Review by food writer Pam Brandon...
At last, we got a “sneak” taste of the delicious creations at the new Via Napoli – soft opening at the Italy pavilion at Epcot. (Official opening is not until August 5th for dinner.)
The lively, 300-seat restaurant that is operated by Patina Restaurant Group is full of energy with an open kitchen and three wood-burning pizza ovens that represent Italy’s three active volcanoes (Etna, Vesuvius and Stromboli). Those ovens were cranked up to 700°F with oak wood, and we got a kick out of the Disney touch: each of the ovens is ornamented with an open-mouthed face, waiting to “swallow” the mouth-watering pizzas.
Elizabetta, our young server from Terni, Italy, walked us through the menu while we sipped Acqua Frescas, the house-made seasonal fruit juice coolers (the blood orange trumped the limonata). If you’re hungry or have at least four gathered for lunch or dinner, try the fritto misto, an enormous platter of fried mozzarella, calamari, eggplant, asparagus, zucchini, artichoke hearts and arancini (rice balls) – delicioso! dipped in the spicy red sauce. We also shared the beautiful insalata del contadino (farmer salad), a colorful plate of greens, fennel, radish and tomatoes in a light vinaigrette that was one of my favorite tastes.
Four of us each tried a different entrée: the tortino di melanzane (baked eggplant with Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses); the lasagna verde with spinach, Parmesan, béchamel sauce and a generous flourish of nutmeg; mafaldine Amatriciana (ribbon pasta with guanciale pork, a light tomato sauce and pecorino cheese); and, of course, a wood-fired margherita pizza. Every dish was well prepared and we debated what tasted best (I think the rich eggplant and pizza tied).
Oh, those pies. Via Napoli Executive Chef Charlie Restivo shared the secret combo: the oven, the mixer and the ingredients. The mozzarella is flown in from Italy, the water from a source in the U.S. that is similar to the alkaline of the water in Naples, and San Marzano tomatoes – absolutely no substitutions for a “certified” Vera Pizza Napolitana, with specific rules, including hand stretching the dough. The crust is blistered and slightly charred to seal in the flavors, says Chef Restivo. The gargantuan “1/2 meter” to share is rolled to the table on a stainless steel cart.
Sweet endings are not an afterthought. We indulged with the hot, crisp zeppole di Catarina, ricotta cheese fritters with chocolate sauce and whipped cream; traditional tiramisù; pistachio gelato; and the over-the-top coppa di brutti ma buoni, a vanilla gelato with Amarena cherries and “ugly but good” cookies. Worth an extra lap around World Showcase.
The same menu is for lunch and dinner. Table service only, one meal point on the Disney Dining Plan. For reservations after Sept. 10, call 407-WDW-DINE.