Name: La Vita E Bella
Location: 1708 Vestal Parkway E, Vestal, NY 13850
Phone: (607) 748-2900
Price: $30+ for two
La Vita E Bella is a somewhat newer entry to an already-saturated Italian food scene, but is certainly a restaurant worth seeking out. Located on the Vestal Parkway not far from the Full Belly Deli and Lemongrass, La Vita E Bella (henceforth to be referenced by the shorter, less pretentious name "Bella") doubles as a pizzeria and a casual fine dining restaurant. I have not yet had the pizza, so this review will focus on the rest of the experience that Bella offers. My understanding is that the owner of Bella is related to the former owner of Pino's, which was located on the South Side of Binghamton and what seemed to be a local favorite of many folks before it closed for good a couple of years ago.
The restaurant actually has two entrances. The pizzeria entrance is the one to the right while the dining room entrance is to the left. I advise entering through the left entrance if you are going for dinner. Bella has probably the strangest layout I've seen in a restaurant. There are three distinct dining rooms: to the right there are booths, to the left there are some larger tables, and there is a back room with what appeared to be smaller, more intimate tables. Both times when Megan and I have been there, we've gotten seated in the exact same booth in the right-most room. This layout is most strange in the sense that the waiting area where the host/hostess stand is located is directly adjacent to the kitchen, so all food must pass through this centralized area before it reaches its destination. I don't think the layout is too conducive to efficiency, but hey, whatever works. All three dining areas are well-decorated and give off the vibe of a fancy Italian bistro.
The wait staff is professional and seemingly experienced, delivering the daily specials from memory and dressed appropriately. A suited gentleman who I believe is the owner can often be seen walking around making sure the patrons are well taken care of. On both visits to Bella, I have been very impressed with the service.
The menu consists of the usual Italian favorites like Chicken Parmigiana, Lasagna, etc. but also includes some other, less common items like Spaghetti alla Carbonara, and they usually have some interesting specials as well. Last time, I ordered the lobster ravioli with arrabiata sauce special, which was quite good, and one of the specials on our more recent visit was Spaghetti al Nero di Seppia, spaghetti with a sauce made from squid ink. Definitely an item you won't find everywhere. Bella also appears to have a decent wine list, as all Italian restaurants worth their salt should.
I ordered the Spaghetti alla Carbonara this time and Megan went with the Penne alla Vodka. Dinners at Bella include salad and bread.
The salad was, in my estimation, disappointing. Basically it was just a big mound of iceberg lettuce with a couple tomato slices, maybe some onion, and dressing on the side. I would've liked to see some Italian greens and/or olives in there, but it's hard to be too critical over salad. The bread, on the other hand, was absolutely wonderful. Extremely fresh with oil for dipping on the side, this was some of the best bread I've had around here. Very impressive.
The carbonara I ordered was very good. Not mindblowing and not something I would necessarily crave again at some point, but a really good mix of al dente pasta, egg, pecorino cheese, and pancetta. The pancetta in particular was a highlight of the dish and it could've probably used a few more bites of pancetta in there to give some more smoky flavor. Overall, I was happy with the dish and found it to be an above-average dish.
Megan's penne alla vodka was also quite good. Her immediate thought was that it was "much better than the penne vodka at Consol's" and that it was "maybe on par with the Lost Dog's." I'm not really sure about that last part, but I tried it, and it was definitely better than Consol's. Oddly enough, the Penne Vodka it reminded me of most was Megan's own. She has made the dish herself a few times and is getting to be quite good at it! Anyway, this was pretty good stuff.
We didn't get dessert on our most recent trip (too filled up!) but they do have a good looking dessert menu with different cakes, cannoli, and tiramisu. I read somewhere that the tiramisu is the stuff of legend, so I will try to save room for it on my next trip. The key words there, of course, are "on my next trip," suggesting that La Vita E Bella is certainly a restaurant deserving of return customers. It's a nice atmosphere, the service is quick and attentive, and the food is praiseworthy. I give La Vita E Bella a solid recommendation.