The trend in Italian fare in New Orleans is toward the cuisine of northern Italy. New spots offer up not the rich red "gravy" of the South, but softer, more elegant dishes composed of handmade pastas, cured salumi and al dente risotto with shaved truffles. Still, the Crescent City has long loved red sauce, and that's evident in many local restaurants, with po-boys and trout meuniere served alongside spaghetti with meatballs.
Bei Tempi, the Warehouse District slice joint and Italian eatery, is focusing on traditional Italian-American cuisine. Housed in a large, airy space across from the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, the dining room is a well-appointed, brightly lit and comfortable place. There's no doubt visiting conventioneers will be attracted to the luminous dining room and its promise of pizza and pasta.
The menu at Bei Tempi is vast, to say the least. There are dozens of soups, salads and appetizers ranging from fried mozzarella sticks to bruschetta, stuffed peppers, minestrone, pasta fagioli and other classics. There also are baked pastas, traditional pastas, house specialties (stuffed pork chop, sausage and peppers, penne alla vodka), and more than 30 preparations of veal, chicken, seafood and combinations thereof. And then there's the pizza menu, calzones, stromboli and hot hero sandwiches. From scungilli to veal marsala, Bei Tempi seems to have covered every single one of the classics. And it you want an order of chicken wings, that's available as well.
More thought seems to have been put into the number of items on the menu than into their execution. A Caprese salad with portobello mushrooms was fine except for its flavorless, mealy winter tomato slices. The house salad, with olives, cucumbers, red onions, pepperoncini and other vegetables is a rote affair. Fried calamari were no better than you'd find at a sports bar and could stand to be crispier. House-made garlic rolls — the starter — were quite satisfying, if slightly oily.
Entrees proved to be middling at best. Veal parmigiana, the standard by which a respectable red sauce joint should be judged, failed to impress — the breading slid off the veal and the marinara was overly sweet. Its accompanying spaghetti with tomato sauce had an industrial, cafeteria-esque flavor and texture. A plate of chicken Giuseppe, chicken breast sauteed with mushrooms, olives and tomatoes in what the menu called "pink sauce," was unremarkable, as was bland sauteed redfish in lemon, wine and butter sauce. The one upside to all of these entrees is the Tony Soprano-sized portions, but at between $17 to $20, diners should expect better execution.
Bei Tempi offers pizza in the dining room and from counter service. As a slice joint, Bei Tempi is decent. The New York-style wedges are amply topped and fairly priced, and they work fine for a quick lunch or late-night option, though the crust was too thin and crackly on the bottom, whereas true New York City-style pizza dough should be a more balanced combination of crispy and chewy.
Bei Tempi aims to satisfy every desire, but the menu overreaches and the food suffers for it. It's better to have five outstanding menu items than 50 mediocre ones. Much of the food is unremarkable though not bad, but at these prices, you can get much better for less in New Orleans.