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You won’t want to hurry the experience at Caffe Bella Italia

Ravioli di Zucca, pasta stuffed with butternut squash in a butter sauce and sprinkled with poppy seeds. Photos by Kelley Carlson

By Kelley Carlson

An evening at Pacific Beach’s Caffe Bella Italia is not to be rushed. The establishment embraces the Slow Food movement, a return to traditional eating habits that eschews the fast-food dependence that has taken over numerous cultures.
Ravioli di Zucca, pasta stuffed with butternut squash in a butter sauce and sprinkled with poppy seeds. Photos by Kelley Carlson

Promoting northern Italian cuisine, co-owner/chef Stefano Ceresoli uses as many organic ingredients as possible from numerous local suppliers, and combines traditional with a more modern style of cooking. Among Ceresoli’s methods: roasting meat on low heat for long periods of time to preserve flavor and nutrients, and preparing foods from scratch. A number of his recipes are borrowed from his mother-in-law, a former chef from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy.

Ceresoli takes time to explain his creations to guests, stopping by candle-lit tables as they dine on dishes such as the Pollo alla Parmigiana (chicken breast and provolone cheese layered with tomatoes) and the Ravioli di Zucca, pasta stuffed with sweet and tender butternut squash in a creamy, delicate butter sauce that is sprinkled with poppy seeds.

His thin-crust, wood-fired pizzas (which can be made with gluten-free crusts) are especially popular, and include the namesake Bella Italia with San Marzano tomato, mozzarella, razor-thin slices of Parma prosciutto and a handful of arugula.

To top off the dinner, patrons turn to his freshly made sweets such as the Salame al Cioccolato (or Chocolate Salami) — a soft dessert that incorporates crushed Italian cookies, butter and rum, lightly dusted with powdered sugar and served with gelato — while sipping on Lavazza Italian bean coffees.

Tagliata Rucola e Grana consists of a grilled rib eye, topped with shaved Parmigiano and arugula salad.

All of this is experienced in a Tuscan/Mediterranean setting that’s warm and romantic. The air is filled with the rhythmic sounds of Italian language (co-owners Ceresoli, his wife, Roberta Ruffini, and Francesca Brusati, along with the staff, speak it fluently) and lounge music from acts such as Thievery Corporation and Patrick O’Hearn.

Patrons also unwind on the patios. During the summer and other warm evenings, they tend to migrate to the outdoor patio, strung with lights. Meanwhile, large groups and parties often opt for the heated, covered patio, accented with bamboo and partitioned with curtains to provide privacy.

Special events are held in these areas, including Painting & Vino (where patrons can create artwork while sampling the restaurant’s fare and wine) and cooking classes for 10 or more people. Also, wine dinners are presented the second Thursday of each month, with an all-you-can-eat buffet featuring tapas such as calamari, bruschetta, Arancini di Riso (crispy risotto balls with green peas, mozzarella and tomato sauce), pastas, salads, vegetables and small portions of entrees. Four wines are highlighted, and each person receives two full glasses’ worth for $25.

Caffe Bella Italia provides crayons, puzzles, coloring books and a special menu for bambinis with items like Pizza Pepperoni and Cotolettina Milanese, a veal cutlet topped with chopped tomatoes.

Salame al Cioccolato (or Chocolate Salami) is a soft dessert that incorporates crushed Italian cookies, butter and rum, which is lightly dusted with powdered sugar.

Helping to draw in the guests are weekly specials, whether it’s 50 percent off up to two bottles of wine per party on Sundays and no corkage fee on Tuesdays, or a pasta feast for $10 on Wednesdays and 50 percent pizzas at the bar and patio from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Thursdays. A three-course menu is offered Sunday-Thursday for $29 per person.

Caffe Bella Italia

Address:

1525 Garnet Ave., Pacific Beach

Web:

caffebellaitalia.com

Phone:

(858) 273-1224

The Vibe:

Elegant, romantic, intimate

Signature Dishes:

Wood-fire oven pizzas

Open Since:

1999

Reservations: Yes

Patio Seating: Yes

Take Out: Yes

Happy Hour: 4-6:30 p.m. daily

Hours: 4-10 p.m. daily

On The Menu Recipe

Each week you’ll find a recipe from the featured restaurant online at lajollalight.com. Just click Get The Recipe at the bottom of the story.

This week:

Caffe Bella Italia’s Zuppa di Barbabietola e Zenzero con Ricotta Acida

GetTheRecipe