Some local Italian restaurants trace their culinary lineage back to the venerable Americanized red sauce haunts of San Francisco or the East Coast. Alternatively, they may possess a more direct link to the old country without the hindrance of flavors compromised to suit New World palates. Such is the case with North Boulder’s Bacco Trattoria & Mozzarella Bar, which establishes its continental bona fides with a chef who was born and trained in Rome.
Admittedly, the early word on the street regarding Bacco made me initially ambivalent about sampling its fare. However, on a lunch visit with friend Andrew, I felt my enthusiasm rising as I studied the menu. Granted, there were more pedestrian dishes such as lasagna and chicken parmigiana. But there were also such intriguing selections as piquant puttanesca with fresh pasta, artisan four-cheese pizza with prosciutto, and fritto misto, the coastal fried seafood platter.
The anticipated plate of rustic bread was one of the first items to arrive at the table. What distinguished Bacco’s offering was an accompaniment of pleasing pesto dip that astutely balanced the flavors of olive oil, green herbs and garlic. Since mozzarella is nearly Bacco’s middle name, we also ordered up a costly plate of $11 buffalo cheese with a choice of two condiments, more accurately categorized as sides. These included attractive slices of fresh tomato and marinated eggplant that would have benefited from more assertive seasoning.
The cheese carried the pleasantly moist and airy feel of good, fresh-made mozzarella. Sadly, the creaminess was marred by an acid taste that detracted from the richness. In Bacco’s defense, I’ve learned that making homemade mozzarella isn’t easy, and my own attempts have resulted in something resembling a cross between runny ricotta and low-grade animal feed.
Andrew ordered the reasonably priced $9 light lunch special, which includes salad, entrée and a soft drink. At this price, you’d expect a few lettuce leaves splashed with vinaigrette, but this plate of greens exceeded expectations. Attractively plated, this salad featured a tart and adroitly seasoned dressing atop a foundation of fresh greens, carrot strips and heirloom tomato.
My friend’s multitude of ravioli entrée options included lobster-stuffed pasta and that new ubiquitous classic, vodka sauce. Andrew selected wisely by combining subtly sweet and earthy butternut squash ravioli with sage and butter. This simple sauce presented a remarkable balance of green herbal pungency with dairy-based richness.
My main course of $13 Pappardelle Al Cinghiale, or homemade wide noodles with wild boar red sauce, was a weightier selection than the ravioli. The robust red sauce was reminiscent of a good cacciatore, or hunter’s stew, which made sense, given the boar’s status as a game animal. The meat was free of the sharp taste common to game and was surprisingly tender. The homemade pasta was blessed by ideal al dente consistency, and a generous sprinkling of arugula on top provided a compelling contrast to the stew-like richness of the dish.
Bacco ably balances both Italian- American and authentic Old World sensibilities. As a neighborhood restaurant, it succeeds admirably, especially with such unique specialties as the delectable boar pasta. The showcase cheese could benefit from some adjustment in preparation, but the underlying concept of offering fresh product with appealing sides is sound. Service was friendly and not overly familiar, and contributed to an ultimately satisfying lunch experience.
Clay’s Obscurity Corner
Having recently been introduced to making mozzarella at Pizzeria da Lupo, I decided to try my hand at home cheese-making using a kit from Sunflower Market. Making mozzarella is a straightforward process. One heats up milk, while monitoring the temperature with a candy thermometer, followed by the addition of rennet, an enzyme, and citric acid. These additions are necessary to form solid curds and yellowish liquid whey. After letting the milk set up, the heated curds should lend themselves to being kneaded into a ball of mozzarella. My end product never firmed up, and it looked and tasted like ricotta.
Bacco Trattoria & Mozzarella Bar 1200 Yarmouth Ave., Unit A, Boulder 303-442-3899