Restaurateur Frank DePasquale has owned and operated the space known as Bricco for the past 16 years. (Along with Bricco, DePasquale owns Umbria Prime, Mare, Trattoria Il Panino, Il Panino Express, Splash and the Ocean Club at Marina Bay).
Since opening, Bricco has enjoyed much critical acclaim and success regarding its cuisine, wine list and overall atmosphere. Which ponders the question, “Why fix it if it ain’t broke?” The answer to that question is this; times change, there are many restaurants for people to choose from. A place that is an old favorite becomes just that, an old favorite. Like many businesses throughout the world, restaurants should also re-invent themselves every few years. Changing menus is one of the ways. After all, diners become more sophisticated, more knowledgeable, more aware of what they are eating. Another way is to change décor. Remember when pastel colors were in every eating establishment? Reinvention also occurs through upgrading your furniture and making the restaurant more comfortable based on the direction the place is going.
Bricco has been and still is one of the premiere Italian restaurants not only in Boston, but in the entire country. The Italian kitchen staff is a direct result of DePasquale’s pursuit of authenticity. He’s not just competing in the North End, he’s competing in the USA, and it shows. From the mind of executive chef Gianni Caruso, to the skill of Maestro di Pasta Eugenio Barba, and to the hands of pastry chef Nello Caccioppoli, the foundation and backbone of this snazzy, ultra cool boutique restaurant are laid, and laid soundly. The proof is in the pudding.
Bricco has won numerous awards and has received multiple accolades, including The Travel Channel’s top six restaurants in the country for pasta and Esquire Magazine’s top ten restaurants in America. Is Bricco better than most restaurants in Italy? You tell me. The chefs are all Italian, the owner has mixed old school with contemporary, and the restaurant covers all aspects of Italian cuisine, not limited by a regional mentality. All pasta, bread, prosciutto, sausages, etc. are made in house. Bricco Ristorante and Enoteca (wine bar) uses as much raw food as possible from local producers and growers. DePasquale surrounds himself with a caring, savvy and knowledgeable staff to run the daily operations of DePasquale Ventures. His son Joe, who attends Johnson and Wales University, is the latest addition. Ron LeDuc is the director of operations, assisted by Drew Romanos and Nick Vatistas. These people are extensions of DePasquale’s love and sense of purpose in this ever-challenging industry.
Part of the reinvention included an upgrade of the lounge, bringing it up to the standards of the best lounges in the city. The color scheme is earthy and very soothing and there are three fireplaces throughout the restaurant making it even warmer. Bricco has plenty of room for functions, private parties and meetings. One room has imported Italian tables that lower and rise on hydraulics, depending on the mood of the restaurant. At dinner the tables are standard height, but when the mood shifts later in the night the tables are lowered, pretty cool in my opinion. Another aspect, and a real bonanza for us late night diners, is the new lounge menu that serves roughly 75% of the menu until 2 a.m. Choose from 17 appetizers, four wood oven pizzas, 10 pasta dishes and the entire dessert menu. Running the late night dining and lounge are veterans of Boston’s nightlife scene, Jerry Maffeo and John Ischia.
My personal late night favorites are the Zucchini Flowers, stuffed with perfectly accented truffled ricotta, dipped in light tempura and fried golden, a real taste of Italy.
The Caesar Salad is Bricco’s take of this overdone and touristy dish. Bricco uses blue sky bibb lettuce, buttery and silky in texture, radicchio, and crispy ricotta polpette as the croutons. The only Caesar I will eat. The ricotta polpette are little ricotta meatballs in place of croutons, nice touch. Wagyu Beef Carpaccio is fabulous for late night. It’s very light and packed with flavor, from the thinly sliced beef, to the sharp and salty pecorino and the heavenly flavor from the shaved truffles. Let’s not forget the pizza, which has been a North End late night staple for many years. True Neapolitan style brick oven pizza, fueled by a blazing hardwood fire, is the late night bite for groups of friends. The Margherita has always been my favorite. The Italian floral nose of the San Marzano tomatoes and the fresh basil added to the flavor-binding fresh mozzarella. It brings back many good memories of summers in Italy. The late night menu combined with the atmosphere of the lounge and the great house music in the background make this place an ideal destination for food and handcrafted cocktails.
