For months we watched this brand restaurant on South Tamiami Trail as it rose up from the ground to the sleek, contemporary looking two-story restaurant it is today. Needless to say, the architecture alone had our attention! And when Napulé finally opened, we couldn’t wait to taste what Giuseppe Del Sole and Alessandro Di Ferdinando, former co-owners of the much-lauded Made in Italy Restaurant in Venice, were up to.
Our first attempt was to walk in and try to secure a table on a weeknight. Regrettably, for us, (not for them,) Napulé has been jam-packed since opening night, so we made reservations to come back a few nights later. Little wonder why so many people are clamoring to get in there! From the beautifully appointed two-story dining room, the cocktail bar tucked away to the side, the Italian deli counter, and pizza station where chefs are hand tossing dough and baking it in a gold mosaic covered wood-fired oven, Napulé offers plenty of eye candy and tantalizing aromas for diners to enjoy.
While the decor isn’t a solid reason to go to any restaurant, it goes without saying that the atmosphere of a restaurant can either enhance or disappoint. Those who agree with this sentiment will note there isn’t a bad seat in the house at Napule. We were led up to the balcony where we were seated at a table overlooking the kitchen. Bold move, ladies, and gentlemen. You better have a spotlessly clean kitchen if you’re going to place tables where every move is in plain view, including the floor! Not even the giant projection of classic black and white Italian cinema could detract us from watching the well-choreographed dance going on in Napulé’s kitchen. The added excitement and authenticity of seeing the food being made only added to the ambiance.
The menu itself is also a joy to behold, with page after page of tantalizing choices, many of which were pictured in photos. Great food photography is enough to get my palate tingling in anticipation, that’s for sure!
Our server, Maurice, answered every question as if he’d worked at Napulé for years. In my opinion, that level of commitment to staff training underscores the passion Giuseppe and Alessandro poured into this new endeavor, leaving no stone unturned in serving the guests.
We ordered a couple of cocktails and Maurice brought our first taste of the evening, the ever irresistible basket of hot, fresh bread. Accompanying the rolls and onion focaccia bread was an oh-so-yummy flash-fried eggplant and cherry tomato caponata, seasoned with garlic, EVOO, and a little salt & pepper. What a way to start the evening!
With dozens of choices to pick with, I couldn’t decide what to order for a starter. But once Jill pointed out the Polipetti Alla Luciana (sautéed octopus) from the Antipasti di Mare section, the decision was easily settled! Arriving in a large pan, the tender octopus was sautéed with fresh San Marzano tomatoes, parsley, and garlic with several slices of crisp crostini bread. The sauce was sublimely flavorful, rich with the tomato and garlic surrounded by numerous perfectly briny octopuses/octopi/octopodes. (I’m not getting dragged into the argument of how to pluralize octopus, so I’ve provided all three options!)
Jill’s starter was Napulé’s Pancetta Insalate. Featuring baby kale, spinach, large discs of crunchy green apple, dried cranberries, chunky feta cheese, toasted pancetta (!), and onion, Napulé’s salad comes with the olive oil and balsamic vinegar served in charming little carafes, allowing you to dress your salad to your liking. Nice touch!
Since it’s pretty much impossible for me to watch fresh pies being made without ordering one (pizza is my Kryptonite,) I opted for the Pizze Napoletana. This was a simple, yet perfectly composed pie, with fresh tomato sauce, mozzarella, anchovies (love those salty little guys!) black olives and fresh basil. The rustic, charred edges encircled the thin crust pizza, which will have you cutting with knife-and-fork, or picking it up and folding it over to devour even more deliciousness with each bite. This pizza tasted like it was made in Italy! (wink! wink!)
Jill and I are both huge fans of truffles, and so, for purely selfish reasons, I was delighted that she picked the Fettucine al Tartufo Nero knowing I would get at least a modest taste. During a table visit from Alessandro, he explained that all of the pasta at Napulé is made fresh daily, a big effort that is undeniably worth the results. Perfectly prepared al dente, Jill’s fettuccine was beautifully flavored with earthy porcini mushroom and just the right “kiss” of truffles.
Incidentally, with 150 or so seats, and turning tables a couple of times a night, I wondered if our enthusiastic host Alessandro had been a track star in a previous life. He was definitely hustling, a smile on his face the entire time. Such is the life of restaurateurs that “get it.”
As we sat at our balcony table, looking longingly at the dessert case laden with beautiful pastries, it was with great regret that we succumbed to the realization that we wouldn’t be indulging in a dessert that night.
Before leaving, we stopped by the counter near the pizza oven, where a couple visiting from South Africa told us they’d been back to Napulé every single night that week! Imagine . . . having such devoted regulars when you’ve only been open three weeks!
As we departed we also stopped by the prep stations where we saw those tempting desserts, oodles of cheese (some that you can order to go) and watched a chef slicing fresh meat on the meat slicer. Everything at Napulé is so enticing! Jill pointed out how the Venetian plaster walls, copper lighting, brick walls, wooden tables and mosaic tile pizza oven all harmonize and blend together like the melted cheese on a pizza.
Thanks a lot, Jill . . . now I want to order another one of Napulé’s mouth-watering pizzas!
Fortunately, I have this little video to keep those amazing flavors fresh in mind!