336 S. Lake Ave., Pasadena
11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
By Michael Davis and Michelle J. Mills
We stopped in at the newTrattoria Neapolis in Pasadena for a tasting and spent some time with restauranteur Perry Vidalakis. His infectious personality and knowledge of the restaurant, food and beverage industry enriched our knowledge of the complexities of Italian cuisine.
The restaurant was10 years in the making (yes, we said 10 years). The ambience is ambitious, yet quaint and unpretentious. Neapolis features five dining areas that offer a different perspective of the restaurant depending on what you’re in the mood for that particular moment.
Enjoy the filtered sunlight and gorgeous tile in the Garden room; the Bar area harkens a speakeasy feel; the Kitchen allows a view of the choreography it takes to create the meals; the Balcony upstairs overlooks the goings-on below; and the Wine room offers a private spot for special events.
The staff guides diners through the menu in every detail.For starters, there are four sommeliers to make sure drink pairings enhance the overall dining experience. Cocktails are headed by the award-winning mixologist Vincenzo Marianella. His wizardry draws on Italian and American influences combined with an extremely creative flair. Beer sommelier (or “the beer chick”) is Christina Perozzi; L.A. Magazine refers to her as the best beer sommelier in Los Angeles.
Coffee service is headed by Stumptown Coffee and wine sommelier is Diego Meraviglia, who is a musician as well. (Music and food are parallel worlds.)
Where there’s smoke, there’s Chef Bryant Wigger who embraces the subtle nuance of smoky flavor in his cuisine. Trattoria is not afraid to play with fire: it has a 7,000-pound wood- burning oven, a wood-burning grill and a smoker.
The menu offers a tour of Italy with new takes on old favorites and more progressive fare.
Michael: Among my favorites is Roast Garlic Gnocchi with Smoked Pork Shoulder. First off, you cannot go wrong with smoked pork shoulder. The gnocchi (dumplings) was not heavy, very light and creamy with smoky overtones. Flanked by artichoke, asparagus and finished with L.A.-based brewery, Brouwerij West’s Blond, this dish is perfect for those who don’t usually eat pork.
Michelle: I acquired a love of gnocchi when I lived on the East Coast and am often disappointed with how heavy it seems to be here in SoCal. But Trattoria’s gnocchi is light enough to eat any time. I relished its unique smoky taste and was thrilled by the accompanying greens.
Michael: I also really enjoyed the lasagna, I thought it was perfect for the summer. What? Lasagna, the perfect comfort food for summer? Yes, I am crazy, but not about this. It is a substantial dish featuring wood stove-grilled vegetables, and house-made ricotta and mascarpone cheeses. This delivers the aforementioned “new take” on an old favorite.
Michelle: For me, the lasagna and its pairing with Nora — Birreria La Baladin beer from Torino, Italy — was absolutely perfect. The lasagna boasted big slices of vegetables and wasn’t smothered with cheese, allowing all the flavors to burst unfettered. The beer was unlike any I’ve had before. It is brewed with myrrh and ginger for a layered — and refreshing — taste.
Michael: The Bistecca (flat iron steak) was impeccable. Cooked perfectly on the wood grill, this dish has the perfect flavor profile. Joined by a Salsa Verde, Crispy Temecula Onions and an awesome Porcini Mushroom BBQ sauce, I have to say this is the perfect marriage of flavor and imagination. I absolutely love porcinis and the utilization of their unique earthiness in a barbecue sauce is fantastic. The crispy char of the steak, crispy sweet onion, tang of the salsa verde and the boldness of the porcini make for a re-invention of a classic. Served with the Valpolicella “Ripasso,” this dish is flawless.
Michelle: The Bistecca gave me a minor dilemma with two sauces, each good in its own way. The green was sweet with a chunky texture, while the red was spicy. My solution was to keep alternating my dipping, but the red sauce won out as my favorite in the end because of the mushrooms. The meat was sliced to the perfect thickness and melted in my mouth; the crunch of onion served as a nice juxtaposition.
I suggest that you save room for dessert. We had the Greek Yoghurt-Honey Panna Cotta with Apricot Granita and Basil Gelatini. It was sensuous and smooth, but not overly sweet: here the apricot and honey provided all the sweetness it needed. Nuts added crunch and the there was a hint of spice. This is a treat that I could eat every day.
At one point during our tasting, owner Vidalakis said, “I hope people can come here for a decade and still have something new.” With all the possible mixes and matches, I think he’s right. I hope his eatery will be around for a long time.
Michael: All in all, Trattoria Neapolis sets high expectations and delivers tenfold. Be sure to have a chat with your favorite beverage sommelier and enhance your experience with the exceptional pairings that are suggested with your meal; I guarantee that you will leave with a new love and respect for the charm of the Italian kitchen.
Michael Davis is a sous chef and musician. Michelle Mills is a writer and a dancer.