The skies over Naples may look sunny, but, in the background, volcanic smoke spews from Mount Vesuvius. It's all depicted on a mural in the front dining room of Pulcinella -- and it may set you to thinking about those hardy Neapolitans who, with danger looming, have always managed to eat well.
And so, probably, will you, at this sprawling spawn of a nearby pizzeria. From chef and co-owner Ciro Tursi comes grilled octopus, long-cooked, ultra-tender and subtly smoky, plated atop a nicely composed fava bean salad. Fava beans are also integral to a lively bean salad featuring olives, roasted pepper and arugula in a zesty lemon dressing. Neapolitan authenticity informs mini rice balls stuffed with meat, peas and mozzarella, as well as plush veal meatballs blanketed with a bright tomato sauce.
A surfeit of sauce overwhelms cavatelli Siciliana, the dumpling-like pasta combined with diced eggplant and baked with smoked mozzarella. Even so, the flavors are bold and true. Another fresh pasta, pappardelle Bolognese, features al dente ribbons in a rich meat sauce. It's a hit, as is rigatoni Amatriciana, pasta tubes with pancetta and tomato sauce.
Plump shellfish topped with bread crumbs are plated over linguine in Tursi's take on shrimp oreganata. Chicken scarpariello, available on or off the bone, features chicken breast in a warm vinaigrette with peppers, sausage and potatoes. Somehow, the dish comes off as a bit wan. More successful is the generously portioned fork-tender veal Parmigiana, which just about overhangs its plate. While it's not a crime that pasta doesn't accompany the dish, it becomes disconcerting when a waiter says that only a full portion, not a side pasta, may be ordered. This, according to Tursi, simply isn't true. Another night, it should be noted, service is much more accommodating.
Minor glitches are forgotten at first bite of the lush nut-encrusted pistachio cheesecake. Yet even that takes a backseat to a hazelnut-enriched layering of dark, milk and white chocolate mousse that brings to mind a dessert once eaten at a little cafe in Positano, just a few kilometers from Naples -- and Vesuvius.