Some owners like to just walk around the restaurant and greet guests, but Abtahi said he’s happiest in the kitchen, cooking authentic Italian dishes using recipes passed down to him from his grandmother.
Born in Milan, Italy, Abtahi has been cooking all this life. Bella Cucina, which opened earlier this month, is Abtahi’s 16th restaurant, but has been a labor of love like none other.
When he found the location at the Orchard Square Shopping Center, the building was bare aside from what was left of the kitchen from the last restaurant to lease the space. Rather than hire others to makeover the space, Abtahi decided to do most of the work himself.
“Everything you see here is new,” Abtahi said. “The plumbing, the lighting, the floors – I did it all. We’ve essentially built this place from scratch, and now it feels like home.”
Abtahi also builds his meals from scratch. Nothing served at Bella Cucina, which means “beautiful kitchen” in Italian, comes from a jar. Abtahi makes all his own pasta and sauces to ensure only the freshest fare for his customers.
“Some restaurants get their sauce from a jar or can, but if people wanted a meal with sauce from the can, they’d go to the grocery store,” Abtahi said. “My customers deserve the best, and that is why I make all my sauces myself. It takes me three days to make my tomato sauce. No one has my sauce. A lot of work goes into it; I want it to be good, and since it’s fresh, it’s also quite healthy.”
Abtahi, who lives in Pittsburg, recommends the fettuccini Alfredo with chicken in a butter and cream sauce, or cheese ravioli in a zesty meat sauce for the lunch hour, and for dinner, the veal picatta with sautéed mushrooms and capers in a lemon sauce. He also suggests the seafood jambalaya, which combines shrimp, salmon, mussels, clams, sausage and sautéed onions in a spicy cream tomato sauce over linguine.
If you manage to find room for a treat to cap off your dining experience, Abtahi also serves homemade tiramisu and Italian raspberry cheesecake, among other delectable desserts.
Abtahi said he hasn’t done any advertising for his restaurant, but people seem to be pleasantly surprised with what they find. He already has wedding receptions, birthday parties and baby showers booked through January.
“It seems like people have been waiting for a new Italian restaurant to come to Antioch,” Abtahi said. “Some people are just finding us by accident; others are hearing about us from family and friends. So far, we’re off to a good start.”
For parties of 40 or more, Abtahi closes down the restaurant during lunch and reopens for the dinner crowd. Bella Cucina also offers food to go. Customers may call in or fax orders to 925-755-7536, and the food is ready within 20 minutes.
Abtahi said it would be a while before he starts dreaming up his next restaurant. For now, he’s content to cook in the kitchen and work alongside his wife and three daughters, offering quality Italian cuisine just like his grandmother used to make.
“I love to serve people,” Abtahi said. “When people say thank you for their meal and tell me how good it tastes, that’s what I enjoy most. It always makes me so happy to know they’ve enjoyed themselves.”
Bella Cucina, located at 2376 Buchanan Road in Antioch, is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday through Saturday; and noon to 8 p.m. on Sunday. For more information, call 925-755-7530.