Holiday Cheer

By staff December 18, 2006



Dropping in at Bellagio was like visiting a great old friend.


By Judi Gallagher


There’s nothing like visiting old friends during the holidays. They’ll crack open a special bottle of wine and toast to your presence and the good fortune of shared tastes and memories. This weekend, feeling a little sorry for myself for having missed a visit to Houston with our granddaughter, Sophie Grace, due to an ear infection on my part that kept me grounded, I thought visiting an old friend might just do the trick—and it most certainly did, when I dropped in at Bellagio Ristorante, (941-330-1300).


At this Northern Italian gem, you’re a visitor only once, as each guest that walks in is instantly recognized and attended to by server extraordinaire, Antonio. And Dante, (chef owner since 2003) personally tries to come out of the kitchen to see you. During that visit, he’ll usually ask, as if you were sitting in his own kitchen, “What are you in the mood for tonight, my good friend?”


I told him I was in the mood for fresh fish. Soon the most incredible antipasta platter appeared, laced with house roasted and marinated peppers, fresh mozzarella and prosciutto, followed by a light and flavorful grouper adorned with delicate jumbo shrimp and fresh sautéed mussels in a light tomato wine sauce.


 Like the best restaurants in Florence, Italy, Bellagio Ristorante is a little off the beaten path, a few blocks south of Main Street at 322 S. Washington Blvd., with plenty of parking behind the building. Looking for a last-minute gift? Ask Antonio for one his beautiful, melancholy CDs. That and a gift certificate for another dinner at Bellagio might be one of the highlights of the gift-giving season. And while nothing can replace a weekend with our darling Sophie Grace, my night at Bellagio was a night with great old friends and great new flavors.


Speaking of gifts: Although I am not a chocolate lover, the peppermint hot chocolate at William Sonoma is scrumptious and perfect for last-minute housewarming gifts. While I pass on their marshmallows (much like tofu to me), I’m going to change my standard Christmas night dessert of bananas Foster to a cup of peppermint hot chocolate with an added splash of peppermint schnapps this year. Top it with homemade whipped cream and serve with a plate of assorted rugelach from Morton’s Market (, and Santa might be quite pleased with this treat in place of the usual warm milk and cookies.


What holiday dessert will your family enjoy this year? Please tell our blog readers about it by posting your comments below. And it’s your very last chance to enter your favorite holiday side dish recipe for a chance to win a $100 dinner at Bacco’s downtown. Post your recipe below (including your name and e-mail address) or send it to me at [email protected]


Happy Holidays to all. May your berry crisp be out of sight, and may all your meals be an inspired delight


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