Do the beach cities really need another pizza place? Well, if it happens to be Settebello, the answer is a great big "yes."
It recently opened in the Crystal Cove Shopping Center, transforming a couple of retail shops into a spacious and very attractive dining venue featuring a wood-burning oven from Napoli. The ceilings are high enough to accommodate the three live olive trees that decorate the room.
One side of the space is the bar area with stools and outdoor-type tables. The other side features comfortable upholstered leather chairs, dark woods, big sculpted beams, lovely gray taupe walls and a view of the white-tiled open kitchen.
The menu is divided into insalate, antipasti, salumi, crostini and, of course, pizze. There are no traditional entrees. Among the salad choices is panzanella with house-made bread, tomato salad, red onion, shaved fennel, cucumber, arugula, basil, prosciutto crisps, red wine vinaigrette and shaved Parmigiano.
The list of crostini includes a duck confit with pea puree and shaved pecorino. Among the antipasti are crispy polenta bites with house-made mushroom ricotta, asparagus and pecorino. For a larger sampling of Italian meats, vegetables and cheeses order the misto.
My dining companion and I ordered knowing that doggie bags would definitely be required. We began with an offering from the salad menu that wasn't exactly a salad. Rather, it was called an involtini and consisted of excellent prosciutto crudo from Parma, wrapped around peppery baby arugula and goat cheese. The roll was topped with shaved Parmigiano and a bit more goat cheese. The plate was drizzled with a sweet balsamic reduction that made a delicious foil to the salty prosciutto.
In order to get a sample of the other meats, we chose the small charcuterie plate, which involved three kinds of salami, roasted red peppers, a marinated artichoke and crostini. One of the things that makes this restaurant so good is its selection of purveyors. For example, the wonderful salamis came from Mario Batali's daddy's place in Seattle, Salumi, and Fra Mani in Berkeley. These products are easily equal to anything from Italy, in my opinion.
Settebello's pizzas are described as pizza Napoletana, and they only take about one minute to cook in the 900-degree oven. The flour comes from Italy.
"Pizza in Napoli is soft and foldable and could be considered 'wet' by American standards; for this reason the people in Napoli generally eat their pizza with a knife and fork," according to the restaurant's website.
The Settebello pizza is the special house version, and it is made with sweet crushed tomatoes for the sauce, plus salty pancetta, sausage, mushrooms, toasted pine nuts, mozzarella, basil and olio. All the ingredients are first-rate and perfectly balanced. We loved the soft, flavorful crust, which I remember from the days when pizza first hit the scene in my hometown. We always folded the slices to eat them.
Our second selection was the Pizza Bianca. Don't expect crushed tomatoes, just Parmigiano and oozing mozzarella topped with prosciutto crudo, arugula and olio. It was equally delicious.
The five desserts include three that have fresh-baked pizza bread as their base. The deep-fried pizza dough is filled with Nutella and coated with sugar. We were pretty much sated with dough, so we selected the torta della nona (grandmother's cake), which has a pastry crust filled with a lemon cream and topped with pine nuts, almonds and powered sugar. The crust was a bit soggy, and we wanted more lemon flavor. It was the only part of our meal that we couldn't rave about.
Settebello is a delightful place to dine. It has a great atmosphere and exceptionally good food. We are looking forward to returning so we can eventually try everything.
TERRY MARKOWITZ was in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. She can be reached for comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where: 7864 E. Coast Hwy., Newport Coast
When: Noon to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, noon to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Appetizers: $6 to $15
Pizzas: $10 to $16
Desserts: $5.50 to $11
Bottles: $31 to $185
By the glass: $7 to $13
Corkage fee: $12
Information: (949) 715-2072 or settebello.net