It's almost biblical, as in Abraham begat Isaac, and Isaac begat Jacob, and so on. In a similarly enjoyable but more professional manner, restaurants in food-oriented cities like Providence can be relied upon to beget spin-offs that, like high-achieving children, strive to make their parents proud. Thus was born Bacaro, the highly regarded prodigy that arrived in the spring of 2007.
At first, in the local tradition, it was usually spoken of as that new place where Neath's used to be. Just a month after Neath Pal closed his popular shop to spend more time with his kids, amidst the groans of baby-free yuppie gourmands, Bacaro opened its doors. The prior culinary standards could be expected to remain top-shelf since the new restaurateurs were Brian Kingsford and Jennifer Matta, a couple bursting with ideas from their decade at Providence's world-renowned Al Forno.
Apparently, and blessedly, they couldn't decide what to eliminate from their list of the kinds of places they'd like to operate, so they kept them all. In Venice, a bacaro is an enoteca, a wine bar. Bacaro is also a salumeria, offering various cured meats as well as cheeses; and it's a cicchetteria, with a menu of small dishes, Italian tapas. It also provides the pastas and entrûes of a regular Italian restaurant.
Near the entrance, in the bar area, is a deli case displaying their various salumeria offerings. There are tables down there, but we went upstairs to the dining room with the better river view. (The wait staff must have the legs of mountain bikers, since they're constantly going up and down the lengthy flight for drink orders.) The decor upstairs is as simple as can be, encouraging plate attention, with scarcely more than Christmas wreaths and poinsettias on our visit.
Being an enoteca, Bacaro is obliged to offer at least 100 wines, which it does, including those of 16 regions of Italy, plus 10 varieties of grappa. My classic Bellini, with prosecco and peach purèe, wasn't too shabby, either.
The main menu changes frequently, not only by the season but depending on what the various local farm sources have available. Our menu began with a list of nine salads ($12-$18), such as roasted organic baby beets and lavender-scented goat cheese tossed with watercress and micro greens.
One of our group of four simply wanted the traditional Caesar salad, which we all sampled from the large plate. It was definitive, with just the right salty tang from the anchovies blended in the dressing, and the croutons — from fresh bread — were big enough to do a soft/crunchy contrast. The delicious cauliflower soup ($13) Johnnie chose was enhanced with dollops of thickened cream and porcini mushrooms made more themselves with truffle oil.
Oh, those cicchetti. Ten cold choices and twice that many warm, $4-$10. Ah, those anchovy "sandwiches," the tiny fish wrapped in sage leaves, breaded, and fried; and those creamy, mozzarella-filled fried risotto balls. The pan-seared duck breast "tenders" weren't breaded and fried like McDonald's chicken tenders, but rather cubed with diced apples and celery root slivers. Mmmm, how delicious, the eggplant caponata, redolent of olive oil, and the truffle-imbedded peccorino with fig jam and honeyed hazelnuts.
Still carried along by the urge to sample small portions, we decided to all share a pasta and main dish. We ordered the linguine "Nero" with octopus and squid ($21). The pasta was replaced unannounced with squid-ink spaghetti, but was nicely al dente, and the aglio olio preparation was restrained in its red-pepper-flake heat. There were wood-grilled possibilities, from spareribs to veal tenderloins, but we went for seafood. The thick, palm-sized piece of line-caught Block Island swordfish ($30) was roasted Ligurian-style, the menu informed us, which involved San Marzano tomatoes and lots of capers and olives. We all were pleased.
Having not practiced restraint so far, we weren't about to do so with the dolce course. The desserts are made-to-order, and some of them are ingenious.
Ken wasn't fascinated enough by the red wine ice cream with fresh black pepper ($11), so he went straight to the "Scotsman" ($18), vanilla ice cream with a shot of 15-year-old Macallan Scotch to dribble on it or down your chin. Johnnie chose the remarkably light eggnog panna cotta ($11), and Donna had the dense flourless chocolate espresso torte with vanilla ice cream ($13).
I had a little of everything. Bacaro is the kind of place that makes you grin and think of doing that.
Bill Rodriguez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.