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Review: Napoli2

A repeat or a reinvention? A little of each, thank you

Ahoy, clam lovers! 
Linguine with bay shrimp and clams—a lot of clams—at Napoli2

Ahoy, clam lovers! Linguine with bay shrimp and clams—a lot of clams—at Napoli2

Photograph by Katherine Bish

On a wind-whipped, arctic night, the temperature lower than GM’s stock, we risked hypothermia just getting from the parking lot into Napoli2. The sacrifices we make for you. And do you care? No, you just want to know what it was like.

Napoli2 is a sister to the justly famous Café Napoli, for two decades a Clayton food fortress. This far West County version is plopped amid a concrete sea of other new businesses at the corner of Clayton and Woods Mill roads, looking a bit out of place on the outside, but feeling just the place once you’re in. The interior is plush and sophisticated, with comfy padded chairs and banquette seating around handsome granite tabletops. A massive floral arrangement dominates the main dining room, along with a stylish horseshoe bar fitted with a pair of sports-spouting widescreens. Smaller dining rooms off to the side give the place a convivial atmosphere. While the acoustics here are excellent, reducing noise, the bar gets crowded fast; if you’re looking for intimate dining, get a table in one of the adjoining rooms.

A short menu concentrates on familiar Italian classics, with just enough surprises to make it worth some return visits. Among antipasti not to be missed are the arancini: racquetball-sized globes of risotto-like rice wrapped around Gorgonzola cheese and vegetables and deep-fried. The crusty golden outside gives way to the creamy rice within. The lemon cream sauce drizzled over the top is a superb addition to this Sicilian classic. Carpaccio beef is sliced so finely the tender, transparent leaves must be scraped from the plate, the flavor enhanced delightfully with a spritz of truffle-oil vinaigrette. Toasted ravioli and deep-fried calamari are typical of what you’d encounter in other Italian eateries; the tomato sauces accompanying both, though, are above average.

The Caesar salad is just the right size, the dressing actually dressing the pieces of romaine and not coating them, the salad served at room temperature, as it should be. A salad of fresh, crispy greens is even better, scattered with goat cheese, splashed with piquant vinaigrette. A soup of the day was a lusty tomato bisque, full of flavor, silky and rich, but too salty.

Pastas afford the kitchen a chance to show off. They arrive in proper dishes, deep enough to retain the heat and easy to get a fork into and out of. A linguine con frutti de mare is strewn with tender clams and pink curls of shrimp, mushroom slices and slivers of tomato, all slathered with a white wine–and–butter sauce that’s made aromatic (but not overpowered) by garlic. This is a standard dish in Italian eateries, of course. But it shines here, the portions of seafood balanced against the pasta, the tastes all blending well. Consider also the penne vodka, ridged quills of penne rigate bathed in a tomato cream sauce with a dash of vodka and a sprinkle of dill, accompanied by flakes of smoked salmon.

Napoli2’s menu is, in many ways, a copy of the one at the original Clayton restaurant. There are some worthy exceptions. Calamari Siciliano is a good example. A squid “steak,” a thick piece of the mollusk pounded flat, is lightly sautéed. Cook a fillet of squid about 30 seconds too long, and a pan-fried piece of football will be more palatable. The chef here knows what he’s doing; this is a unique presentation of seafood, one that’s too often confined to the appetizer menu. Other offerings demonstrate Napoli2’s commitment to bring traditional Italian fare to West County. Veal piccata is a complete success, the meat fork-tender, the crust flaky golden, the lemon sauce fragrant and delicious. Chicken Parmigiana is exceptional, the breast meat flattened, lightly breaded, and introduced to the sauté pan just long enough to brown the crust, then baked with a fresh tomato sauce and layers of fontinella and mozzarella. (A side dish of pasta is dressed with a similar sauce that’s just too much. Ask for a plate of it unsauced instead; it’s perfect for swirling into the chicken’s cheese and sauce.)

A Dijon cream sauce adds a lustrous shine to half a dozen plump sea scallops wrapped in prosciutto and sautéed only long enough to heat the scallops’ meaty interior and add an amber crustiness to the surface. If you’re in a carnivorous mood, go for the 16-ounce New York strip steak, its surface layered with a flavorful combination of Gorgonzola and balsamic vinegar. Lighter appetites will be satisfied with an 8-ounce filet mignon.
Desserts include an intimidatingly rich, dense chocolate bombe, fudgy and worthy of its name: Chocolate Ecstasy. A crust of Rice Krispies holds a big slice of creamy peanut-butter pie that packs calories like The Departed cast loves four-letter words. The carrot cake is commendable, the cake suitably moist and spicy, the frosting elegantly thick. A collection of continually changing fruit sorbets will suffice for the poor souls who think of dessert as a palate cleanser rather than an indulgence.

There are some bargains on a wine list that is more short story than novel in length, but well constructed. Savvy diners will note an abundance of overpriced, overblended “Super Tuscans,” but there are some other outstanding choices. An ’05 Clos Du Val cabernet matches nicely with many of the beef and chicken dishes. An ’05 Optima chardonnay has spent enough time in the barrel to be full-bodied and ripe with buttery vanilla, a complement to many of the cream sauces here.

As at the original Napoli, service here rates high marks. Water and wineglasses are never allowed to go low, but the attention to them and to all other aspects of service is discreet and unobtrusive. The meal was perfectly paced. An evening here is not cheap, as Napoli2 focuses on an upscale approach. Regardless, the restaurant is a welcome addition to the West County dining scene. Just dress warmly for that wintry stroll across the parking lot.

Address: 1054 Town & Country Crossing (Clayton and Woods Mill roads)
Phone: 636-256-9998
Average Main Course: $20
Chef: John Berger (from the Clayton location)
Reservations: Not a bad idea
Dress: Modaiolo, of course. Are you ever in public any other way?
Bottom Line: Upper-end Italian dining with lots of traditional favorites, a few worthwhile surprises and a pleasantly formal atmosphere
 

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