Dining review: Trattoria's cocktails top the fine food
A pair of diners have lunch in the front dining area at Trattoria Neapolis. (Roger Wilson / Staff Photographer / August 23, 2012)
Everything is in place for one to expect an amazing meal that, in the words of my mother, “makes your stockings roll up and down.” I was fully expecting a gastronomic revelation, but the stockings barely budged.
Before I tell you what we tried, let me just say this restaurant is definitely worth a visit. It's a beautiful place to take out-of-town guests or folks you want to impress. Hatch Design Group, backed by years of interior design experience, has achieved the impossible: soaring ceilings, tile floors and excellent acoustics. Even though dishes are clinking and lively conversation is happening all around, you can easily hear your dinner companions and even chat up the couple next to you.
Besides good acoustics, Trattoria Neapolis has excellent cocktails orchestrated by L.A. cocktail impresario Vincenzo Marianella. Instead of syrupy liqueurs, he favors herbaceous bitter aperitifs like Campari, Aperol and Cynar mixed with some of the finest spirits on the market, like Rhum Clement VSOP and Plymouth Gin.
I savored a cocktail called the Doctor ($12) with Old Overholt Rye, two Italian Amaros and some Jerry Thomas bitters. The slow-melting giant cube of ice chilled the orange-tinged cocktail perfectly from beginning to end. A dinner mate had the beguiling Easton ($12) with house-made cucumber-infused Reyka Vodka, lime and mint. A treat for the nose, taste buds and head.
We thought a pizza from the imported wood-burning oven would be a tasty accompaniment and settled on the Agnello ($15) with house-made lamb sausage, roasted sweet peppers, rapini and pecorino cheese. The sausage was lovely with a delicate flavor (though there were only six or so small pieces) and the tender, bitter rapini offered a pleasant counter-balance . The best part was the sprinkling of orange zest on top. Unfortunately, the dullest part was the crust, which reminded me of matzoh bread.
The Bagna Cauda ($10) is their version of a Caesar salad. There is a garlic dressing over Romaine lettuce, but the similarities stop there. This salad is earthier, with chopped grilled vegetables and strong notes of anchovy. They get points for serving the heirloom tomatoes at room temperature in the Caprese ($11), and the fig balsamic sorbetto alongside was tasty.
The roast garlic gnocchi were fresh and beautiful with their sauce of smoked pork shoulder, artichoke and asparagus ($9 half portion/$16 full portion). But the risotto cooked in heirloom tomato water ($15/$24) smacked of a case of “The Emperor's New Clothes.” Risotto should grow in complexity with every bite. This tasted like rice cooked in water with a tomato in it. However, the eggplant puree and grilled prawn on top were delectable.
Give the spinach and pancetta side dish a pass, but consider the luscious Greek yogurt panna cotta with candied hazelnuts for dessert ($9). As far as wine and beer go, trust your server's suggestions or just close your eyes and point. Fourth-level wine sommelier Diego Meraviglia and beer sommeliers Hallie Beaune and Christina Perozzi (a.k.a. the Beer Chicks) have got you covered.
I would come back to Trattoria Neapolis for cocktails at the beautiful bar and some Arancini, crispy lobster risotto balls with pickled fennel and Eureka lemon aioli ($14). Otherwise it's a little too dear for me and not mind-blowing enough.
LISA DUPUY has written about area restaurants since 2008. She welcomes comments at LDupuy@aol.com.
Where: 336 S. Lake Ave., Pasadena
When: Lunch and dinner Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday & Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Prices: Antipasti, soups and salads $8 to $21; pizza, pasta and main courses $12 to $36
Contact: (626) 792-3000; www.trattorianeapolis.com. Reservations recommended.