The first thing that will strike you about Bella Vista Italian Kitchen is the rustic charm of the building and the interior design. The idea, says owner Jan Johnson, is to give the building the same classic, traditional character that the food has.
Indeed, Bella Vista’s chef Atillio Sienna is an old-school Northern-Italian-style cook who values a slow hand-made process over assembly line prep work. This is Johnson’s third restaurant; the first two were in the Central Valley. She spoke to us about the new Aptos spot and why she decided to get back into the industry.
Why did you open this restaurant in this location?
JAN JOHNSON: The decision I made to open another restaurant was based simply upon my chef returning from Italy and his passion for doing what he does. He’s just incredible in the kitchen. I looked at several locations prior to landing at the Bayview Hotel. I worked for about three months on it to get it open. It has a lot of character there. It just needed a little love. My desire for that building and the work it took to open it was stronger than for something that was ready but doesn’t have the Old-World charm that this building has. I like to think of myself as someone who offers the people upscale dining, but not upscale feeling. I don’t want to come off that you need a certain dress code to come in, because it’s not that way at all. It’s old-school cooking and I like the rustic oldness and the character of the building that complements that. They complement each other, I believe.
What does chef Atillio Sienna bring to the table?
Everything is made with so much passion. It’s really old-style cooking. I don’t think you can find anybody that cooks the way he does. He’s from Northern Italy, born and raised. He’s opened restaurants all over the world, even in Istanbul, Turkey. His style of cooking is kind of a dying art. I know a lot of the restaurants in this area that are Italian are not Italian, they have raviolis and they send out to a company that makes them. That’s usually how people do things. Everything he makes is by hand. I don’t think you’ll find too many places where the chef hand-rolls his ravioli, makes his gnocchi by hand, rolls out his pasta noodles for his lasagna. The food takes a little bit more time to get out because every plate is made to order. He doesn’t pre-boil the noodles. It’s made by hand every day.
Your pizza is Neapolitan style?
Yes. We have imported Italian flours. It’s an artisan crust. I have a wood-fired clay oven. It makes absolutely divine pizzas. We have a pizzaiolo, a pizza maker, that just came in from Italy. In Italy, the pizza makers have a title. It’s an artist making these pizzas. That’s all they do.
8041 Soquel Drive, Aptos. 999-0939.