Just when you think we’ve reached capacity for Neapolitan-style pizza spots, Settebello arrives at Crystal Cove Promenade. Open since August, it’s a serene atrium space, with olive trees that reach for the roof. All the qualifications are present: the wood-burning oven from Italy, and, from Naples, finely milled flour and San Marzano tomatoes. Pizzaiolos work in the glass-walled kitchen, rotating each pie during its brief stay on the blistering oven floor. But aside from the dramatic decor, I can’t rank its pizzas above many other first-rate purveyors within a 15-minute drive. The menu of 13 knife-and-fork pies, a few salads, and some antipasti nibbles is predictable. Lean on entrees, its focus is squarely on the pies. The Margherita D.O.C. is the Neapolitan gold standard, and its traditional simplicity is delivered in the celebrated harmony of crushed tomatoes, imported fresh buffalo mozzarella, basil leaves, and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Thin and stretchy, the dough sets up barely enough to speckle its edges with char. I write off the floppy crust to the coast’s marine air—dough is persnickety in humid weather. It’s harder to forgive the disappointing Vico, strewn with domestic mozzarella, unremarkable house-made sausage, fennel, red onions, and mascarpone; half of it goes uneaten. Instead, I fill up on warm herbed olives and salumi to absorb my nifty Manhattan. Alas, we couldn’t overcome the ennui of the sparsely populated room, ghostly bar, and distracted service. On my final visit, I left with the unopened bottle of red I brought, along with my stubborn high hopes for distinctive pizza.
SLICING MORE THAN PIZZA
➔ You can’t go wrong with the freshly sliced salumi from top purveyors that include Berkeley’s Fra’Mani.
➔ Settebello is the trump card in Italy’s lively card game, Scopa. Since it seems no one here plays it, try your hand at scopacards.net.
➔ The juggernaut that is Javier’s claims most of the parking spots in this lot. Luckily, you can valet at the stand by the front door.
7864 E. Coast Highway, Newport Coast, 949-715-2072, settebello.net
BEST DISHES Marinated olives, salumi plate, cocktails.
PRICES Starters and salads, $6 to $18; pizzas, $11 to $20.