Within five minutes of sitting down for lunch at Bello by Sandro Nardone, I knew that my quick visit was suddenly going to be extended well into the afternoon. Not for the lack of slow service, oh, no. There was something in the air, perhaps the sound of birds chirping outside or the smell of roasting garlic that had me invisibly handcuffed to the table. A text was sent to the office and an Aperitivo was ordered, I’m going to be here for a while.
Bello just launched lunch service Lento o Veloce, which means slow or fast, where if you’re in a rush, you could theoretically grab a quick bite off of their menu that offers a fresh selection of antipasto, wood-fired pizzas, and even a few select sandwiches or pasta and be out the door in 30-45 minutes. Take out is also an option for those who like to dine al-desko.
Bello isn’t your stereotypical Italian restaurant where you might be assaulted with garlic butter-dipped breadsticks and never-ending pasta plates; it’s a modern rendition of something one would find on a busy brick-lined street in Naples with a menu to match.
Lunch in Italy, at least on vacation for you and me, is all about starting with an Aperol Spritz, and bar manager Lorenzio Ricchi whips them up as he did for years where he grew up in Florence: some dry prosecco, Aperol, a little soda water, then rimmed with fresh lemon peel. It’s so light and refreshing, the hardest part is not ordering a second.
Cocktail number two is the king daddy of all pre-meal drinks: the Negroni. It’s so incredibly simple, which means there are a million ways the modern mixologist can twist it into something unrecognizable. The beauty is in its simplicity: Malfy Gin, Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, and Campari. Ricchi’s rendition puts the classic on a pedestal with the right ice mix to achieve proper dilution. If you want a variation, try his Cappichoni with dense espresso milk foam on top, or his version that adds Thai basil and Aviation gin.
For dessert, go with a dealer’s choice, which for me was something deeply rooted in Italian flavor: a Tuaca sour. I can’t recall the last time I saw the brandy used in a drink, but it marries well with a classic sour base. Big notes of vanilla and citrus pop from the cocktail, making it taste like a fresh slice of lemon meringue pie. Who needs actual dessert?
Bello by Sandro Nardone is at 1200 Bison Ave., Newport Beach, bellobysandronardone.com