Somers Point undoubtedly offers a lot of restaurants. But Raffael Kupa saw a niche that he could fill.
Kupa has been providing authentic Italian food in a BYO setting as the co-owner and co-founder of La Fontana Della Citta in Philadelphia since 2006. And while Somers Point had its share of Italian options, Kupa’s vision would raise the bar.
So he opened Buona Vita in the former Latz’s by the Bay location on Bay Avenue over the winter. Since then, it has been the buzz restaurant of the town.
“Somers Point really needed a really great Italian BYO restaurant,” Kupa says. “When I started thinking of coming to the shore, Somers Point was the place I kept going back to because I knew it would be ideal.”
Buona Vita offers authentic Italian cuisine with a gourmet touch. Sourcing as much local seafood and ingredients as possible while using quality meats and imported ingredients, Kupa says “I should probably charge a lot more, but I wanted to compete with the area.”
The price is right.
All appetizers are under $10, including PEI mussels ($7.95) with peperoncino, oil, garlic, white wine or tomato sauce; light fried eggplant ($8.95) stuffed with whipped fresh ricotta cheese, topped with fontina cheese and finished with marinara; and the antipasta ($9.95) with tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, roasted peppers, prosciutto di Parma, marinated olives, grilled veggies and aged balsamic.
Four salads are under $9, including the popular roasted beet ($8.95) with mixed greens, toasted almonds, gorgonzola dolce and raspberry vinaigrette; and the homemade pastas are all under $20.
Of the pastas, do yourself a favor and get the homemade potato gnocchi ($17.95) in your choice of marinara, gorgonzola or aurora — or ask for a sampler plate of all three. The pappardelle is also homemade and is stellar served with Buona Vita’s bolognese ($18.95).
The huge menu also features a variety of seafood pastas, including the Fettuccine Buona Vita ($23.95) with homemade spinach fettuccine tossed with jumbo crab, grape tomatoes, basil, garlic, olive oil and white wine; seafood dishes such as langoustines (market price), large Mediterranean grilled shrimp with olive oil and a a fresh squeeze of lemon.
“Being at the shore, we have a lot of seafood,” Kupa says. “People may not be familiar with langoustines, but when they try them, they love them.”
Of course, Buono Vita has its share of meat dishes, such as its famous Vitello Buono Vita ($25.95), veal medallions topped with prosciutto di Parma, smoked mozzarella, imported porcini mushrooms and brown veal stock reduction, as well as their veal ($20.95) and chicken parm ($18.95) made with Buona Vita’s equally popular tomato gravy.
“We are known for it,” Kupa says. “Without giving too much away, we use all imported ingredients from Italy and it’s slowly cooked for a long, long time.”
One problem Kupa keeps having is the inability change specials because people like the current ones so much including fresh branzino served whole or filleted with artichoke hearts, lump crab, grape tomatoes and a lemon-wine-caper sauce over cappellini, as well as veal osso buco.
“It’s a huge hit right now,” Kupa says. “We cook it for at least three to four hours in an oven with all assorted vegetables, then we take all of the juices and vegetables and blend them to make the sauce and serve it all over saffron risotto. I had a party of eight the other night get really upset because they ordered it and we ran out.”
Desserts, including creamy, light tiramisu, tartufo, crème brulee, panna cotta and cannoli, are made in house, adding to the authenticity.
“A lot of people are excited and happy that we are in Somers Point,” says Kupa, who was born in Albania and raised in Torino, Italy. “They are happy to have some real, authentic Italian food here. And I love the area and the people. It’s so much different from Philadelphia, where people are more in a hurry. Here, it’s a lot more relaxed … a great vibe.”
Where: 801 Bay Ave., Somers Point
When: Open 3 to 10 p.m. daily; hours change seasonally
How much: Appetizers range in price from $7.95 to $9.95; salads $7.95 to $8.95; pasta $16.95 to $19.95; pasta with seafood $17.95 to $25.95; fish $18.95 to $21.95; meats $20.95 to $25.95; kids menu $8.95; desserts $6.95 to $8.95.
Services: Major credit cards accepted. BYO. Disabled access via ramp to front door. Eat in. Takeout. Outside dining available. Private parties. Catering. Kids menu. No smoking.
More info: Call 609-788-0370 or go to BuonaVitaRestaurant.com.
Between you and me: Buona Vita looks nothing like the former restaurant that occupied the space. All of the interiors have been re-done with new decorations and color scheme, and the porch on the front and patio in the back offer al fresco dining.