The following are my personal dinner menu favorites, beginning with appetizers. Octopus roasted with a spicy and crispy ginger coating is very meaty, firm and tender, with subtle smokiness. It is garnished with traditional string bean and potato salad which, when paired together, balance each other very nicely. Scallops are of the large variety, wrapped in Niman Ranch smoked pancetta, are Caruso’s play on scallops on horseback. The scallops are firm and exhibit that desirable and unique nutty and wild caught nuance that makes them delicious. When assembled with that salty and addictive bacon flavor, the scallops explode in your mouth. Ivo’s Tuna Loin is a perfectly cooked rare, spice-encrusted sashimi grade tuna. Exhibiting rich and filet mignon-like flavor and texture, it is served with three sauces, olive pesto, parsley lemon and ginger sesame.
Next is the pasta course. All pasta is made on premises by long time super pasta chef, Zoya Kogan. In honor of the famous film The Big Night, Maestro di Pasta Eugenio Barba has created an individual portion of the Big Night Timpano. A perfectly shaped dome of macaroni, savory and rich meat ragu and scrumptious organic meat balls, this dish is a grand slam for quenching that hunger for a big dish of pasta. I recommend ordering this as a sharing course before the main course. Amatriciana Garganelli are deeply satisfying, hand-rolled tubes of pasta in a soulful, deep and intense Roman style tomato sauce livened up by smoky pancetta. Gnocchetti Sorrentina is Barba’s homemade gnocchi; so fluffy and light they resemble clouds, in a traditional Sorrento style sauce of fresh mozzarella, basil, and San Marzano tomatoes. This is Italian with a capital “I.”
Before I get into the “Secondi”, or entrees, one thing I want to make clear is that although Bricco is upscale and classy, it’s not pretentious. Service is sharp and friendly and the portions are very generous. This is not a fou fou dining experience, it’s a real eating experience. Giannone chicken, what the heck is that? Same question I had. When I asked my waiter, Sonny, about the Giannone chicken, which comes from Canada, he gave me the details. The bird is air-dried instead of washed—apparently this retains its flavor — and it’s hormone and anti-biotic free. Giannone Chicken al Mattone is half a chicken marinated in extra virgin olive oil, soy sauce, coriander and other spices and herbs. It is then roasted in the brick oven “under a brick.” The chicken was indeed exceptional, moist and tender enough to eat with a spoon, accompanied by pancetta mashed potatoes wrapped in swiss chard, what a great combination.
The Pan Seared Salmon was perfectly cooked to my preferred medium rare, exhibiting the rich and oily flavors that one wants in salmon. Served with the Italian super green, broccoli rapi, a sweet and salty grilled prawn and a cannelloni stuffed with a puree of rock shrimp and intensely flavorful salsify, this dish certainly is a well balanced meal. Veal Valdostana is a stuffed milk-fed veal chop in the traditional Valdostana method with Chef Caruso’s interpretation. It is stuffed with pancetta and nutty, piquant fontina cheese, coated in Panko, then finished in the wood oven. This dish was topped with a dense and chewy veal and mushroom demi and presented with an earthy chanterelle stuffed baked potato.
The wine list features roughly 200 wines with a strong emphasis on Californian and Italian wines. Over 20 wines are offered by the glass. The wine list is very strong on wines that are unique and hard to find elsewhere, along with better known wineries.
Finalmente, the desserts. Bricco’s Tiramisu is fantastic. Layers of sponge with espresso liqueur, whipped mascarpone, and chocolate sauce make this an exceptional staple of Italian restaurants.
The Sicilian Cannoli are two mini shells stuffed with traditional candied fruit, creamy sweet ricotta cheese, vanilla infusion and pistachio glaze. This is a unique presentation of the pastry chef’s poetic license, using all of the typical Sicilian ingredients in a unique fashion. Even Bricco’s Bread Pudding, which has never been a dessert that I would order, converted me. A sformato of moist bread with vanilla pudding, gooey, sinful caramel sauce and Gigi’s homemade banana gelato make for a smooth, rich, decadent and buttery closure to a fabulous meal.
As DePasquale says, “Bricco is a North End place and I would never be able to replicate it anywhere in the world.” Bricco is the embodiment of the North End, past and present.
Written By Damien DiPaola* — Photographed by Matt Baldelli
From Scene Boston
*Be sure to also visit Damien DiPaola’s own winning restaurant, Ristorante Damiano