Posted March 15, 2015
By DONATELA VACCA
The size, the music and the appearance of Bocce Bar puzzles many customers that walk by. Is it a restaurant, a bar or a lounge? The answer is easy: it is all of them in one.
The new Italian restaurant in Midtown proves to be everything and even more than what a traditional bar can be, with truly good food, great music and a diverse list of fine wines.
In Miami, it is hard to find a popular and entertaining bar that actually serves good food.
Customers are usually tricked into chic and modern bars that merely serve good drinks. However, Bocce Bar is a different story.
The social ambience of the restaurant tricks customers into believing it is just a place to hang out. But, it is much more than that. Envisioned as a place to have a good time, it offers exquisite Italian cuisine, a wide variety of beers, wines and cocktails and joyous Italian music that sets a laid-back scene.
The menu is quite extensive, with assorted dishes that fall into different categories like appetizers, entrées, salads, pasta, pizza, meats and desserts. A four-course meal is a typical tradition in Italy and thus practically enforced at Bocce Bar, too.
As long as the guests understand and venture into what antipasto, primo piatto, secondo piatto and dolce mean, they will indeed experience a true Italian dinner while savoring every taste in the flavor palette.
Although certain dishes sound too extravagant and exotic to be true, like the Suppli di Riso (crispy carnaroli rice with mozzarella and tomato) and the Spaghetti al Nero (house-made black squid ink spaghetti with seafood ragout, sundried tomatoes and caper-lemon bread crumble) they are indeed edible and there is surely something to satisfy every type of craving.
The menu is very ambitious including traditional dishes such as Carpaccio Di Bresaola, Caprese Salad and Rigatoni al Pomodoro, and more risqué ones such as Baccala Croccante (crispy salted cod), Polipo Grigliato (grilled octopus), Ravioli di Barbabietola (house made beet and goat cheese filled pasta) and Braciola di Maiale (oven roasted pork with marsala sauce and sweet potatoes).
Italian restaurants in the United States are known to be risky territory. In most cases, poor American chefs pretend to be Italian by adding tomato sauce to every dish, thus butchering not only sacred Italian recipes but also the restaurant’s image. However, Bocce Bar proves to be the exception to the rule.
The restaurant specializes in food from southern Italy, making the dishes extremely delicious while faithfully representing the basics of Sicilian cuisine: red peppers, lots of fresh tomatoes, olives and homemade olive oil.
Raised by a family of Italian grandparents and food lovers, I ventured into unexplored territory by trying the most rare dishes, which indeed surpassed my expectations. I am not a true lover of Sicilian cuisine, but these dishes proved that under a good hand, anything can be excellent.
My four-course meal consisted of a cheese platter, Terrina di Fegatina (fois gras terrine), Ravioli di Barbabietola (house made beet and goat cheese filled pasta), a tasty birra (also known as beer) and the most exquisite part of the night, a perfect Cannoli Croccante al Miele (cream cannoli smothered in honey).
Compared to the innovative and tasty entrés, my antipasto was a mediocre attempt to produce the restaurant’s own pâté. After all, Italy does not specialize in terrines and pâtés, so it clearly wasn’t the best dish.
The rest of my choices were indeed flawless. It is clear the chef uses great ingredients that give the dishes a tangible freshness, just like every Italian dish should be. The cheese platter included one of the best cheeses in Italy known as parmegiano reggiano, which was accompanied by sweet grapes and honey, quite a piquant way of starting the meal.
The uncertainty towards the beet and goat cheese pasta disappeared when I realized it tasted both tangy and sweet, creating a taste I had never tried before. Although quite a tiny portion, it is all strategically planned to leave space for the beloved Italian cannoli or a creamy gelato.
The cannoli leaves customers pleading for more, not because it is average, but instead because it is too good. As it delicately blends with the strawberries and cream, the mouth-watering sensation lasts merely 10 seconds. With no crunching or chewing, all that is left is the wondering of how such an iconic dessert can evaporate so fast.
The four-course meal was definitely quite pricey, adding up to $56 in total, but its originality, quality and taste were really good, and thus absolutely worth a try or two.
Although it is hard to pick the top five dishes, the best advice is to choose the most extravagant and unique, leaving the simple ones for second-time visits.
One of the worst turn-offs at restaurants is the mispronunciation of dishes on behalf of the waiters, and bad service. Even though it would be compelling to have actual Italian employees, the Bocce Bar managers have done a great job of educating the waiters. The servers seem to be highly trained, although some do blur the line between being sympathetic and alert, and just plain annoying.
Its iconic grass bowling lawn, located at the front of the restaurant, is a representation of a classic Italian pastime and what gave the bar its name, Bocci, which are the balls the game is played with.
The famous bocce patio lures in a lot of walk-ins who would rather pass the wait time by playing. If customers drop by without a reservation, another way of passing time is the bar, which is strategically placed in the same room in order to prompt heurs d’oeuvre, or else, a late happy hour. Anyways, any wait time is worth it when there are such interesting dishes in the near future.
Surrounded by homey mismatching furniture, antiques, old mirrors and picturesque tiles, the venue is designed to look like a rustic countryside restaurant, which, in Italy, usually offers the best food in town.
Bocce Bar’s philosophy is to do and eat as one pleases, so by offering brunch, lunch, dinner, cocktails and desserts it surely meets its own expectations.
With a great variety of delightful dishes that range between $10 and $30, and an infinite assortment of Italian drinks, Bocce Bar successfully proves that there are indeed alternatives to the traditional dark and rowdy bars.
If a charming patio, a bowling lawn and a true Italian atmosphere are not enough, the mouthwatering dishes and homemade desserts are truly worth a try.
- The Shops at Midtown Miami, 3250 NE First Ave. #107, Miami, Fla. 33137.
- Reservations: 786-245-6211 or via http://www.opentable.com
- Hours of operation: Sundays through Thursdays, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays, 11:30 a.m. to 12 p.m.
- Italian cuisine/bar.
- Price range: $$$-$$$$
- Brunch, lunch and dinner
- No dress code enforced
- Payment: Credit cards and cash
- Handicapped accessibility
- Parking: valet or self-serve parking lots in the area
- Service: polished, trained and friendly
- Atmosphere: laid-back, with soft Italian music and a tranquil bar. A place for friends, couples and families.
- Sound level: music tends to be at respectful levels, but occasionally gets loud when the venue is full. Occasional live music.
- Special features: Open late, outdoor dining, live entertainment, happy hour, online reservations.
- Personal rating: 4 stars out of 5