Thursday, January 14, 2010
La Bella Vita, Empire Blvd.
I’ll continue my tour of wood-fired oven pizzerias with La Bella Vita on Empire Boulevard in Webster.
This was formerly Café Fresco, which specialized in “gourmet” pizzas, but the wood-burning oven was not installed until the current owner renovated the place and reopened as La Bella Vita in 2008. It’s not a huge place, but it holds a full bar on one side and a dining room on the other.
Once again, I ordered a Margherita (as does Benucci’s, La Bella Vita’s menu misspells it as “Margarita”). The menu describes it as topped with red sauce, mozzarella, Asiago cheese and fresh basil, plus I requested fresh garlic.
The crust was thin - no surprise there - and although you can’t really tell from the photo, a bit charred. The reason you can’t tell is that the charring was uneven; you’ll notice in the middle photo that the upper left edge is a little blackened, and that quadrant of the pizza came out more well done than the rest. The underside in general was heavily floured.
The crust was crisp but not crackly, with a chewy texture. It was uniformly thin, with no bubbling or air holes. The edge was thin and crunchy, and had a good, slow-risen bread flavor, with almost a sourdough tang.
This Margherita was rather unusual for having been made entirely with processed, rather than fresh, mozzarella. The cheese was well baked and browned. There was a little grated Asiago scattered about, but it didn’t seem to impart much flavor.
Somewhat less unusual, but still a little nontraditional, is La Bella Vita’s use of regular red sauce. Margheritas are often made with fresh tomatoes or a simple, uncooked sauce of crushed tomatoes. This sauce seemed rather cooked down (although some of that will happen as the water evaporates in the heat of the oven), though it did have a straightforward, tomatoey flavor.
The shredded, wilted basil was moderately applied and evenly distributed across the pizza, and the fresh garlic was added in good proportion.
La Bella Vita offers seven pizzas, including a “Tradtional” with pepperoni, white and pesto pizzas, and a “Quattro Formaggio” (four cheese) pizza with mozzarella, ricotta, parmesan and Asiago. A whole-wheat crust is available on request.
La Bella Vita also serves panini, and a range of Italian specialties including pasta dishes, tripe, risotto, chicken, veal and seafood. The modest dessert menu includes homemade tiramisu, which, if I’d realized it sooner, I probably would have ordered, as I love a good tiramisu.
If I were judging this pizza solely as a Margherita, I might deduct some points for straying from the traditional criteria; aside from the addition of garlic at my request, it was basically just a regular sauce-and-cheese pizza with shredded basil and a smattering of Asiago.
But I’m not judging or rating this based on its conformity to a style or category, and I don’t want to get nitpicky about nomenclature. The bottom line is, was it good pizza?
Mostly, yes. I liked the crust particularly. Though I might’ve appreciated a slightly more charred underside, the dough had good flavor, and it was reasonably crisp. The various components - sauce, cheese, etc. - were well integrated and complemented each other nicely, although the cheese was a little overly browned for my taste. Putting it all together, I’ll give La Bella Vita a B.
La Bella Vita, 1759 Empire Blvd. 671-7220
Mon.-Thu. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Fri. 11 a.m. - 11 p.m., Sat. 4:30 p.m. - 11 p.m.