It’s been a banner first year for Bella Vino Wine Bar & Tapas in Old Town St. Charles. Not only has the restaurant's wine and tapas concept resonated deeply with visitors to the quaint historic district, but the owners have reshaped the upscale-casual establishment to offer customers more (and better versions) of what they want.

The menu focuses on a diverse wine selection and a tasty selection of small plates prepared by chefs Michelle Allender and Austin Hamblin. (Items such as the house-cured duck prosciutto flatbread, chorizo-stuffed dates and housemade fruit cobbler have become emblematic of the establishment.) Oenophiles can choose from 50 by the bottle and 25 by the glass.

Co-owners Ashley Morrison and Jackie Miller, who opened Bella Vino just after Thanksgiving 2013, began to shift their focus even more toward fresh, seasonal and housemade foods in 2014. Pastas, sausages, cured duck, desserts and many of their cheeses (such as ricotta and burrata) are now made in house, and they’re constantly introducing new weekly and monthly special menu items that make use of what’s local and seasonal.

“We realized that, while the flatbreads have been popular, we had been missing people who just wanted burgers or tacos,” Miller says. So they began rotating creative specials like beef-and-cheddar sliders and housemade nachos topped with everything from calamari to Philly chicken. (Look for information about specials on the Bella Vino Facebook page).

“Just the taste and quality is delicious,” says Miller. These rotating specials have yielded creative and tasty dishes such as lobster bisque, seared mahi mahi with cheese risotto, coffee-rubbed rib eye, Buffalo chicken flatbreads and local mushroom-stuffed ravioli, some of which have been incorporated onto the regular menu.

For the past year, Bella Vino has featured barbecue pit masters on Sundays, Wine-a-lot-Wednesdays and happy hour specials Tuesday through Friday. But most popular are the Tapas Tasting Thursdays, during which customers enjoy a three-course meal with wine pairings for each course. “It’s a really personal, up-close event that lets us get close with our customers and serve them personally,” says Miller. “And it lets customers interact with the chef and the wine purveyor, and let us know what they like.” As of January, the tapas events will move to the first Thursday of each month.

Miller and Morrison also have added a $10, all-you-can-eat, scratch-made Sunday brunch, complete with eggs to order (eggs Benedict is a top-seller), tons of toppings, housemade Bella sausage, housemade jams and more. “The homemade sausage gravy – it is to die for,” Miller says. “You really won’t stop eating that.”

Bella Vino will host a special four-course New Year’s Eve dinner featuring a choice of appetizer (vichyssoise with lobster and crispy potato, or baked brie with apricot jam and walnuts), salad (charred Caesar or red wine poached pear with arugula, blue cheese, cherry gastrique and pecans), entrée (fried oysters Rockefeller with asparagus; coffee-rubbed strip fillet with roasted root vegetables; or game hen with apple cider gravy, mashed potatoes and haricots verts) and dessert (kiwi lime custard with mango sorbet, or praline bacon with honey nugget and dark-chocolate ganache).

Bella Vino business hours are Tuesday-Thursday, 4:30 to 10pm; Friday-Saturday, 11am to 12am; Sunday, 9:30am to 9pm.

Bella Vino, 325 S. Main St., St. Charles, Missouri, 636.724.3434, bellavinowinebarstl.com



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