Posted: 01/06/2009 07:08:35 1
I'm sure a lot of people wish there were more restaurants like Napoli Pizza & Pasta. It caters perfectly to American tastes. The food is familiar, the prices are good and the service is efficient. And then there is the fresh-baked bread and house-made cannoli that help secure this San Rafael eatery's top spot in the popularity polls.
With such a winning formula it comes as little surprise to learn that Donato Lamorte, along with his father, wife and son, are no strangers to the restaurant business. For seven years they ran Aroma Pizza at the Northgate mall. The family also owned an Italian restaurant in Reno. Fortunately for Marin residents they returned to the county, and four months ago opened up their latest venture at the east end of Fourth Street in San Rafael.
The spiffy, clean space with its sunny yellow walls and a smattering of photographs of Italy was almost filled to capacity on a recent Tuesday night. We snagged a table toward the back of the restaurant adjacent to the partially open kitchen with a large pizza oven. It can be little drafty in the front room. A 10-seat bar sits even further back where an extensive offering of beers, including several Belgian styles, along with a hefty list of wine offerings are stocked.
Since it's soup weather, I ordered a cup of minestrone ($2.95) and, wow, was it good. Chock full of vegetables and what tasted like a meat-based stock, it warmed my chilled bones. I followed with a small Caesar salad ($3.95) that couldn't
have been better. Crisp romaine, not too much anchovy and a light dressing allowed the salad to shine.
Pizza was next and we opted for the recommendation from our server (the owner's son) and we weren't disappointed. A combination margerita and chicken delight ($18.45) had one side smothered with a light and herbaceous marinara sauce, and the other a pesto topping and generous chunks of chicken.
Fresh ingredients piled atop a very thin and crispy crust made for some very tasty pizza. We also tried the fettucine matriciana ($11.95) an earthy concoction of herbs, garlic and bits of pancetta. We had to take this home as the portions are large enough for two meals. I wished I had room for the lasagna manicotti and stuffed cannelloni ($12.95), which are prepared with Lamorte's house-made shells. I'll just have to come back.
It didn't take much convincing from our server to try the cannoli ($5). When he explained that his dad makes them fresh, and that he himself eats two every day, we didn't hesitate. A picture-worthy confection arrived - placed directly in front of my 7-year-old son. His face lit up. Puffs of whipped cream surrounded a perfectly shaped shell filled with a slightly dense, ricotta mixture topped with a cherry. Toothsome to the very last crumb, we devoured this classic pastry that struck just the right balance of savory and sweet, something I so appreciate about Italian desserts. They're never cloying.
With the dining options growing steadily on San Rafael's Fourth Street, this one is sure to build a loyal following. It is the kind of place that is made for regulars with its fresh-made favorites and family-style vibe. Amid the ever-expanding ethnic options, a place like Napoli is a familiar face in an often unrecognizable crowd.
Napoli Pizza & Pasta
Address: 869 Fourth St.
Web site: https://sites.google.com/site/napolimarin/home
Noise level: Moderate
Recommended dishes: Pizzas, shell pastas and cannoli
Liquor selection: Beer and wine
Heart-healthy and vegetarian selections: Caesar salad, soups
Wheelchair access: Yes
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays, to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 5 to 10 p.m. Sundays.
Credit cards: All major
Summary: Napoli is the kind of place that is made for regulars with its fresh-made dishes and family-style vibe. Pizza, pasta and cannoli top the list of favorites at this downtown San Rafael eatery.
Tanya Henry, the former senior food editor at cooking.com and a judge at the James Beard Foundation journalism awards, has degrees in culinary arts and nutrition and lives in Marin. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. The IJ invites readers to post their own opinions and experiences about the restaurants featured in Wednesday's dining reviews. Enter your comments at the bottom of this story online at www.marinij.com.