I love Villa Nova. I always have. And as much as I would like to make this a post praising Villa Nova for the beautiful, classy and well-run restaurant that it is, I cannot. There is something else more important at this moment. Yes, I must do my Chowhound duty (which I do happily) and serve public notice of hyperdeliciousness found on the premises of this long time Newport Beach landmark restaurant.
But before I get to that, I feel compelled to issue a brief statement and then offer a personal disclaimer. Quite simply, my love of Villa Nova is equal parts its rich, classic old-school Italian ambience, its gorgeous harborside location and my consistent enjoyment of a very specific set of menu selections (one in particular). I never modify my formula, and I have a great time -- every time.
Villa Nova is not a restaurant with a tremendous depth to its menu. At least not depth that is well executed. They do offer a wide selection of items on their menu, and many of them sound exotic and exciting. But they are not. Most are strictly mediocre; with occasional flourishes into good. And some are just plain bad. But none are excellent; at least none I have tried. Except for one. There is one extraordinary dish, and it is sublime. And they have great iced tea, delicious tableside bread if it's toasted and a very nice Caesar salad if you add extra Parmesan cheese. But that's it. Follow my instructions, keep it simple and you will get to know Villa Nova all over again. Or if you have never been, then you are in for a treat. But you must follow my instructions. If you come here looking for a highbrow, high-end gourmet Italian experience, then you are likely to miss out on that which I regard as one of the all-time best kept secrets in the universe of best kept secrets. It is what makes Villa Nova great; and it is a precious gift to all who come here. It is a love letter written in tomatoes and garlic. Read about it below!
Here is my four point plan to a great evening at Villa Nova:
1. Great Iced Tea
If you like iced tea, then you are in luck. The iced tea here is perky, light and refreshing; as good as I have had anywhere, and an excellent accompanyment to the meal. Ordinarily, this would be no big deal. But unfortunately, one cannot count on delicious iced tea as much as it seems like one used to be able to. With that said, I highly recommend the iced tea as your beverage choice here. Otherwise, if you prefer some other beverage, then order it and enjoy! I fully realize that some people simply do not "do" iced tea; and that's okay. But do consider the iced tea so long as you are not completely repelled by it.
2. Toast the Bread
Be sure to ask them to toast the bread. This is a key point, and cannot be ignored. Without toasting, the tableside bread is very bland and boring. Toasting brings it alive!
And don't be shy with the butter, either. With sufficient butter in each bite, the toasted bread is a very nice introduction to your Villa Nova meal; and something nice to munch throughout!
3. Caesar Salad with Extra Parmesan
I really like the Caesar salad. And, although it is very subtle in flavor, I find it to be a light and refreshing counterpoint as I munch my (toasted) bread and butter. The olive oil used in the dressing is very high quality and has an excellent, fruity flavor all its own. It just needs some grated cheese to round it out. That's why I always "kick it up a notch" by spooning on a generous portion of their freshly grated Parmesan! Just ask your waiter. :-)
And hold on to that freshly grated Parmesan, because if you have never tried it, Villa Nova has the absolute best tomato sauce that I have ever had in my LIFE. This brings me to the star of this post; Villa Nova's crown jewel; the Spaghetti Pomodoro!
4. Spaghetti Pomodoro with Extra Sauce on the Side -- Que Bellisimo!
This is really something special. Look for it as "Spaghetti Pomodoro" (or Spaghetti with Tomato Sauce) on their menu, and you will be treated to one of the finest plates of spaghetti with tomato sauce that you have ever had. The pasta is always cooked perfectly, and is the ideal vehicle for this wonderful sauce. I always ask for extra sauce on the side, and spoon on some of their wonderful, freshly grated parmesan for good measure! Avoid trying to dress it up by adding either meatballs or sausage. Both of these are mediocre at best and will spoil the utter deliciousness of this heavenly tomato sauce.
With that, I cannot say much else than from my experience, Villa Nova is a very fine, well-run old school Italian restaurant in a great part of town with a charming ambience all its own and a beautiful view of one of the most beautiful harbors in America. If you stick to basics (Read: iced tea, toasted bread with butter, Caesar salad with extra Parmesan and Spaghetti Pomodoro with extra sauce on the side), you will travel a long way to find a finer evening out than Villa Nova.
Neither will you find a finer venue to watch a real Newport Beach original; the Christmas Boat Parade! Be sure to call no later than October to reserve your window seats for one of these charming evenings. :-)
And don't forget that they are open late 7 days a week; serving a full menu in their main dining room until midnight -- every night! And with award-winning live piano entertainment in the bar to boot! I can't tell you the joy that a hot, steaming plate of Spaghetti Pomodoro (with said accompanyments) has brought to my heart on that odd night when I am out roaming around well past my dinnertime at 10 o'clock at night (or later). And the view of Newport Harbor at night is nothing short of magical!
3131 W. Coast Highway
Newport Beach, CA 92663