Europeans can be a bit obsessive about the authenticity of their native cuisines, and the pedigrees of the chefs who create them. In fact, when Bella Vita opened with much fanfare in the District at Green Valley Ranch in October, the owners went so far as to tout it as “obsessive Italian cuisine.” Much was also made about the importation of chef Marco D’Agati, who had run London’s Aubaine chain. So I was a bit disappointed when I finally made it into the place and was told that D’Agati was no longer with the company due to visa problems. That disappointment quickly dissipated, however, when I was informed his replacement is Nick Parker, who’s put in time at Mario Batali’s Carnevino in the Palazzo. And my server was quick to inform me that the chef making pizzas in the airy restaurant’s open kitchen was born and raised in Sicily, where he learned his craft. So I wasn’t sweating pedigree.
Those pizzas are a prominent part of Bella Vita’s menu. And the simple, thin-crusted margherita version I enjoyed made it obvious the chef knows his way around a pizza oven, with its mildly tangy sauce, well-blended cheese and large fresh basil leaves.
The rest of the menu, at least at dinnertime, is considerably more sophisticated. Higher-end specialty pizzas come topped with everything from broccoli rabe to speck and truffle oil. Appetizers include salmon and beef carpaccio and tuna tartare.
Moving on to pastas, you’ll find ravioli stuffed with beef cheeks. The spaghetti fra diavolo is adorned with Maine lobster. And the chef’s special fettucine features crab meat, arugula, fresh tomatoes, onions and pesto. Main course offerings include branzino, veal saltimbocca and braised lamb shank.
I began one recent meal here with a tender grilled octopus salad seasoned with mint and olives, and accompanied by cubed potatoes and rich borlotti beans. While I enjoyed that immensely, I was a bit let down by an order of pappardelle in a heavy wild boar sauce that was a touch on the bland side. But things bounced back with a delicious tiramisu with sliced fruit.
The lunch menu replicates many of the pizzas, pastas and salad selections that you’ll find at dinner, with slightly lower prices. But there’s also a nice selection of sandwiches and panini priced from $10 to $14 (including fries or a salad). They include a burger, albacore tuna salad, grilled chicken and seasoned vegetables with mozzarella and avocado.
When I dropped by to sample a pair of those panini, I was very impressed. Each came on a soft, mildly grilled and lightly grooved bread. The Romano featured semi-thick, well-seasoned porchetta with a beautiful rustic touch supplied by roasted red peppers. And those same peppers, alongside slightly bitter greens and other quality ingredients, gave the veggie option a bright freshness that reminded me more of a well-executed Caprese salad than an obligatory nod to vegetarians.
Bella Vita occupies a large corner space on the District’s main drag, a bright, welcoming spot decorated with murals inspired by ancient Italy. Patio seating outdoors, even as the weather gets cooler, is still used to accommodate spillover crowds. Fortunately, plenty of heaters are on hand to keep guests from getting too chilly. Those seats have the added benefit of allowing you to take in the sights and sounds of the shopping center.
From 3 to 6 p.m. daily, the restaurant offers a happy hour, which will likely become a favorite among the Green Valley crowd. In addition to craft cocktails, the chef has also created a special menu for the after-work munchies. Dishes including arancini, penne, tuna bruschetta, charcuterie and meatballs are all available for just $7 apiece.
Despite the changes in the kitchen, the front of the house seems pretty solid. Everyone greets you with a smile. The bartenders remember your drink. Managers make it a point to circulate and say hello. Given Las Vegas’ reputation for being a service-driven city, maybe that’s what the place should have been promoting from the start.
Al’s Menu Picks
- Grilled octopus ($15)
- margherita pizza ($11)
- and tiramisu
The District at Green Valley Ranch, 702-560-6500, BellaVitaLasVegas.com. Open for lunch and dinner, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily. Lunch for two, $25-$40.