Chef and owner Gaetano Balsamo infuses Capitola’s Bella Roma Caffe with authentic flair
Bella Roma Caffe is a very sweet spot to dine in Capitola village. This is an Italian restaurant with a really authentic feel to it—from the Tuscan hues of ochre on the walls to the little indoor statue of twin brothers Romulus and Remus, central characters in Rome’s foundation myth. It’s also very warm, intimate and inviting, with a distinct romantic vibe.
Before entering the restaurant, my husband and I stop for a quick look over the specials, chalked up on a board outside. Chef and owner Gaetano Balsamo likes to prepare everything fresh and his list of daily specials is usually lengthy. Hailing from Naples, he excels at preparing traditional Neapolitan dishes. We began by ordering some Italian wine, a glass of Chianti for me and a Barbera for my husband ($9 each). Bella Roma has a significant list of wines—around 100—of both Italian and Californian, in all price ranges. And the cozy bar is an ideal place to stop for a glass of wine and some antipasti, and also a great viewing point to watch the chefs at work.
We got through our basket of bread—focaccia made in the restaurant and crusty bread from Gayle’s Bakery—in no time. Served with wonderful olive oil and cloves of garlic, it’s a good start to any meal when awaiting the first course. I love eggplant and my appetizer of Melanzane al Balsamico e Gorgonzola ($8.75), grilled eggplant in balsamic vinegar and melted Gorgonzola was superb. Attractively presented with chopped tomato, the sauce had a lovely tang from that very famous Italian blue cheese. And a delicious butternut squash soup ($7), one of the daily specials, was full of capellini and bits of chicken, and not overly salty. Too many cooks spoil the broth by being heavy handed with the salt.
Trout alla Mugnaia ($24.95) was one of the specials that day, and it arrived perfectly prepared and splayed out—making it very easy to eat. I was reminded of driving around Ecuador and seeing signs for the very popular fresh “trucha” (trout) all over, and enjoyed it many times in this South American country, always well prepared and tasty. Equally delicious was Bella Roma’s trout, and I thoroughly enjoyed the accompanying vegetables and pasta, served on a separate dish. The other main course of Pappardelle Lamb Ragu ($24.95) was a superb portion of sizeable pieces of lamb served with wide pappardelle noodles in a rich tomato sauce. Trying a mouthful or two, I was impressed with this simple dish as everything about it was just right. Tender lamb and luscious tomato sauce mingled together in perfect harmony.
Our server Natalie is prompt and efficient throughout the evening, boxing up our leftovers and correctly keeping them until we are ready to leave. She also brought clean knives and forks for every course.
Balsamo takes a break from cooking now and again and strolls through his restaurant to greet his customers. He has built up a fine reputation over the years and has many regulars who know to go to Bella Roma Caffe for a truly authentic Italian dining experience.
Familiar with Balsamo’s tiramisu ($8), which is heavenly and made fresh every day, I ordered a piece, along with a cappuccino ($4). The tiramisu is melt-in-the-mouth light, fluffy, not too sweet, and served with a heavy dusting of cocoa powder. Matched with a beautifully presented coffee, complete with a work-of-art pattern in the foam, it was a lovely finale to a perfect meal.
Bella Roma Caffe, 316 Capitola Ave., Capitola, 464-2608. Bellaromacaffe.com. Open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday from 5-9 p.m. and until 9:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.