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Mix-up aside, La Bella Napoli serves up an appealing racket

What a racket.

It actually was a racket — properly called a rachetta — that drew me into La Bella Napoli Pizzeria at Town Square. I had seen something announcing an event there and referencing the dish, and my curiosity was piqued. At the time I didn’t know what a rachetta was and hadn’t seen one in Southern Nevada, but I was intrigued by the mention of a handle stuffed with cheeses. A little bit of research followed, and bingo: A rachetta is, yes, shaped like a racket — a tennis racket — and the “handle” part is a de-facto calzone, the dough wrapped up and around the filling. The rest of it, where the strings would be on a real racket, is a regular pizza.

I’m still unsure of the exact origin of the rachetta, but La Bella Napoli’s name is a homage to Naples, where pizza is considered way more art than sport, and that seemed like a good start.

Of the five rachettas on the menu, we chose the Miami Open ($17.85). The crust was perfect, with light-but-stretchy texture and the rich smoky flavor that comes only from a wood-fired oven. We liked the contrast of the calzone-like handle, stuffed with a creamy mixture of ricotta, provola and Parmesan. But somewhere along the line somebody got their Opens mixed up, because this one seemed to be a cross between Australian and Miami. We’d ordered it mainly because of the promised zucchini flowers in the handle and atop the pizza, but they were nowhere to be found. Like the Australian Open, the pizza was topped with cherry tomatoes, Parma ham, arugula and mozzarella balls, but like the Miami Open, it had ricotta, provola (smaller provolone, if you’re wondering), Parmesan and olive oil, and no tomato sauce. The restaurant has been open for only a few months, but I’m thinking a line-by-line listing may be in order for the kitchen. We liked the rachetta despite the mix-up and would try it again, hopefully with the zucchini flowers.

We’d started with something highly touted by our server, the polpettone ($10.85), or meatballs to you and me. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m married to a meatball snob who also is a tomato-sauce snob, and few manage to pass his muster. After digging in for a few minutes I knew we were in agreement when I didn’t hear anything, because he was too busy chewing. The serving was three meatballs, each of which evoked a baseball in size only; a blend of veal and pork, wonderfully heavy on basil and oregano and with a nub of mozzarella tucked inside, they were just soft enough, just moist enough and served in a mozzarella-glazed marinara a nonna would be proud of.

Penne with asparagus, shrimp, mushrooms and cherry tomatoes was a special that evening ($19.85) and was notable in that all of the disparate elements had been cooked to their optimum point and served in a light, well-balanced sauce with white wine and lemon. Great contrasts here in both flavor and texture.

And panna cotta ($6.85) for dessert, which with its caramel glaze and eggy richness seemed to us more like a flan or creme caramel, but we weren’t complaining.

Service throughout was very good, our server a little chatty but efficient, filling glasses frequently and remembering things like bringing us fresh forks after clearing our appetizers — no “Do you want to keep your fork?” here. Decor is contemporary and streamlined, dominated by the amber-glass-tiled bell-shaped pizza oven and a very attractive ceiling recess filled with wine-barrel lights, grape leaves and fairy lights. And there’s an air of practicality; dish-towel-like napkins may be all the rage, but they’re remarkably effective when one has tomato sauce on one’s chin.

La Bella Napoli, which is far more than a pizzeria, is in one of those Town Square locations that have seen a lot of different restaurants over the years, so a natural question is whether this one will survive where others didn’t. I’d give it a good shot, beginning with improved signage that made it easy to find the place, which sometimes is a difficulty in Town Square. Add to that an owner who clearly sweats the details, plus good food and service.

And a different — and much more appealing — racket than Las Vegas is used to.

Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Email Heidi Knapp Rinella at hrinella@reviewjournal.com. Find more of her stories at www.reviewjournal.com, and follow @HKRinella on Twitter.

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