Lela could have been exactly what Bloomington needs

A year ago, there were exactly zero local Italian restaurants specializing in Italian and a thing called crudo, Italy's raw fish answer to sushi. Then, suddenly, there were a half dozen of these restaurants, scattered all around town. Lela, located in the Sheraton Bloomington, made the wise choice of adding steak to its roster. Travelers need comfort, and comfort exists in steaks, potatoes, and icy martinis. What we found were some valiant efforts that instead resulted in discomfort. An urban-styled destination restaurant with legitimate cooking ambition could be just what Bloomington needs. But in recent weeks, the restaurant has been struggling with the departure of its opening chef, John Mullen, and the proof is on the plates. The steakhouse parts of the menu work best. The steaks are lavish, and soar into the above $80 range for a 40-ounce porterhouse. To be fair, they're meant to be shared. In the pasta section, frustrations abound. The noodles and pastas themselves are all handmade and skillfully prepared. But they take a heartbreaking turn with their clunky accompaniments. Throughout our experiences, service ranged from confused to absent to squirrelly. At one point it felt as though we were being served by committee, so many different servers came by to refill drink orders, drop courses, and deliver forgotten utensils. There's a special kind of exhaustion to enduring disappointing and costly evenings like these. You feel for the staff because clearly there is something going wrong. You feel for yourself and your date, because at every bend there is a distracting problem. You feel for your pocketbook, because $200 is a lot of money. You feel for your Saturday night out, because you won't get another one of those for a week. Read our full review here. All photos by Lucy Hawthorne.