How to explain Italian cuisine’s singular popularity? We have heard that pizza, surely one of the most popular foods in the Western Hemisphere, surpassing even the hamburger, is also one of the more balanced nutritionally. But nutritional value is not the reason.
A better, and quite literal answer is to be found by going to Frank Cipullo’s Bacco, a conspicuously handsome restaurant in the space that had once been “Big Fish” on Route 202 in North Wales, and dining on the offerings of its “Neapolitan style family kitchen.” I did that for the first time five years ago, about a month after it opened, and was blown away by the classic, authentic renditions of the delicious, mostly Southern Italian dishes, enhanced by the tasteful, evocative rustic ambiance. On more than one occasion, It was a very satisfying dining experience.
I like chicken, especially on the bone, and have it often at home or away. So on that first visit, I was drawn to one of Bacco’s signature entrees, true Napoli-style chicken cacciatore (back then it was only $10.50), which I loved. The chicken was cooked in white wine and rosemary, sparked by bits of pancetta (Italian bacon), with onion and grape tomatoes, and final flash-baked in the 800-degree wood-burning brick oven, which created a slightly charred, wonderful crispy finish. Just its sight and aroma, as it was placed before me, had my mouth watering.
I recently went again with my dining companion on a warm Thursday evening. We opted to dine on the large outdoor patio/bar area. At first, we were seated close to the pair of musicians and found the sound from their large speakers to be too loud. A move back to a more distant table at the back edge of the patio solved the problem, plus they seemed to play more mellow songs as the daylight faded.
To my initial delight, the Neapolitan chicken cacciatore entree ($16.95) was still on the Thursday special features menu. To my dismay and disappointment, this time the dish was a disaster. (Perhaps, in five years a change of chef is to be expected). Not only was the chicken badly overcooked, it was overly seasoned with rosemary and garlic, overdosed with lemon, and served laying dark and unsavory in a pool of greasy oil. We asked for an extra clean plate to lift the chicken out onto dry land. We should have sent the whole drippy mess back to the kitchen.
There was a large and vibrant crowd both outside on the patio and inside clearly enjoying themselves and their meals in the great ambiance of the place, attesting to Bacco's continued popularity. Indeed, everything else we had that night was excellent and delicious. Perhaps the chicken cacciatore was an anomaly.
Our competent and accomodating server promptly brought a basket of very fresh, still warm Italian bread rolls, plain and garlic, and a dish of extra virgin oil topped with a couple of garlic cloves.
There was not a thing wrong with our chosen first course, the excellent Antipasto Napoleon ($8.95), a beautifully presented cold antipasto of roast pepper and tomato, layered with slices of grilled eggplant and zucchini, prosciutto crudo, Italian salami, and spressata, with kalamata olives and fresh basil, drizzled with balsamic glaze and olive oil.
My companion enjoyed the antipasto with a chilled glass of sauvignon blanc she had ordered.
She also liked her succulent main course selection, a Bacco house specialty entreé, the superb Escolar (Hawaiian butterfish), a three-inch thick filet of sweet white fish, similar to Caribbean grouper, but somewhat denser. The filet was lightly coated with a moist crabmeat-panko crust and sherry cream sauce ($16.95). Our server kindly substituted a side of nicely grilled asparagus for the green beans per our request. The starch was a “potato croquette,” which I was curious to try, but found to be too dry and chewy for my taste.
I am always captivated by Bacco's varied dining interior spaces that flow one into the other, marked in part by the varied floorings of slate, wood, and brick, and by Cipullo's live ornamental grape arbor you will pass on your way in from the parking lot.
Overall rating: mmm 1/2 (out of 5 m’s) great ambiance, uneven food.
Location: 587 DeKalb Pike, North Wales.
Web site: www.baccobacco.com
Cuisine: Regional Italian, mainly Neapolitan
Hours: Lunch/Dinner: Monday through Saturday, 11:30 a.m.- 3 p.m. / 4 p.m. - 10 p.m.
Dinner only: Sunday 1 p.m. - 9 p.m. Lite fare 3 p.m. - 4:30 p.m., 10 p.m. – closing.
Prices: Appetizers, soups, salads $4 to $9; pastas $15 to $18; sandwiches $7 to $12; entrées: $15 to $25; pizzas $8.25/14” to $15/ 18” pie.
Ambiance: Rustic Italian divided into several cozy dining areas, a large bar, a wine tasting room.
Credit cards: All major accepted
Alcoholic beverages: Attractive bar; good wine list, especially for Italian regional reds.
Wheelchair access: Yes
Special features: Large outdoor patio bar in summer featuring live music/entertainment. Private parties, wine tasting nights, chef’s choice dinners, cooking lessons, catering.
To contact Mitch Davis, you can e-mail him.