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Note: Bellavitae closed in July 2010.

bellavitae_inside.jpgMy family and I wandered into Bellavitae on a whim at about 10:00 p.m. on a Saturday evening, after a performance at the Minetta Lane Theater next door. It was simply the nearest source of nourishment that looked at all promising. But Bellavitae offers far more than mere sustenance: it is truly a gem.

The menu, which changes frequently, lacks the traditional split between appetizers and entrées. Most of the items are small plates that are suitable for sharing. There are a few conventional main courses, but they are in the minority. Most items are under $20, and there are some real winners under $10.

The focus is on ingredients from Italian artisanal farmers. The owner, Rolando Beramendi, supplies imported ingredients to many of the city’s Italian restaurants. After doing that successfully for 15 years, he decided to branch out into a restaurant of his own. It opened in January 2005 to mostly rave reviews. Frank Bruni was impressed, but gave it only the Diner’s Journal treatment.

We ordered five small plates to share, and there wasn’t a dud among them:

  • Crostini carpaccio ($14), thinly sliced raw beef with a home-made (slightly spicy) mayonaise
  • Sformatino di Melanzane ($8), baked layers of baby eggplant with mozzarella and tomato sauce
  • Crostini con Salmone e Robiola ($13), smoked salmon with robiola cheese and caperberries
  • Fichi Colavolpe all Griglia ($9), grilled figs wrapped in pancetta
  • Polpettine Fritte ($8), little fried meatballs

Any of these dishes could easily be a disaster in less skilled hands. The meatballs were breaded and deep-fried, but without a hint of grease. The grilled figs wrapped in pancetta had just the right balance between the two ingredients, with neither dominating the other. The home-made mayonaise lent just the right amount of spiciness to the crostini, without upstaging the beef. And on this showing, crostini could displace the bagel as the proper home for salmon and cream cheese.

The name, Bellavitae, is a made-up word that’s a cross between “beautiful life” and “beautiful vines.” Wine, indeed, is a focus. The list focuses on small Italian producers, with about 150 bottles available and a wide selection by the quartino. My mom and I were quite pleased with the two reds we sampled, very reasonably priced at $14, considering that a quartino yields about two glasses’ worth. House-made bread, naturally served with olive oil for dipping, completed the package.

The bill for five small plates and two quartinos of wine came to $80 before tax and tip. Service was prompt and courteous, though by this hour the restaurant was not crowded. A “beautiful life” indeed.

Bellavitae (24 Minetta Lane at Sixth Avenue, Greenwich Villege)

Food: **
Service: **
Ambiance: **
Overall: **

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