This is my third review of Bella Brava. Not many restaurants can claim that dubious honor, and maybe it speaks highly of this restaurant's attempts to adapt to changes in chef, changes in focus and, now, a change in venue. In the six years that Bella Brava has been open, much has changed and much has stayed the same.
This time, however, they may have nailed it.
For instance, the restaurant's new space on Beach Drive manages to keep the vibe of the original location while saving none of Bella Brava's previous look. Instead of a cavernous modern space that made good use of high ceilings and long sight lines, the new Bella Brava is positively cozy, divided into multiple rooms that feel connected and separated at the same time. Instead of chrome and black, there are glass tiles and rich earthy tones. It's gorgeous, although the modern design does come with a few problems.
Bella Brava's front door leads right into the bar, which during the first couple of weeks has been consistently packed. It's like stepping into a sonic wall; voices batted around and amplified by the floor, the chalkboard walls in the back, the windows on the side. It makes conversation difficult, but not impossible, and as everyone starts raising their voices to be heard the noise level builds like a feedback loop. Loud, sure, but it's also impressive, active and lively. A downtown scene.
There's a small dining room off the bar but it seems like the disregarded stepchild of the restaurant. Better rooms lie in the back, accented by artistically irregular brick walls and moody prints. It's quieter back there, but still loud enough to envelop you in a comforting blanket of sound that somehow makes the divided space feel part of a whole.
Bella Brava's menu is a sign of the restaurant's growth and reflects an understanding of its role in the community. When the restaurant first opened, it served modern but distinctly Italian fare that had some rustic edges, cooked by a serious Italian chef. That changed a bit a couple years on, becoming slicker and less rustic, less Italian, then reverted a bit when the restaurant became one of the half-dozen former employers of chef Domenica Macchia.