Old World Italy in the American Desert
Updated: Aug 22, 2019
A Secret Meant to be Shared
Near the outskirts of town and adjacent to Sedona Pines Resort, one will find a charming and delicious dining gem. Surrounded by towering Italian cypress trees and sweeping views of the red rocks, Bella Vita Ristorante is a favorite among locals. How could it not be? Bella Vita, in Italian, means “the good life,” and residents of this picturesque mountain town, including owner Dan Cohen, definitely possess a ‘life is good’ attitude.
Born and raised in Superior, Wisconsin, Dan Cohen has always maintained a solid, hard-working, entrepreneurial attitude. Having had occupations in home building/construction, and in the automotive and restaurant industries, Dan has worn many hats. However, the restaurant business was where his passion lay. Prior to coming to Sedona in 2001, Dan was the owner of five dining establishments in Superior, Wisconsin, and Duluth, Minnesota. There was one Italian restaurant, two Zona Rosa Mexican restaurants, one restaurant for the white tablecloth, fine-dining experience, and a coffee house.
“After some time, I sold some, the family kept some, but they’re all gone now,” Dan shares as we discuss his heady business ventures. When asked about Sedona, Dan says,
“Well, my parents came out to live and retire in Sun City. I used to come out and visit them and one day made my way to Sedona. It was beautiful. I ended up accidentally buying a house one trip and so, I moved.”
Uncertain as to how someone “accidentally” purchases a house, further details were, indeed, required. Dan explained that there was a man, presumably wealthy as the gentleman and his wife owned four properties and had an oil business in Alaska. The wife wanted only one home in Arizona, in Anthem. She advised her husband to sell all four
properties at, as Dan says, “whatever price [she] didn’t care how much.” So, the husband took heed and Dan, offering a low, low-ball price, bid on one of the homes. The seller accepted.
Dan, now laughing, recalls, “I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe he accepted my offer. I mean, it was a really low offer.” He continued, “I wasn’t expecting to buy a house. It was sort of an accident.”
The Chaîne des Rôtisseurs Restaurant that emerged in the fall of 2014 was no accident. With Bella Vita Ristorante, Dan continues his life-long love affair and passion for the business.
Step through the archway and onto the spacious courtyard. Draped with spider lighting, a non-smoking, pet-friendly courtyard awaits you, with soothing water fountains, shaded umbrella tables for daytime dining and fire torches when dining under Sedona’s starry night sky. Gather around the breathtaking fire-table. This outdoor favorite hosts 18 for family gatherings and special occasions; and for private events, the patio will accommodate 90 to 100 guests. Relax and enjoy the live music in the spring and summer months with well-known favorites like Dan Vega and Anthony Mazzella, among many others. Bella Vita boasts a lovely, ambient atmosphere, inside and out.
Through its doors one encounters a fine dining experience with an informal, casual feel. The rustic, old-world Italian charm, featuring Italian paintings displayed throughout the space, offers a cozy and romantic atmosphere. The dining rooms within—appropriately named the Red Room and Gold Room—display low-lit chandeliers, wrought iron décor, and back-lit windows. The Gold Room opens to the bar that, on Friday and Saturday evenings in the fall and winter months, showcases some of the best musicians in the area playing jazz, Motown, 50s-60s, and easy-listening music.
But a dining experience is not made by décor alone. At Bella Vita the cuisine is exceptional; and Dan most assuredly keeps his standards high. All the entrates, or entrees, are cooked to order and are an inspiration to even the most refined palates; the pastas, sauces, soups, and dressings are all made in-house. Perhaps this is the reason that Bella Vita is consistently rated 4.5 stars and has been named by travelers the #1 Italian restaurant in Sedona on Trip Advisor. Dan, with Head Chef Jedidiah Jones, creates a diverse menu and amazing specials that offer great value to guests.
Every evening, and changing with the seasons, Bella Vita offers menu specialties. Sunday through Thursday, from 5pm-6pm, there are Early Bird Specials with five authentic Italian entrees. Couples Night, every Tuesday, provides a choice of two pastas, two salads, and two glasses of wine. Wednesdays are Endless Pasta Bowl nights with homemade spaghetti and meatballs, a fresh Italian salad, and focaccia bread. The restaurant highlights seafood specials on Friday and Saturday evenings. From 5pm-6pm daily, cocktails and appetizers are discounted for happy hour, and Friday through Sunday, the bar stays open until 9:30 or 10:00pm featuring live music. And if you’re dining with little ones, worry not; Bella Vita offers a nice selection of options on its children’s menu.
Wrap up your dining experience with something from the Bevande Della Casa, or house drink, menu. A frothy cappuccino or Italian cream soda may be what you crave. Shane, the talented bartender, serves specialty cocktails, fine wines, beer, and after-dinner drinks. From Italy, Napa Valley, Oregon, and Arizona, Bella Vita offers an extensive and diverse wine selection. Be sure to, “Leave room for the dolci”—delicious desserts like the banana or peach foster flambé, tiramisu, crème brûlée, or the gluten free lava cake with a melted, dark chocolate center, are sure to entice one’s sinfully sweet side.
Whether you’re seeking a serene, romantic dinner with your beloved, a fun-filled, cocktail-enhanced music night with friends, or a delectable dinner with the family, Bella Vita has it all. And while Sedona may have an abundance of Italian eateries, Bella Vita Ristorante may be one of her best kept secrets. Well, not anymore. ES
Story written by Patti Polinard & Kimberly Shilkaitis | Photos by Mark Short
For more information, visit bellavitasedona.com