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As a little boy growing up in Chicago, Robert Marani often would go to the corner grocery store or butcher shop to get a bella bistecca for his mother, Lilliana, so she could cook their family’s dinner. La Bella Bistecca, which means “The Beautiful Steak” in Italian, is the childhood/heritage-inspired name Marani has given his latest restaurant venture in Forest Park.

The recently opened La Bella Bistecca, a reinvention of the space occupied by La Piazza, focuses on Creole Italian steak and seafood cuisine. Marani said the early response has been positive.

“Everybody that’s walked through our door so far has nothing but praise about the food, the warmth and the service at La Bella Bistecca,” Marani said. “People can come in here, forget about what’s going on outside, sit back and enjoy the ride. We want our house to be your house.”

 “I think Creole and Italian food is the best combination since Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio,” Marani said. “I’ve been to Italy 18 times and grew up in an Italian kitchen and ever since my first visit to Irene’s in New Orleans, I fell in love with New Orleans’ food also. I think the two finest dining experiences you can have are Italian and New Orleans Creole style.”

  With New Orleans native and friend Chris Jones on board as chef, the two friends have designed a menu full of traditional, classic Creole Italian fare including shrimp remoulade, oysters bordelaise, shrimp bisque and Creole caeser bundle. The selection of six oyster dishes, as well as salads and appetizers generally are in $6 to $10 price range, while entrees are listed between $22 and $28.

“Every dish on the menu is basically something you’ll find in New Orleans,” Jones said. “I knew a little old black lady, Miss M, in New Orleans who worked at the Bon Ton restaurant for 38 years. She taught me the most important lesson about cooking when she said, ‘It’s all in the in spoon, baby.’ That’s the secret of Louisiana cooking, make the food with love and it will carry over to the people eating the food.”

  La Bella Bistecca’s menu also features a variety of other dishes like grilled fish, rissotto jambalaya, pan broiled garlic chicken.

“We have tableside martinis and we immediately serve a complementary antipasto,” said Marani. “We make you feel comfortable, and you’re eating and drinking within five minutes before you even look at a menu.”

Marani also plans to open Whole Cellars wine store (in the adjacent room) this weekend. Whole Cellars, co-owned with Mark Soljacek, is a specialty wine and spirits outlet discount shop. A wine bar is also slated to debut soon.

 Laurie Kokenes, executive director of the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce and Development, believes La Bella Bistecca should fit right in with the popular dining area.

“Forest Park was named, ‘Best in Neighborhood Dining’ by voters in a 2008 poll taken by the Chicago Tribune,” she said. “I think people will support La Bella Bistecca because they enjoy good food that has a little different twist to it.”