Cafe Bella, 2593 N High St,. 267-1998

I've never done a restaurant review in this space and I'm not going to start. I don't want the responsibility of damaging a restaurant's chance of success in a brutally competitive business. I would like to offer my observations on a pleasant experience we had the other night at Cafe Bella on N. High. It's currently situated in the middle of Columbus' Big Dig. This city project is endangering a number of businesses from Lane to Arcadia.

We got there on a Tuesday night after Frankie's soccer practice. We were all pretty hungry and it smelled wonderful. Cafe Bella is a casual Italian diner. To me, Italian comes in two flavors. Authentic and Boston/American Style. The latter has lots of red sauces and lots of pasta and bread; what I grew up eating. I make this distinction cautiously and not to sound like a snob. The difference is regional and the regions are very far apart. I absolutely love any Italian cuisine. Cafe Bella is the American style, but a little lighter. The tomato sauce is nice and fresh, just lovely.

Our genial host (owner too?) pulled up a chair, chatted a while and told us what he had to offer. We decided on two pasta dishes, one with breaded eggplant and one with meatballs. The pasta was spaghetti and we all decided to serve them in one dish, family style. He had many other offerings and would've cooked us anything; his display case was filled with fruit and vegetables. To this point, the only difference between visiting Cafe Bella and going to my mother's is I didn't get a hug before sitting down. It was special. No menus, plates like we'd have at home, talking to another couple down a table, and everyone enjoying themselves.

Having taken our order, our host and chef zipped up quickly and purposefully to get to work on our dinner. Eating with a child is tricky. We'd all like to dine for hours and relax. However, if that relaxation extends beyond 6-7 minutes, we're considering the takeout containers, starting the "1 ... 2 ... ", you know. Fortunately, we were served with time to spare. A big plate of pasta topped with breaded, sliced eggplant and meatballs in tomato sauce.

As I mentioned earlier, I was in heaven with the tomato sauce (I just finished my leftovers yesterday - right out of the fridge - cold, yum). The eggplant was thinly sliced, not oily (baked?), flavorful with a tenacious coating of light crispy breading and oh, sooo, ... I'm salivating excessively. Hey, where's Frankie? NO whining. The meatballs could be seen atop her fork, one by one being eaten as excitedly as if each were a sucker. She's five. This was a big deal. She nibbled them dutifully until they were finished. I think she ate about 3% of her body weight in meatballs alone. Trish and I dispensed with the small talk and got busy. I rarely get pasta outside because it's often over or undercooked. I believe there is no absolute specification when it comes to cooking pasta. It's perfect when it tastes good. The spaghetti was cooked exactly as I would cook it. Not too hard or soft.

I left feeling so damn satisfied and happy. Not because the meal was perfect, it was awesome, but it wasn't the familiar feeling of leaving a restaurant. It was like we had visited a friend and had dinner. The staff gave of themselves for our comfort.

Note: There is parking in back and can be accessed by High St (by Shreiner's) or up an alley from Neil.