Capitola is a little seaside resort town that’s kind of an extension of Santa Cruz. Downtown Capitola, such as it is, is wedged into a tiny little spit of land extending into Monterey Bay. It’s a mini-maze of little streets, which are jammed with souvenir shops, restaurants, bars and other establishments that sell things that tourists and vacationers tend to buy.
Bella Roma is a classic, old-school Italian restaurant that sort of stands out among these places. It wouldn’t be out of place in South Philadelphia or New Jersey. It’s family-run, with a team of middle-aged male waiters with black shirts and white aprons. The staff knows the menu like the back of their hands, and the entire atmosphere is friendly, professional and in the middle of the land of surfers, hippies and Jimmy Buffet wannabes, defiantly old-school. It reminded me, in fact, of a well-known Italian restaurant in Philadelphia, Dante and Luigi’s, at which, prior to my dining experience, a gangster had recently been shot by one of his rivals while working on his gnocci.
The food is very good. The things that makes it good is that it’s simple. Unlike the Paradise Beach Grille down the street, which decorates really mediocre food with garnishes and toys and tries to pass it off as some kind of gourmet experience, Bella Roma uses absolutely fresh, basic ingredients in classic, straightforward dishes that are expertly done. They also avoid the tendency toward Italian restaurant schmaltz – there aren’t any references here to Mama’s Sunday night dinners. There are, instead, classic Italian dishes correctly executed in a nice, slightly old-fashioned setting.
Bella Roma Food Review
The food is really good. We started with an appetizer of Mozzarella Caprese. This classic Italian dish is simplicity itself -- fresh mozzarella with sliced tomatoes, olive oil, basil, and oregano. It was perfect. Excellent mozzarella, fresh, rich tomatoes, and just the right amount of spices and oil. Really nice, and kind of reflective of the overall tenor of Bella Roma.
For an entrée, Beth had Ravioli al Pesto. This is another simple, old-school dish -- ravioli stuffed with ricotta cheese in a homemade pesto sauce. The entire trick to this is the preparation of the pesto. This was perfect. The basil didn’t overpower the oil, and the sauce was smooth without being too heavy, and the ricotta was fresh and good. Also, the ravioli was just the right balance of al dente – properly cooked without being overdone, and hence mushy, or underdone, and hence kind of chewy. The only fault with this dish was the presentation. It was simply ravioli arranged in a kind of pesto bath on a kind of messy plate. A wipe and a little work with a squeeze bottle would have made it more visually appealing, but this is a quibble.
My entrée was Frutti de Mare, which literally translates as “Fruit of the Sea.” It’s a tomato-based sauce, served with shellfish (clams and mussels), shrimp, calamari and fish. This dish was the only place where the meal faltered, just a little. Although the dish was beautiful, and the sauce was terrific, the actual seafood that was included was a little niggardly – a lot of clams and mussels, some calamari and shrimp, but nothing more. Given that this was a $25 entrée, they could have been somewhat more generous with the seafood ingredients. This is not a big deal, however – it was very good, and the bread provided with it was the ideal touch, and in some respects, better than pasta.
Dessert was profiteroles. These, for the uninitiated, are a kind of Italian cream puff, with custard filling, covered in the usual amazing sauce – chocolate, along with cocoa power and whipped cream. This was a little unusual – profiteroles are a French dessert, and not Italian. But amazing, and we gobbled them up.
Bella Roma Ambiance Review
As I’ve said, is old-school Italian. White tablecloths, tile floor, imitation Italian colonnades on the inside. It’s relatively quiet and small, and a great place for a rainy evening.
Bella Roma Service
Very good. The place only had a few diners, so there wasn’t a lot of challenge, but the servers are adults – i.e., not stoner surfers or aspiring actresses – and were prompt, expert and unobtrusive.
Pretty expensive. $125 for two, including drinks and a shared dessert. The portions are adequate, but not enormous.
Bella Roma is, again, in downtown Capitola. Parking is pretty limited – it’s on-street, and it’s metered, so be prepared to pay a few bucks and hunt a little for parking. We went in the off-season – during the summer I imagine finding a place to park near this restaurant would be a real project.
Address: 316 Capitola Ave Capitola CA 95010
Phone: (831) 464-2608
17:00-21:00 Sunday-Thursday; 17:00-21:30 Friday and Saturday
Bottom line – a very good Italian place, and an excellent choice in Capitola if you’re not up for burritos, margaritas, or the big-time, show-stopping event of Shadowbrook.Published On: Thursday, November 21st, 2013