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Based on aesthetics alone—the warmth of the wood-burning oven, the saffron-colored walls, the rustic country tables, the pine floors, the long and inviting bar, and the French doors flung open to Minetta Lane—I would dine at Bellavitae on a regular basis. It is the sort of spot that you yearn for when you leave—a place that leaves your cheeks warm and pink and your belly nice and plump from the simple pleasures of the Italian table.Review By: Andrea Strong
But there is more to this sweet little restaurant than looks. Like a sexy guy who turns out to also be emotionally available, able to part with his golf clubs, and interested in eating something other than chicken wings at least once a week, Bellavitae is way more than a pretty face.
Bellavitae is the first restaurant from Rolando Ruiz Beramendi, who owns an eponymous 15-year old import business where he sells all manner of artisan Italian products—olive oils, cheeses, vinegars, condiments, pasta, rice, and more. It is a New Yorker’s dream pantry (and lucky for us, it’s all for sale there.) The kitchen, led by chef Darren McRonald, who was most recently at The Four Seasons in Costa Rica, and has cooked at Chez Pannise, Le Cirque, and with Jonathan Waxman over the years, enthusiastically employs this pantry of riches, putting them to delicious work in antipasti, crostini, grilled vegetables, salads, rustic handmade pastas and main courses like Chicken Cacciatorie with Black Ligurian Olives ($17) and Brick Oven Roasted Pork ($17).
When we sat down on a warm, rainy night a few weeks ago, Jamie and I were greeted by a waiter who, quite frankly, had me at Buona Serra! After we chose our wine—a terrific Vino Nobile—(the list is organized by family winery), Pasquale (our waiter) told me I reminded me of a beautiful Sicilian actress, Maria something or other. “Your eyes, you hair, you are so beautiful!” he said, in his rich and delicious sing-songy Italian accent. I was done. He could have served me cardboard layered with sawdust and sewage juice, and I would not have cared. Flattery will get you everywhere.
Well, almost everywhere. Yes, this place is more than a pretty face, but like some men (and a few of us girls too), it’s got some issues to work out. The arancini ($7)—rice balls with gorgonzola—were quite forgettable. They were crisp and golden and shaped like tater tots, but they were not creamy or melting with gooey cheese on the inside—they were dry and free of flavor. I was also ready to love the Grilled Treviso Radicchio that arrived wrapped in pancetta, like lean bacon cigarettes, drizzled with a reduced balsamic vinegar ($13), but the pancetta over powered the treviso. Not that crispy pancetta is unpleasant, but if the point is the contrast of sweet smoky bacon and slightly bitter vegetable, the concept was lost in execution. Other than these two misses though, most of the rest of the menu was really enjoyable.
The Chicken Liver Crostini ($9) was great—a savory, toothsome spread slathered on toasted bread that even my Jewish grandmother would have liked. We also loved the Ceci with Capezzana Olio 2004—a gorgeous bowl of chickpeas coated in a shimmering gloss of vibrant green olive oil. These were delicious, and the olive oil they bobbed around in begged to be mopped up with some bread (or slurped from the bowl). We looked around for some carbs, and discovered that we had to order and pay for it ($4), because it is served with their Olio Verde Olive Oil. This was a bit annoying. I can understand paying for the olive oil, but the bread? There are enough delicious sauces on the plates that need mopping up that I feel like bread should be gratis. The olive oil can and should be extra because it is worth every penny—grassy, fresh, slightly peppery, lush, and brilliant. I was spooning it from the saucer into my mouth like it was milk at the bottom of a cereal bowl. I am not lying. They are lucky I didn’t rub it all over my body. The stuff is that good. Buy two bottles—one for the kitchen, one for the bedroom.
After having a moment with the olive oil, we dug into a bowl of Farro Pizzichi with Porcini and Pancetta Ragu ($14). The homemade pasta, shaped like small rectangles with frilly edges, was perfectly cooked to just past dente, and tossed in a rich porcini sauce, doubled down with pancetta ragu. The dish was very good, but the flavors were all base notes. I was looking for a high note—a bit of vinegar, some acid, perhaps—for contrast. But we had no bad words for the Calamari in Inzimino ($17)—a fabulous stew of super tender calamari braised in red wine and tomato, with bitter greens, heavy with the intoxicating aromas of sweet and savory spices. (The bread came in handy here too—we used it to sop up all liquidy remains.) While there are ups and downs to the menu, Bellavitae, which occupies the taverna-like space that was most recently La Boheme is a worth a trip, or two (or ten). Whether to sit at the long bar and bathe in the room’s soft amber light and lap up olive oil from a shallow saucer like a cat, or to tuck into a cozy table for two by the warm hearth in the back room, this is a place that feeds your tummy and your tired, overworked soul. There are some lows points in the menu, but they level out because you are just so happy to be there. Plus, Pasquale will charm you and have you believing you are Sophia Loren by the meal’s end. Now that my friends, is priceless.
Neighborhood: Greenwich Village
Entree Price: $15-20
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