On a recent heat-wave evening, a friend and I walked the train tracks to Aptos’ newest restaurant, Bella Vista, located inside the towering Bayview Hotel—the oldest hotel in the county, and one of the oldest still operating in California, replete with numerous ghost stories, and more recently, reality-television fame.
Here, longtime chef Atillio Sienna of Naples, Italy, has taken the reins of an authentic Italian menu, complete with pizzas wood-fired on the back patio.
We settled into the sun porch, aglow in the last gasps of a sunset, and overlooking the hotel’s giant, sentinel Magnolia tree. I ordered a glass of Verdicchio, Verde di Ca’ Ruptae from March, Italy ($8)—crisp, dry and refreshing after an 80-degree day.
Roasted garlic cloves in olive oil were delivered, along with a basket filled not with the stale afterthought that bread can sometimes be in this post-gluten society, but with warm slabs of glorious, glutenous bread, succulent in that baked-this-morning kind of way.
Tempted by the Caprese salad, we vowed to come back during tomato season and ordered the Insalata di Cesare ($9) instead. Not a single regret. Having nothing to do with the Roman dictator, the Caesar salad is a fairly recent development, invented in 1924 Tijuana, Mexico by Italian immigrant and restaurant owner Caesar Cardini. Food for thought as you munch on Bella Vista’s rendition, which, if you appreciate the genre, you may want to do. In a world where ordering the now-ubiquitous Caesar means playing roulette with the possibility of petrified, processed croutons and factory-made dressing heavy on preservatives, it’s refreshing to experience the real deal. Crisp romaine was tossed in a light dressing rich with the flavors of fresh citrus and anchovy, and lovingly sprinkled with Parmigiano-Reggiano and fresh-ground pepper. Even the anchovies were patted dry and thoughtfully placed, absent of the off-putting oil slick that results when they’re dumped from the can.
Tempted too by the secondi courses of Polenta ala Gorgonzola, and Calamari Fritti (again, vowing to come back), we settled on two pasta dishes: the Rigatoni Alla Bolognese ($19), and the homemade Ravioli di Spinaci e Ricotta ($22). The rigatoni, cooked perfectly al dente, was a hearty, we-should-probably-go-hiking-tomorrow-sized dish with a dry but meaty red sauce made with grass-fed beef and showered in a generous sprinkling of freshly grated parmesan and fresh cracked chili pepper—brought on request. It paired like a dream with the smoky, dry Montepulciano 2012, Reserve ($9) from Abruzzo.
The ravioli came swimming in a decadent walnut cream sauce, inflected with the crunch of dark-roasted walnuts and a substantial note of beef broth. Each pillow of this classic specialty is hand-stuffed with a pad of delicious, light green spinach and ricotta. The dish was salty, rich, and to die for—not to mention far too decadent to finish in one sitting. Fresh snips of basil rounded the plates of both pasta dishes, an aromatic and much-appreciated flourish.
On a Tuesday night, the sun porch was quiet, while the bar buzzed with a birthday party and live music. With a goal of booking live music at Bella Vista six nights a week, Lenny Ruckel, musician and entertainment booker, performed in the bar area with TK Blackburn, who was filling in for Ruckel’s usual bandura (Ukrainian harp) player, who had torn off a thumbnail earlier that day. He should be back at it on May 16.
Edged in wisteria and a sky-high stand of Lady Banks roses, Bella Vista’s expansive back patio (where the girthy pizza oven lives), is under construction, and will soon be open as a beer garden, complete with music and extended daytime hours. All in all, the Bella Vista experience is a celebration of fine Italian dining in an elegant setting that is made for date night. Put it on your list.
Bella Vista Italian Kitchen & Bar is at 8041 Soquel Drive, Aptos. Open Tuesday-Sunday, 5 p.m.-9 p.m. and until 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. 999-0939.