Love at First Bite

Photographs by Julie Bidwell
Above: Chicken scarpiello; the inviting bar

Bar Zepoli had us the minute we entered and saw its brick walls, wood floors and tabletops, huge windows draped in burgundy fabric—a rich color repeated on the ceiling—and a lovely, homey bar that seemed to beckon, “Come in and stay awhile.”

Before I begin, I must admit to a bit of apprehension before arriving; this space, after all, was long the home to the popular, and still missed, mainstay, Napa & Co. Thankfully, Bar Zepoli did not set out to imitate anything that Napa offered. This self- proclaimed “Italian-American Grill” is a total redo, offering original interpretations of Italian mainstays that all work very well.

We felt special from the start, beginning with our drink orders, which were taken and delivered promptly with a presentation of perfectly baked, crusty Italian bread. Not one of us could resist dipping a slice into the generous helping of fruity, rosemary-scented olive oil at the center of the table.

Macaroni and Cheese with Lobster

To share, we agreed on two offerings from the small plates section and one pizza to launch into our meal. Many restaurants are now adding lobster to add depth to macaroni and cheese but here, portions of the crustacean are generous and paired with crispy pancetta, presenting a savory and sweet contrast that is extraordinary. Since it’s prepared in a blend of Gruyère and cheddar, and topped with grape-tomato topping, the result is a fusion of creaminess, flavor and crunch that lingers just long enough.

Nonna’s Meatballs were huge globes of a house blend of meat swimming in a sweet basil tomato sauce. It’s a wonderful recipe; we just wish it had been served a tad warmer. On the other hand, the pizza we opted for, the Toscana, featuring mozzarella and triple-cream Brie, was a perfect blend of oozy cheese and crispy crust. The added wild mushrooms, roasted shallots and a drizzle of truffle oil added a welcome earthiness and bite to each morsel.

At this point, we realized we had bitten off more than we could chew—for small plates, the portions are large. (You are officially warned.) But we powered on.

Housemade Italian bread, baked daily; Nonna’s Meatballs

The yellowfin tuna salad was a small work of art, and a nice respite before our main courses. At the base were three wonton shells, which the chef individually fries and shapes into small flowers. They are served on a bed of seaweed, filled with diced yellow fin and a light, airy wasabi mousseline, and topped with large slices of pickled ginger. It is all accented with an avocado-lime vinaigrette that added the right tangy accent.

The osso buco was exactly as it should be: fall-off-the-bone veal served on a bed of mushroom risotto and accompanied with roasted root vegetables and a traditional herbed-citrus gremolata. It proved to be the perfect antidote to a cold winter night.

Our pasta choice was carbonara, this version featuring tagliatelle—great for capturing the flavorful sauce—with rendered pork cheek, an upscale substitute for bacon. The pasta was al dente, the sauce creamy and flavorful, and the presentation almost too pretty to eat.

The main dining room

And then there was the chicken scarpiello, a must-have when offered. At the base was a soft polenta that perfectly absorbed the juices from the moist chicken and sausage, and crispy onions and peppers that make up the dish.

A rule when reviewing is that we must try at least one dessert, so we decided on two; our waiter told us they were both too good to pass up. One was the zeppole (or zepole) their version of the Italian doughnut, a soft and chewy gem with a crispy, cinnamon-laced crust. Be sure to save bites to dunk into an espresso.

Our second dessert, a Machiatto Caramelo, an espresso mousse cake served on warm sea salt caramel, sprinkled with toffee crumble and served with rich, housemade vanilla ice cream, also received top honors.

Osso buco

I would be remiss if I didn’t call out the attentive staff. We were enjoying our small plates so much that it took us far too long to order our entrées. Once we did, since food is cooked to order, our waiter, Ricardo, was concerned we’d have to wait. Just before our main courses arrived, he came over with a bottle of the wine we had just finished, and poured each of us a complimentary extra glass. (We were amazed because the extra time between courses had been our fault.) When you combine Ricardo’s attention with other nice touches—always-refilled water glasses and plates not whisked away until the whole table had finished a course—we say bravo to this finely tuned staff, offering the kind of great service that keeps customers coming back for more.

Machiatto Caramelo

BAR ZEPOLI
5 Broad St.
203-353-3319
barzepoli.com

CUISINE: Italian

HOURS:
Weekdays:
Breakfast, 6:30–10 a.m.
Lunch, 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m.
Dinner, 5–10 p.m.

Saturday:
Breakfast, 7:30–10:30 a.m.
Brunch, 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m.
Dinner, 5–11 p.m.

Sunday:
Breakfast, 7:30–10:30 a.m.
Brunch, 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m.
Dinner, 5–10 p.m.

 

 

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