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Bringing up bambino.

When first walking in to Bambino Bar and Kitchen, you might think you are dressed too casually. But upon sitting down for a drink and getting comfortable, you realize that the place is fairly casual; it just has a classy attitude.

Bambino Bar and Kitchen (see background), located on Franklin Street where Duo used to call home, offers a fantastic night out for anyone who wants to hang downtown. It’s perfect for a date or a family night out.

Owner Noel Morreale, who also owns Fiamma restaurant on Hertel, wanted to create a “simple and approachable” feel for Bambino. “This is my favorite restaurant,” he says, “and I own another restaurant.”

Before you decide what you are going to order, you can sit down at the bar for a cold drink. The focus at the bar is on regional craft draught beers and Italian wines and liquors – you can also get a PBR tallboy if that’s more your style. While you sip your drink you might notice the communal tables, where three couples that don’t know each other can sit down for dinner and end up in conversation. Noel believes this encourages people to sample other people’s dishes, and get a taste for the whole menu. He says people aren’t afraid to sit with strangers anymore and he’s seen plenty of business cards being exchanged. 

You can eat at the bar, the communal tables, upstairs, or the patio. To me the place feels like you are in a nicely decorated house, with family pictures adorning the walls.  Noel decided to add some Mason jar chandeliers because the jars remind him of his grandmother’s stockpile of food filled jars she used to keep.

When Queenseyes and I visited on a Tuesday evening the place wasn’t too busy, and some pop music was playing in the dining room. On the weekends, DJ 2 Percent spins live on the patio and draws in the younger party crowd. If you aren’t feeling the beats, you can still opt for a quiet meal inside.

For starters (which was about as far as I got) Queenseyes and I got the Warm Crab dip and the Eggplant Caponata. I was a fan of the warm crab; it was similar to spinach dip, but lighter and creamier, with small chunks of crab and hot bread (right out of the wood fired oven) for dipping. Queenseyes said the Eggplant Caponata was one of the best caponatas he had ever had – right on par with Sinatra’s caponatina. Bambino caponata is a mixture of chopped eggplant, tomatoes, olives and a few other fresh ingredients tossed in to make it perfect. Noel says that since he offers such a unique selection of “Tavern Snacks” such as the caponata to dip bread in, he vehemently refuses to serve butter. The other appetizers include Roasted Bone Marrow (yep) Mortabella Mousse, Mixed Olives, Hummus, and Giardiniera.

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We were surprised to learn that many of the dishes on the menu are cooked in the wood fired oven. The oven reminded me of something that would be used in someone’s home or tavern two hundred years ago. Jason Turner, a Bambino chef, says the oven is ready when it is about 725 degrees, and takes about five hours to get to that temperature. He jested that I could stick my hand in there if I wanted to see if it was hot, but I believed him just fine.

Queenseyes and I watched our Warm Crab dish cooking in the oven next to two small pizzas, which have been a big hit according to the staff. On a previous visit, he had tried the Wild Mushroom pizza with truffled arugula and shaved parmesan exclaiming that, “With the addition of hot peppers and mozzarella, the personal pizza was delectable, with more than a hint of truffles, a nice crisp crust to hold on to and probably the only thing that could succeed in getting my mind off of the caponata.” Bambino chicken wings are also cooked in the fire oven and flavored with lemon pepper, making them different than the usual wing you get from a pizza place. They aren’t crispy since they are not fried. I believe this would be a healthy alternative to the usual crispy wings drenched in hot sauce.

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After enjoying some “Tavern Snacks” at least one more dish had to be tested. The Macaroni and Peas dish is something like a soup, with diced elbow macaroni and fresh peas in a bit of broth. I thought it was a little spicy, but Queenseyes said it had just the right kick – eccellente! I was hoping to have tiramisu (my favorite) for dessert, but I was too full to eat anything else. I would like to go back just to try some of the Italian dessert dishes or dessert wines on the menu I have never heard of.

Bambino has a pretty good selection of eats to choose from. There are seven genres of dishes, those being Small Plates, Soup and Salad, Oven Fired Pizza (with nine varieties) Tavern Snacks, Signature Sandwiches, Macaroni, and Specialties. According to waiter Fred Dendrick, the three sandwiches have been a big hit. If you are looking for something vegetarian though, the sandwiches are not the way to go. Bambino does offer a few solid choices for those that don’t eat meat – hopefully as the restaurant develops it can begin to include even more vegetarian items.

Bone-Marrow-Buffalo-NY.jpgAnother thing I must mention about the restaurant is the Roasted Bone Marrow (photo). I had never heard of such a dish and am hesitant to give it a try. A veil bone is roasted until the marrow inside is cooked, and then it is served with bread and a cocktail fork. You use the fork to scoop out the marrow and spread it on bread. Not something you see everyday! I don’t imagine myself being adventurous enough to try that, but it certainly sounds interesting. Due to the rave review of the bone marrow, Noel plans on bringing back a dish his grandmother used to make: Honeycomb Tripe.

Overall Bambino is a great place for a date, a night out with friends, or a family outing. The food is reasonably priced but you might not guess it because the food presentation is top notch. The waiters are knowledgeable about each dish and wine, and the whole staff is very friendly. The only downside that we found to this restaurant was the pop music (not our favorite), and although there are some vegetarian accommodations (us vegetarians are very picky, I know!), meat lovers rule the roost at Bambino. At this point ther
e’s plenty for everyone to enjoy – and you can always tell that the food and wine is good when you start to see others from the restaurant industry pulling up to the bar!

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