Restaurant Review: Bacio

Despite too little garlic in the pasta, this Cross River trattoria rates an impressive four out of five “cloves.”

Seal It With a Crème Brûlée

Despite too little garlic in the pasta, this Cross River trattoria rates an impressive four out of five “cloves.”

 

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Until I figured I’d better get a real job, I hung out in Italy, trying to be a race-car driver. Each week, our Scuderia would descend on a new town, and we would set out to find a local place with good, plentiful, modest-priced sustenance.

 

We’d find it by “following our noses,” because the kind of food we sought was normally found in a trattoria, discovered by following the smell of cooking garlic pungent in the Mediterranean air for blocks around it. Garlic was so closely identified with the kind of fare that nourished us that we developed our own rating system, based on “cloves”—from a single clove to five. Only one eatery, Al Gatto Nero in Turin, ever rated a perfect five.

 

Some dishes at Bacio in Cross River come within a strand of vermicelli of that five, except for one thing—the chef apparently doesn’t like garlic, or at least not very much of it. The result is some wonderful, enticing dishes, interspersed with some truly bland offerings.

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On our first visit, my dinner companion had an appetizer of wonderfully fresh grilled vegetable and mozzarella, and he pronounced outstanding the poached salmon with capers in a white-wine sauce with escarole. But my pasta’s tiny shrimp, or gamberetti, were overcooked in a bland sauce. Saving the evening, however, was the heavenly crème brûlée, with a crust as crisp as ice on a creamy pond of perfect pudding beneath.

 

On another evening, my dinner companion had mussels with parsley steamed in a white wine broth, and the aromas enticed all around. This was followed by an above-average veal cutlet with wild mushrooms and a brown sauce. I’d ordered pasta with prosciutto and artichoke hearts, assuming these would be the delicate baby leaves at the heart of the bud, but it was off the mark, with the sauce lacking in zest and the artichoke leaves chewy as tinfoil. Once again, the perfect crème brûlée saved the day.

 

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Like the trattorias I knew in Italy, Bacio doesn’t put much stock in decorating. Replacing what had been a diner two years ago, there are only 32 seats at the postage-stamp eatery with marble-topped tables, the walls covered with Italian aperitif and theater posters, and, since bacio means “kiss” in Italian, cut-outs of lipstick kisses. Nor is much effort put on “decorating” the plates. The food, in generous quantities, is heaped on plates without attempts to make a collage fit for a Martha Stewart book.

 

Because of its limited seating and the fact that it doesn’t accept reservations, diners arriving at rush hour sometimes have to cool their heels in a small hallway entrance, but the saving grace is the speedy-yet-unobtrusive service. Waitstaff is tableside the minute you are seated, the food arrives soon after an order is placed, and on the one occasion we had to wait for a moment (for an after-dinner cappuccino), the waitress apologized profusely, explaining that there was a line at the espresso machine. On every occasion, we were in and out in 45 minutes or so, but never with any feeling of being hurried or rushed. If you didn’t look at your watch, you wouldn’t know it.

 

While Bacio does not yet have a full liquor license, it serves wine and beer, and plenty of it, displayed in shelves over the bar, almost all Italian and many under $20. But the real treats are the specials, rotating every night and offered by the glass. If you want to stray from classic Italians like Barolo, have a sip of Crianza, a delicious Spanish wine by the glass.

 

Still the basic lament, the lack of garlic, was shared somewhat by manager Antonio Coppola. “I love garlic, too,” Coppola admits. “When we cook at home, oh the garlic! But the clientele here…” Still, the clientele seems to approve; the minuscule parking lot is chockablock full of Range Rovers and Mercedes from six o’clock until closing.

 

A rating? Four “cloves,” but the pasta without garlic was like a date with the prom queen with no goodnight bacio.

 

BACIO

Corner of Routes 35 and 121

(914) 763-2233

 

HOURS: 

Lunch, Tue. to Sat. 11:30 am- 3 pm, Sun. 12:30-9 pm

Dinner, Tue. to Thurs. 5-9:30 pm, Fri. and Sat. 5-10 pm

Appetizers: $4.90-$8.90

Entrées: $11.90-$18.90

Desserts: $4.50-$5.50

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