Walking into Campo 185, a new Italian restaurant in downtown Palo Alto, it’s not hard to imagine this place plucked right out of a modern Italian city where families come to dine.

There’s a lot of cozy seating for large groups and families, though it still is accommodating for couples. But if you are going there expecting a quiet, candle-lit, romantic Italian dinner, the tables’ close proximity might not make this the best choice.

I’ve never been to Italy, but I felt like I was getting a strong sense of what food actually looks and tastes like there. The essence of classic Italian cooking is fresh, simple ingredients, which just so happens to work well with the modern farm-to-table movement all over the world. Campo 185 delivers on both thanks to their executive chef, Robert Holt, a Texas native whose childhood on a farm gave him the farm-to-table principles before it had the name. As an adult he traveled extensively throughout Italy and developed a particular fondness for Italian food.

While the food is authentically Italian, it still has Holt’s own distinct flair as a chef, which is seen mostly through his ingredient choices. Take the pizzas for instance: they are done in the traditional Neapolitan fashion: thin crust, light toppings, but some of his choices of ingredients include broccoli, farm eggs and Calabrian chiles.

I ordered the Carbonara pizza for $16, which has house-cured pancetta, mozzarella cheese, whipped farm egg, grana padano (a popular cheese in Italy) and arugula pesto, which was drizzled lightly over the top of the pizza. Of the different Neapolitan style pizzas I’ve tried, Campo 185’s dough had the boldest flavors, which was still light by American standards.

Italians place a lot more importance on mozzarella cheese than most Americans do. Campo 185’s mozzarella appetizers were done with the care and patience you’d expect in Italy. Holt hand-pulls the mozzarella himself, meaning he actually orders the curds and turns them into cheese right there in the kitchen. The result is a smooth cheese. I ordered the Belfiore Burrata Alla Panna for $12, which comes with two big servings of fresh mozzarella, tomato jam (which is tangy and spicy), favas, olive oil and bread. All the elements combined make for an incredibly flavorful bite.

I skipped the entrees and instead opted for the baked rigatoni. The noodles are served with very small slices of eggplant, tomatoes, gaeta olives and ricotta cheese in an oven dish, with whole basil leaves. The top layer of pasta was crispy with cheese baked into it. The dish was slightly spicy.

For the salad I ordered the Wild Arugula for $11. I don’t normally care for arugula’s strong flavor, but it was balanced nicely with the tangy balsamic vinaigrette, sweet Bing cherries, toasted almonds, shredded ricotta cheese and Umbrian farro.

Campo 185
185 University Ave., Palo Alto. 650.614.1177