This week, Monica and I joined a couple of friends for dinner at Bela Lisboa at 417 Frazier Ave. on the North Shore. Gabby Blades and Matt Skudlarek (“Matty Sku” on Hits 96) invited us out to try an authentic taste of Portugal and Mediterranean cuisine at the relatively new restaurant.
The restaurant opened in May. Owner Joe Vagos has owned restaurants in Portugal and Romania. He’s also worked on cruise ships and was the manager at Olive Garden for five years. The new restaurant combines that experience into a single concept.
A visit to Bela Lisboa has been a long time coming for us. It’s one of those places I kept hearing about (both positive and lukewarm accounts), and I’m glad we finally had the chance to cross it off the list. Gabby and Matt were hilarious dining companions. I recommend them both for your next party or dining out adventure.
Parking is nonexistent directly in front of the building. You can park in the back, in the garage or (as we did) on the street next to the building. I imagined we’d be in the former Marco’s building, but I was incorrect. Bela Lisboa is a much smaller restaurant.
Matt and Gabby were already there when we arrived. We sat at a four-top near the door. The restaurant was relatively empty at 6:30 p.m. on a Wednesday. Nobody was at the bar, and only a few couples were dining inside. Noah, our server, took our drink orders.
One person on Facebook said the restaurant reminded them of a West Elm store. The atmosphere is somewhere between casual and fancy. Moderate? Gabby called it “cozy and romantic.” The right part of the restaurant is lined with enormous bookshelves, and the walls are covered in wood paneling wallpaper. It looks like a real barn. We were almost fooled by it because it looks so realistic, but it’s definitely wallpaper when you touch it. I didn’t even know you could do that. It’s like a Magic Eye for the hands.
The bar was empty, yet very clean and comfortable. Noah and his trainee were the only servers for the entire restaurant. It was fine because Noah knew the somewhat-confusing menu like another example of the clichéd “back of his hand” metaphor I would’ve used here.
The ladies had some sort of red wine, and Matt and I each enjoyed a local beer. He had a Hutton & Smith IPA, and I enjoyed a Chattanooga Brewing Co. Chickbock (one of my favorite local beers).
At Bela Lisboa, the menu is large and intimidating. There are skewers of meats and veggies, caldrons of paella, and dishes served “on the stone,” meaning you cook the meat and veggies to your preferred doneness on a hot stone. Fun!
To start, we ordered a few appetizers. Monica and Gabby wanted to try the mussels with marinara, and Matt and I ordered the “piri piri.” The shrimp were underseasoned, but the mussels were great. Thankfully, they were served with bread medallions to sop up all the delicious sauce.
We each ordered something different for dinner. Monica had the salmon with fig sauce. I ordered the surf and turf (on the stone). Matt had the fettuccine alfredo, and Gabby ordered the impressively large seafood paella. Our plates arrived in just a few minutes.
Gabby’s paella was served in a hot pot. My stone was sizzling with shrimp and steak. I’m a fine meat cook at home, but I had to watch the steak to make sure I didn’t overheat it. The shrimp were ready in a few minutes. Matt’s fettuccine was exactly what he expected it to be, which was a simple dish not unlike Olive Garden’s, albeit far more expensive at almost $17.
Monica’s salmon was cooked well, and the fig sauce was heavenly. It had the consistency of apple butter. Gabby said her paella was “a little spicy in a good way” and that the rice was cooked properly.
Would we go back?
I think all of us enjoyed our meals. The atmosphere is perfect for a romantic date night. However, I wasn’t that impressed with anything we tried. All the dishes were prepared well, but it seemed they were playing it safe to appeal to a demographic not used to spicy, flavorful cuisine. I expected more oomph to the flavors and was a tad disappointed. I definitely think Bela Lisboa is a place you should try for yourself.
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