The whole gaggle of Cookies were here this weekend, minus Father Cookie, so we decided to try a new restaurant per my boyfriend’s recommendation: Bella Regina in downtown Utica, NY. Sister Cookie, Mother Cookie, BIL Cookie, Ryan and I headed over there early Saturday evening to find abundant open tables, so I was taken aback when the host’s first question was if we had reservations. When I said no, he seemed agitated, and immediately went off to figure something out. Is it really possible every single table had been reserved already?
He came back and rambled about how we could have one table until 6 p.m., which was only an hour from then. In one respect, I understand having reservations made for a party later on, but you shouldn’t treat the walk-ins like a nuisance. I certainly didn’t feel welcomed.
We decided to stay and ordered an array of appetizers: Stuffed Hot Peppers, Eggplant Mezzlazana, and Rice Balls. But before any of that, we received these complimentary fried cracker-chip things with pure melted cheese and herbs for dipping in. That right away was amazing, with tons of garlicky gooey goodness. But man, do I wish they gave you more.
I tried some garlic bread that came with the hot peppers, which was yummy, but the real star was their marinara sauce. That was exceptional: bright, tangy, fresh, and a bit sweet.
Next came the rice balls, which rivaled the size of my head. Their thick, crispy, well-seasoned breading gave way to oodles of pure cheese, tender rice, and more garlic. I only needed half of one to feel satisfied.
Then they brought out that ring of fried eggplant smothered in cheese and more of that wonderful marinara. The eggplant was sliced paper thin, making it incredibly tender. The breading was again well-seasoned and so crisp. Given how amazing this was, I think I would order their Eggplant Parmesan for my meal instead the next time I go.
Everybody at the table ordered a variation of riggies for their dinners, which – if you’re not from around here – are a Utica specialty. It’s typically rigatoni pasta (hence “riggies”) with a creamy, thick tomato sauce. Many places add chicken or meat and peppers.
I ordered plain riggies with no meat, and I was the only one at the table whom the waitress didn’t ask what kind of peppers I wanted (hot/sweet/mixed), which I didn’t realize until it was too late. My riggies were unfortunately WAY too hot for my pathetic heat tolerance level. That was disappointing because the sauce had great thick, creamy texture otherwise, but I was in too much pain to enjoy them. I also found the pasta undercooked instead of al dente.
Everyone else loved and raved about their riggies. Sister Cookie opted for just a tiny bit of kick with meatballs mixed in; BIL Cookie got spicy steak riggies that even he, the connoisseur of spice, found to have some heat; Mother Cookie got chicken riggies, and Ry got steak riggies.
Later, the host told us he found another table for the reservations they had been planning on kicking us out for (gee, thanks!). They did not offer us dessert; they made it clear they were ready to shoo us out and pass on the table. I think if I went back, it’d be for the quality of the delicious food, and I’d opt for their take-out because I can’t get past that rude service. I get it – you have to make money and get a lot of customers in. But if you make them feel unwelcomed, they won’t come back again. I want to relax when I eat, not get shooed in and out after you managed to scrounge up a table for me.
Overall: wonderful food, bad host.