La Bella Managua: It Was Not a Beautiful Experience (Christie Pits)

I was born in Managua, Nicaragua and lived there until I was nine years old. Although I have lived most of my life in Canada, my Hispanic heritage has been the catalyst to this food “obsession” I have. I often reminisce of the days when I used to stand next to my nanny and grandmother in awe–watching them cook.  Having them teach me the basics of cooking enriched my life and shaped the person I am today. I lovingly remember my nanny and her willingness to respect my hatred towards onions. While most people in my life tried to make me like them by inserting onions in every dish, my nanny taught me how to cook for myself. As far as I am concerned, she saved my life! Ok, I am being just a bit dramatic. But believe me, I was a stubborn child and would refuse to eat anything that had any members of the onion family in it!

.. And okay, I regress…

Not much has changed. I still detest those buggers! Nevertheless, as much as I hated onions, the food I grew up on was deceptively simple, and delicious. In fact, to this day, one of my favorite dishes is a homemade tortilla, with re-fried beans, rice and queso (cheese). No gimmicks, sauces, garnishes, or drama. This is a simple, yet a perfect meal in my eyes. And maybe it’s because I have such fond memories of home; my childhood and the amazing food I grew up on that my expectations of Hispanic cooking are high and possibly unrealistic. And because I love Hispanic food so much, I have been trying to like La Bella Managua, a restaurant in downtown Toronto that “specializes” in food from Nicaragua. But as much as I want to like this restaurant, I just don’t.

BUT…………

My family likes this place. Sigh. So after three attempts to like it too, I am finally writing this review and letting the world know (or the three people who read this blog–hi mom!), that I don’t like this place!

Yes, there are positives….

  • The portions are good
  • Prices are decent–most dishes are under $15
  • They have a good-sized menu
  • Most of the dishes we eat in Managua are sold here
  • The staff speaks Spanish
  • They take reservations over e-mail
  • The food “looks” delicious

….and that it where the good ends

Here are my issues with it:

Service is sneaky

The last time I was here the friends I was with had a lot of questions. Some questions had to do with portion sizes and whether it would be too much if they ordered certain appetizers with certain mains. Our “very cute” waitress, who I termed the “con artist” flirted her way into getting most of the guests (guys) to order a bunch of appetizers and mains that they could not finish. Not because they eat like rabbits, but because this chick wanted the sale! I eat out all the time, and honest restaurants and staff have literally stopped me and my guests from ordering extra items until AFTER we received the first. One example: At Under the Table one of my friends wanted to order a side of eggs and potatoes with his main. The waitress made a note of telling my friend that the main he ordered is quite large, and that she thought he should wait for his main first, and that if he still wanted the eggs and potatoes, she would put the order in right away. Turns out that the main was in fact large, and there was no way in hell that he could have eaten the eggs and potatoes on top of that!

Flavors are not clean

I asked for no onions on my steak, and the waitress said, “the chef uses onion powder. Is that okay?” Onion powder? Can I just have my steak with pepper and salt and let the meat speak for itself? I had never eaten a single dish back home with any type of powder, period! But then again, there are a lot of people out there that believe that NOTHING tastes good without onions–so why not fake it? And my beans….well, I learned that although I hate “real onions,” I actually hate the fake powder crap more! My beans and beef were coated in that shit!

Chewy meat. Do I need to explain this one?

Disorganized service

If you have a note pad, and you give each person a number–as in a metal fixture to put in front of your plate to track orders (we were given a metal fixture with a number and asked to place it in front of us for the duration of the meal)–how can you mix the orders up! For example, one of my guests got cheese on his plate, and ate it not thinking anything. Then was charged an extra $2.50 for it because apparently cheese is extra. They fucked up the orders and made him pay for it! Even AFTER he explained that he did not order the cheese and thought it came with his meal! On top of that, the dishes were served in a staggered manner, and 2 of my guests were served their main around the same time that other guests were getting their desserts–they all placed their main orders at the same time! What a mess!

To be fair, most of my guests thought that the food was fine. Not great, but not bad either.  Yet we all agreed on one thing–the service was a disaster!

From this point forward, if I am craving food from home I will either go to Kensington Market, my grandmother’s, or cook it myself.

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CEVICHE  $9.75
Marinated seafood in lime juice with fresh peppers, red onions and cilantro. Served with avocado, and crispy plantain chips

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CARNE ASADA $13.50
Grilled boneless beef steak served with gallo pinto (rice and beans), avocado, deep fried plantain (sweet) and cabbage salad

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POLLO A LA PARRILLA $14.50
Grilled seasoned chicken breast served with Gallo Pinto (rice and Beans) , Avocado salad and sweet plantain

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BISTECK ENCEBOLLADO $14.50
Pan fried top sirloin steak seasoned with caramelized onions, tomatoes and roasted garlic. Served along with white rice, tòstones (green plantain) and Mesclun salad

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CHURRASCO $16.95
Grilled tip tenderloin steak to your liking, braised with chimichurri sauce and served with roasted garlic mashed potatoes and vegetables al olio

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Fish of the day (MP)

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La Bella Managua on Urbanspoon

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