Written by Hulda Lawrence
A bright cheerful place, Bella Vita recently opened at 211 West 43rd Street between Broadway and 8th Avenue, (212) 730-1479, to present pizza, pasta, salads, desserts and panini to hungry diners. It is small and unpretentious. Service is efficient and diners can order and watch as their pizza is baked in the brick oven and then packed to take out or taken to a seat for immediate enjoyment.
Owner Charles Toufos is the son of a Greek father and a Naples mother and prides himself on the quality and preparation of his food. We began our recent lunch with an appetizer of Fried Zucchini. This was a delicious mound of large thin slices, lightly grilled and accompanied by garlic yogurt dipping sauce. It was so good I was tempted to just keep eating it! However, our server Emma from Hungary, cautioned that there was more to come. We ate and sipped from small bottles of wine. The wine comes from Italy and California and these split bottles are $13, $15 and $16. There are 2-1/2 glasses in each bottle, an ideal size, and wine is available by the glass at $7 for those who want something special. My choice Seghesio Sangiovese at $16 was just right.
We selected a delicious Insalata di Arugula which arrived in a pyramid shape of arugula, endive, herbs, radicchio, sun-dried tomatoes with honey vinaigrette dressing. It was excellent at $6.95; family size is $15.95. Other salads include Insalata Caprese of mozzarella, tomato, basil; Bella Mista of mixed greens, herbs, red wine vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, olives, carrots and tomato; Insalata Italiana has mixed greens, mozzarella, roasted peppers and black olives, anchovies, carrots and tomato with Italian dressing. Salads are $5.95 to $8.95 for individual portions with family sizes from $13.95 to $17.95.
Pizzas made in a brick oven arrive with mozzarella and various toppings. Small pies are $13.95; large pies are $15.95. Toppings are $2.50 each and include Fresh Mushrooms, Olives, Anchovies, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Ricotta, Pepperoni, Sausage, Prosciutto and Grilled Chicken among others. A White Pie of ricotta and fresh mozzarella is $14.95 for small, $16.95 for large.
For those who prefer pasta, there are such delights as Fettuccine Alfredo e Pollo, white fettuccine with sliced chicken breast in creamy sauce; Linguine E Gamberi Scampi, linguine with shrimp, garlic, olive oil, white wine and herbs in white or red sauce; Spaghetti with Meatballs; Penne all a Vodka; Rigatoni con Salsicce; Sweet Sausage with Spinach, Broccoli, Olive Oil, Garlic and wine sauce; and Linguine Fra Diavolo ai Frutti di Mare, with seafood and fresh spicy tomato sauce including calamari, shrimp, clams, and scallops. There are several other pastas and all come in two sizes, small and large from $6.95.
Chicken Cutlet Parmigiani with spaghetti is $11.95, Chicken Marsala is $13.95 and there are four kinds of Panini. Il Rustico has grilled eggplant, grilled chicken breast, fresh Mmzzarella and roasted peppers and fresh basil. The panini are $6.10 to $6.95 and each sounds great!
There are always special desserts, but do not overlook the light delicious Tiramisu. This relatively new restaurant is a neighbor to the offices of The New York Times. We noticed that Thomas L. Freidman of the OP-ED page was grabbing his lunch as were many others who work in the area.
This bright, airy and small spot has a sister at 158 West 58th Street. The food is excellent and well-prepared (you can watch it cooking if you like.)
Hours: Open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and until midnight weekends. Free delivery is available in a ten-block radius from both of its locations.
Brasserie Ruhlmann at 45 Rockefeller Plaza (212) 974-2020 is a new establishment dedicated to and named for the famous art deco designer Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann. The restaurant's owner, Jean Denoyer, has decorated and designed the place in the rich style of his idol Ruhlmann. Jean is known as one of the world's outstanding collectors of Ruhlmann designs, and his place reflects the details which make it unique. However, all the décor in the world means nothing if the food does not match up to it.
Our waiter, fluent in French and knowledgeable about the entire menu, was Sascha. Born in Russia, he was brought up in France and knows much about the preparation and the ingredients in the dishes. Because of the location, we requested Oysters Rockefeller as a starting point, even though the dish is usually served only at dinner. While it was being made we sipped a Cosmopolitan for me and a Negroni for my companion. We also shared a salad of Frisee aux Lardons with an egg on top and a fine dressing.
Our entrees were the day's specials, Brook Trout, Leg of Lamb Flageolet au Jus and a wonderful Half Roasted Free Range Chicken. With these choices came the best French Fries I have eaten since I last visited Belgium.
From the extensive wine list we chose Sancerre, Jean Paul Balland, at $12 a glass; $48 for the bottle.
Desserts include many French favorites like Floating Island, Chocolate Profiteroles, Coupe Peach Melba, Baba au Rhum, and Raspberry Sabayon as well as a Fruit Plate and assorted ice creams and sorbets. We shared an excellent Paris-Brest and a divine Apple Tart with the thinnest of crusts. An assortment of cheeses also is available.
At lunch there are such other entrees, such as Skate Grenobloise, Cod "Provençale," Mussels Marinieres and the favorite Steak Frites (hanger). There are also Braised Lapin a la Moutarde and Sole Meuniere, $19 to $38 for Sole Meuniere.
Salads include Tomato and Bacon; Carrot; Tuna Tartare; as well as Avocado and Shrimp. Salad "Ruhlmann" with chicken, tuna or shrimp is popular as is Camembert Salad with Smoke Duck Magret and Grilled Chicken Spinach Caesar Salad. Salads are $10 to $15.
Among the sandwiches are Tartine Nicoise, Hamburger, Spicy Roasted Lamb with Tapenade and Watercress, Chicken Sandwich with Pesto and Mozzarella, and Croque Monsieur. Prices are $14 to $22 for the hamburger.
Dinner entrees include Steak au Poivre, Roasted Duck Breast a L'Orange, Grilled Rib Eye Steak for two, Black Bass with Curry Creole, Beef Short Ribs and Port Tenderloin with prices from $20.
As the weather warms, tables are set outside so that diners can enjoy the excitement of the area.
Hours: Luncheon Monday to Friday: 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The dollar sign indicates the approximate cost of dining for two persons, excluding beverages, tax and gratuity.