Sunday, September 26, 2010
Bella Napoli Pizzeria
1200 Villa Place
Location, location, location. And atmosphere. And surroundings. Bella Napoli has a lot going for it, including some of the best patio dining in the city. The food is the real question mark. We found ourselves somewhat satisfied and yet hoping for more.
Let’s start with that patio. Fourteen umbrella topped tables are tucked away in the narrow pedestrian mall behind the shops on Villa Place. It’s a manufactured space with steel beams and plenty of brick. It’s also cozy, with high walls surrounding the space and white lights strung side to side. It’s like dining in an alley and that makes it feel perhaps a bit European. Inside you’ll find a low slanting ceiling for more, warm ambiance. Kids dash around the place playing tag and the diners run the gamut of ages. It’s a fun, family place and could even work for date night.
Bella Napoli is the latest Nashville restaurant to take its pizza seriously. They fire up the wood oven with Hickory and cook that pizza super quickly – 90 seconds at 900 degrees. This is the vision of the executive chef at long-time Nashville restaurant Valentinos. Paolo Tramontano is originally from Naples and the Valentinos crew have opened Bella Napoli as homage to the pizza traditions of his hometown. The Napolitan style features an exacting recipe for dough, and simple fresh ingredients. It’s a world and a half away from Pizza Hut.
The pizza Margherita is the best example of this simplicity: a light brushing of tomato sauce, a little mozzarella, olive oil and a couple of basil leaves. The pizza looks pretty as it arrives at the table. The crust is chewy, browned and reasonably flavorful. Overall though, it leaves us a bit flat. Sure, it’s better than many pizzas you get in Nashville. Still, it’s lacking in the depth of flavor that comes from fresh, quality ingredients and exacting seasoning.
The Contadina does a bit better. Eggplant, zucchini, and brocolini have a woodsy, grilled flavor and bring the pizza to life. The Bella Napoli salad spotlights sharp feta and yet comes off unremarkable. Our first visit leaves us feeling quite positive about the environment and ho-hum about the food.
Next stop brings a Quattro Formaggi pizza. It redeems itself with a peppy gorgonzola, and a nice blend of fontina, mozzarella and parmesan. Paired with the Fettuccine Boschiola, we find ourselves munching away happily. The peas and mushrooms in the cream sauce are well cooked. We order the prosciutto on the side and find it chewy and oily. This is basic stuff at best and yet it hits the spot.
The food prices are reasonable, with pizzas from $7-$14 and pasta $12-$15. The wine by the glass runs about $7.50 and needed some serious help on one visit. The Chianti Classico was sharp and a bit raunchy. The overly perfumey Toscana also gave us pause. We don’t ask for much for $7.50- just give us a decent wine.
Veggie Eater: We tried to pick veggie friendly antipasti to start our second meal and opted for the Fritto Misto, which is described on the menu as a potato croquette and rice ball. To be fair the waitress was kind enough to tell us that there was some sort of sausage item incorporated into the rice ball, but the croquette was veggie friendly. I can’t speak for the meat rice ball (it was okay-M.E.), but the croquette was a fried blob of what tasted akin to Elmer’s paste; you know, the non toxic kind that you are free to sample when you are six years old? I felt better about the Fettuccine Boschiola. The pasta was perfectly cooked al dente (I think it was high quality dried pasta) and tossed with a mushrooms and peas in a relatively light cream sauce. It could have used a dose of fresh ground pepper, but this was not offered. I find the pizza crusts here a bit too thick and chewy for my taste. But that’s the beauty of pizza- everyone has their own version of the ideal. If nothing else, it was nice to see folks with olive complexions barking orders to one another in Italian; not something I normally get to experience since moving to Nashville.
Meat Eater: That Italian staff is fun to watch in the open kitchen. Crisp service had the food at the table in decent time, a good sign considering how busy they were on the Friday nights we visited. Is Bella Napoli everything we want in a pizza and pasta joint? Probably not. Is it a good meal for the price and a great atmosphere? Yes, and that may bring us back.
We paid $40 for two pizzas, salad and a beer with tax and tip and $60 for two glasses of wine, an appetizer, pasta and pizza.