself with anticipation. The was clearly enough for two, and with the addition of rice in the broth, the meal was quite hearty. The broth was great, with just enough of the seafood flavor penetrating it and mixing with the green pepper. Many places tend to load up similar dishes, be it in Italian, Portuguese or French restaurants, with lots of calamari. I suspect that calamari is cheap. But I don't want to eat that much calamari. Bella's mariscada is a nice balance of broth, seafood and rice. If there was one shortcoming, it would be that the mussels were OK. I've recently had fat, juicy mussels and I was hoping these would be, too. There weren't bad, though.
Looking across the table to my friends completely wiped-clean plate, I knew I didn't have to ask how it was. Is there a better indication than that? Later, I had some coffee and then the check came. It cannot be said enough the bargain that Portuguese restaurants in general offer. Considering the quality of the food and the comfort of the diner room, Bella easily finds a stop on the top of my personal list of great values. With most entrees in the $10-14 range, the menu is packed with value. I'm looking forward to coming back some day for lunch and trying one of the sandwiches, only $6.<>Hearing about a new Portuguese restaurant in Fall River is good news, but better news is to find out how great it is. I like to think about Portuguese restaurants and food as Fall River's main export. It is wonderful to see that there is local support for all the restaurants that have been there for years, but clearly, there has been growing support from outside the city — from Fall River's "ex-patriots" and from new fans of the food who make the special trip from various parts of southern New England just for lunch and dinner. Bella is a great representative of the city and of the rich culinary tradition of the local Portuguese community.