Authentic dishes served fresh in Temecula
Special to the Valley News
Guitar vibrations of the Gypsy Kings soundtrack resonate in the dining hall of Temecula’s La Bella Vita Italian Restaurant – imparting a relaxed atmosphere from the moment we enter. The waiter, clad in a black uniform, escorts us past oil paintings in gilded frames to our booth. Cones of folded, black cloth napkins stand at attention on gold trimmed bread plates accentuating the dining hall’s mauve walls and art deco lights. Carefully thought out, this restaurant’s refined ambience signals we are in for a treat.
La Bella Vita means “Beautiful Life” in Italian and everything one would consider to be a part of a beautiful life is found in abundance at La Bella Vita: delicious food, great music, and art. All you need to bring is your own family or friends in order to complete the experience.
La Bella Vita Restaurant opened its doors to the public in June of 2013. Its owners Ed Alikhani and Massimo Ghalami surveyed the Temecula area since 2011 in search of a perfect location for their new restaurant. Signing the lease in September of 2012, they commenced construction immediately but were delayed by the liquor licensing process and didn’t start their marketing until June of 2013.
“Good wines are very important to Italian cuisine,” says Chef Massimo.
The restaurant serves wines from local Temecula wineries, a variety from other California wineries as well as an assortment of Italian and French wines.
This is Chef Massimo’s 5th restaurant in his 35 years of business and undoubtedly it too is headed for success.
“Best ingredients are those that are fresh. They are the ones with the best flavors,” says Chef Massimo. “Fresh swordfish, properly cooked and drizzled with a bit of lemon juice, tastes much better than frozen swordfish smothered in a heavy cream sauce.
That is why when I called him for this interview he was on the road, returning from a two hour drive to a fresh seafood market.
“You never know how long the seafood truck driver was on the road and how fresh his ‘fresh’ actually is. I want my restaurant to have the freshest fish, clams, and mussels that will add the best qualities to our dishes,” he says.
It was in Chicago that 17-year-old Massimo got his inspiration for fresh ingredients and the joy of cooking.
“I lived with a Sicilian family back then. Two Marias, one in her 70s, another in her 40s, worked in the kitchen of this Italian restaurant – Maria #1 and Maria #2 we called them.”
Massimo was thoroughly impressed by the excitement that would unfold in the kitchen as the two ladies went about their cooking. The love they put into preparing fresh pasta, the energy with which they worked on making something from scratch planted the seed for Massimo’s dream.
“Someday,” he thought, “I want to have my own restaurant.”
He learned from the best, he says, and now completely understands the feeling of enjoyment that comes from making something from scratch that the two Marias shared so many years ago. He is frequently out in the dining hall at La Bella Vita making sure that the customers got what they expected.
“I love it when people talk about good food.”
He tries to inspire perfection in the kitchen as well and is said to change out of his jacket and dawn a cook’s garb when there is a need.
Southern Italian cuisine, known for its lighter fare of tomato-based sauces, and seafood items such as Cioppino – seafood stew with shrimp, bay scallops, clams, mussels and fresh fish – is the main specialty of La Bella Vita; although they do include some of the northern richer and creamier specialties such as luscious Gnocchi Al Formaggi, delicate potato dumplings baked in a creamy Fontina and Romano cheese sauce.
Pizza is another specialty of La Bella Vita. I opted for Vegetariana, topped with mozzarella, tomato sauce, sliced zucchini, eggplant, artichokes and fresh basil and was not disappointed. But there are also Calzone, a folded pizza filled with mozzarella, ricotta, meatballs, fried potatoes and tomato sauce; and the dangerous-sounding Diavola, with Italian sausages, mushrooms, bell peppers, red onion and spicy tomato sauce.
All pizzas are made to order with fresh ingredients. La Bella Vita makes its pizza sauce from fresh tomatoes – peeled, crushed and cooked to perfection. Their oven is the best available in the market today, says Chef Massimo. Very similar to the brick and wood oven, it operates on gas, but heats up to 700-750F, which ensures the best possible rustic flavor and crispiness true to the real Italian Neapolitan tradition.
This week La Bella Vita Restaurant is introducing their Business Lunch Special, served 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays. Customers can choose from six entrees and a salad for $9. The prices are lower, but the serving sizes are the same, so don’t miss out! Sunday Brunch Buffet is another addition to the menu which begins this week. It starts at 10 a.m. and goes till 3 p.m. on Sunday.
The restaurant hours are 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for lunch, and 5 to 10 p.m. for dinner. Friday and Saturdays, the dinner hours are extended till 11 p.m. Sunday dinner hours are 5 to 10 p.m. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, live music is played at La Bella Vita starting at 6 p.m.
La Bella Vita is located at 39738 Winchester Road in Temecula. For more information, call (951) 699-5999.
La Bella Vita Restaurant
39738 Winchester Rd, Temecula, CA 92591, Telephone: (951) 699-5999