Vitaly Caffé: Transported to Italy

Deirdre Michalski |
Food And Dining

My insatiable appetite for all things "Italian" can now be satisfied right here at The Camp, in Costa Mesa, CA. No Tent Required. No trip to Italy required. Vitaly Caffé has arrived. And it is my new best friend.

Vitaly lovingly recreates so many of the Italian dishes I love, and right here in Orange County. And they're so versatile! One can order a steaming espresso and pastry in the morning, a delicious soup, salad, piadina, or calzone for lunch and dinner, and choose from 16 different gelato flavors any time of day. Delizioso!

It is not easy to replicate what is created in Italy, but Vitaly Caffé does just that, and with such finesse. The charming owners Maurizo and Barbara Cocchi hail from Bologna, the largest city in the Emilia-Romagna Region of Northern Italy. And at Vitaly, authenticity is part of their mission. The Filicori coffee is imported, and many of the ingredients are brought in directly from their favorite vendors in Italy. I instantly gravitated toward the flexible seating arrangements at Vitaly. There is a corner table tucked against a backdrop of lush greenery in the courtyard. Tables and chairs dot the shaded exterior patio with a canopy above. Small dogs are welcome at the first two tables near the center courtyard. Inside there is an espresso bar for quick takeaways, and around the corner an array of tables designed for inside sit-down fun.

Piadina

The dining menu is built around an interesting flatbread that is round and referred to as a piadina (with a smaller version called a tigelle). As history has it, the piadina was a transportable mainstay for Roman troops. The dough is made of flour, water, salt, olive oil, and a splash of milk. It is formed into a round, flat shape and cooked on a beautiful round ceramic plate called a teggia. The dough is then filled with all kinds of meats, cheeses, and vegetables, and then folded in half and cut for easy sharing. It is the perfect sandwich. Note: Ask to see their book by Photographer Pier Paolo Zani who has captured this ancient cooking tradition in photographs (published by Pazzini Editore).

The iconic piadinas are available in three different flatbreads: classic, whole wheat, and gluten-free. Guests build their own piadina or choose from a selection of ten different suggestions, such as: The Capri (with sliced Roma tomato, basil, and imported buffalo mozzarella) or the San Marino (with Prime choice roast beef, wild arugula, shaved Parmesan, Italian mushrooms, and truffle cream) or my favorite, the Riva Bella (with wild smoked salmon, cream cheese, lemons, capers, and chives—the perfect blend of tasty ingredients!). Prices are from $9-$10.50 any time of day.

Breakfast

For a traditional breakfast with Italian flare, begin your morning with a plethora of choices: Scrambled Eggs or Omelettes offering various proteins, vegetables and cheeses. Guests get to play chef, and select their faves. They also have fresh fruit bowls (and yes you can add yogurt, sorbet Vitaly gelato or even fresh whipped cream). Now for the trail nut crowd, there is Granola Cereal with Yogurt & Berries.
 

Lunch and Dinner

During the lunch hour and dinner service, Vitaly serves piadina, as well as Cassones (piadina calzones with various ingredients inside), a Tagliere (a colorful cutting board filled with assorted Italian cold cuts and cheeses, $19.50 for two), and of course hearty soups and tempting salads. Each evening, guests also find a special they affectionately refer to as "Mama Dinners." These harken to their family recipes of Old-World Italy, and feature signature dishes such as: Fettuccine with Italian Meatballs, Lasagna Bolognese, Fettucini Alfredo with mushrooms and truffle oil, and Filet Mignon. Ask about their evening specials. I was lucky enough to be there on the day when Chef DaniloVenturi—also a Bologna native—made his Lasagna, a blend of delicate, thin homemade pasta noodles, rich ricotta cheese, and Bolognese tomato sauce, then topped with an incredible cheese blend and baked. Beer and wine are also available, which adds a nice touch in the afternoon and evening.

Gelato

This seating option is perfect for people-watching as guests hover around the Gelato freezer case, where the choices are too numerous to choose just one. I can almost list the gelato flavors by sight, as each of the creamy, fruity, luscious selections seem to call my name. No name-cards are required here, with eye-catching options like Pistachio, Fresh Strawberry, Coffee, Salted Caramel. Close your eyes and just listen to this list: Cantaloupe Sorbet, Mascarpone and Fig, Ricotta and Pear with Cinnamon, Honey and Lavender, Vanilla with Chocolate, Chai Latte, Tiramisù; the list goes on and on. Vitaly owner Maurizo Cocchi proudly described to me what makes his gelato so different from all the others we might find in The OC. There are two factors: the first is that they pasteurize the liquid mixture before it is frozen. The second—and this is key—is that each of the recipes is created one at a time, with all the ingredients carefully measured to construct the perfect taste and texture. Many other gelato makers use two or three base recipes, which can limit the potential flavor nuances. And although the term “gelato” may conjure up a big scoop of ice cream on a cone, gelato is so much more than just that! At Vitaly there are wafer cones, wafer shots, gelato flights, gelato on a stick, gelato in a sandwich, gelato in a sundae, or in a frappe! Magnifico!

“Vitaly is such a treat! We love serving up vibrant tastes of Italy with warmth, creativity, and delicious cuisine at any time of the day or evening," Maurizo says. Indeed, spending time at Vitaly and meeting the Cocchis is a welcoming and delightful experience. What fun to be here, so far from Italy, and yet falling in love with it all over again. Come join the fun of Italy right here in Orange County at Vitaly Caffé.

Vitaly Caffé

2937 Bristol Street, B100
The Camp, Costa Mesa, CA 92626
714.662.5500
vitaly.net

Monday-Friday 7:30am-9:30pm
Saturday-Sunday 8:30am-10:00pm

 

Deirdre Michalski is a cuisine & travel writer and blogs for Dining Out Magazine. When not tasting new menu, interviewing chefs or traveling, you can find her writing about it all at: TastesAndTravel.com.