Written By: Michelle Mears-Gerst
Special to the Valley News
Leave your passport at home, experience the sights, scents, and tastes of Italy right here in the valley. This region of Southern California has often been compared to Italy with its rolling hills, Cypress trees and miles and miles of fattorias with wine-producing vineyards. In Italy, wine and food are a way of life, and now residents in the valley can enjoy an authentic taste of Italy at La Bella Vita.
La Bella Vita is growing into a neighborhood bistro where families and friends gather to carry conversations around the warmth of a dinner table. From the moment you enter the double doors the hustle and bustle of the daily grind slows as wafts of fresh baked bread and pasta fill the air. You start to relax to the music of Italian swooners, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. The atmosphere is lively yet intimate with dark woods using a mix of traditional and modern décor.
Restaurant proprietor Massimo Ghalami, who has been building and managing restaurants in Southern California for 42 years, opened La Bella Vita less than a year ago. Ghalami fell in love with the region on a visit. “A chef who used to work in Temecula told me there was a need for a restaurant in town that can make homemade Italian food,” said Ghalami who believes you do not have to live in Italy to enjoy the passion for the good life.
“We offer homemade authentic Italian pasta that you can’t get many places. Homemade pasta absorbs the flavor of the sauces. It is filled with flavor that you can’t get with dried boxed pasta,” said Ghalami.
The difference between serving dried boxed pasta and freshly made, according to Ghalami, is that the sauce in a dried box pasta will just sink to the bottom while the homemade pasta will sop up the sauce taking on its flavor.
The goal for La Bella Vita is to have everything on the menu homemade, made to order, not frozen, with locally-foraged food just like in Italy. Ghalami wants to keep his prices affordable and he is making this work by taking extra efforts to cut out the intermediary where he can.
“We drive to the fish market on the coast to get our fish three to four times a week. We pick our fish ourselves, see it, smell it, thinking of our customers and what they like to be served,” said Ghalami.
For $8 guests can enjoy freshly cooked calamari, or for dinner, the popular seafood dish Cioppino for $26, a seafood stew with shrimp, bay scallops, clams, mussels & fresh fish; served with grilled Italian bread.
“People keep asking me how do I keep my prices so low and I tell them, look where we live, so many of our ingredients are grown right here in Southern California.”
The pizza and pasta sauces are also made from scratch. The chefs are selective and only pick out the freshest vegetables for their dishes, like Cannelloni Al Forno, fresh pasta tubes filled with sun-dried tomatoes, ricotta, pecorino, smoked mozzarella & spinach in a marinara sauce or Linguine Alle Vongole, a dish served with fresh manila clams sautéed with extra-virgin olive oil, garlic, fresh herbs and Pinot Grigio.
La Bella Vita houses an oven made specifically for their fresh pizza too. Guests can settle in or enjoy take-out orders of Calzones, or made-to-order pizza like the Diavola, which has Italian sausage, mushrooms, bell peppers, red onion and spicy tomato sauce.
For dessert, the Tiramisu made with ladyfingers soaked in espresso and mascarpone cheese served with a cappuccino is the perfect ending to any Italian dinner.
“This is my home,” said Ghalami. “Come on in. Bring the kids, family, or your date; celebrate your anniversary or birthday. I will take care of you with great food and service.”
Ghalami also has a vast selection of local and international wines and spirits ranging from $22 a bottle to $2,000. If he does not carry a guest’s favorite selection, they can let him know and he will make sure he has it the next time they visit.
La Bella Vita
39738 Winchester Rd. Temecula, California 92591