Tucked away – and seriously, we mean tucked away – on Division Street just off Canal Street is the absolutely incredible Bacaro. So wonderful, that Fork has been seriously torn about letting this gem out of the bag! Everyone should eat there, but we want to keep it to ourselves as well! But, we really want this place to do well, so level heads prevailed – GO THERE! GO THERE! GO THERE!
Division Street is just east of Allen Street. It is across Canal Street from Ludlow Street. The restaurant is two or three entrances from the corner of Canal and Division. If you weren’t looking for it, you wouldn’t find it. Again, find it you should (you need your best Yoda voice here)!
Bacaro is styled after a Venetian ‘bacaro’, which is a working man’s type pub. In a typical Venetian bacaro, cichetti (think snacks) are served along with ombra (think small glass of wine). By the way, the staff is fabulous! Everyone is special, every accommodation is made, everyone is family.
Bacaro, once an aquarium store, is now a two-level wine bar and osteria. You might think you walked into the wrong place, but this is the place! The upstairs has a bar and a few tables. You can eat upstairs or at the bar, but the treasure is really downstairs. The entire place is done with exposed brick, salvaged barn wood, and once downstairs there are a myriad romantic nooks and crannies. Our drawer of Cutlery ate in the brick-vaulted private dining room which is located just below the sidewalk. Really rustic table with benches, very private, but not dark or feeling out of the way. This private ares is secluded enough for a large party to be boisterous (not that this band of Cutlery EVER is!) but still able to catch peeks at the comings and goings of the rest of the room.
And the food – oh, the food is AMAZING! I sometimes feel as though I cheat you all with mere words and photos. There are restaurants and meals that are so superb that you really must try them for yourselves – this is one such place.
There was so much food and so many pieces of Cutlery, I think we will just run through the dishes and not worry so much about who had what dish.
My only half-hearted complaint about Bacaro is that the names of dishes don’t necessarily match up with what most people perceive of the dish. Take for example the Risi e Bisi. In most people’s minds risi e bisi is an Italian rice and peas dish that is porridge-like in consistency. At Bacaro, Risi e Bisi is rice and peas, but shaped into balls and deep fried. THey’re about the size of a ping pong ball with the outer shell golden brown and crisp, but the inside is molten and tender and full of flavor. The downside? There are only 4 little rice balls on the plate – and that mean old Cake Fork swiped one right off the Birthday Fork’s plate.
The big Fork had the Baccala Mantacato. Baccala is salted cod. Here is Fork’s rumination on baccala. First you catch a perfectly good cod. Then you dry it by either curing it in salt or hanging to dry. And then – and this is where my confusion set in – you cook it in a liquid to reconstitute it. Why not just use the cod as is? But that is neither here nor there for our purposes. The baccala was creamed, which gave it an amazing flavor, not really flaky, not dry at all. The baccala was served over creamy polenta, rich with cream and butter and garlic and Parmigiano. Yes, it’s creamy over creamy. But this is warm, creamy, homey, delicious. I would never have ordered this dish, but now tried, will order again and again.
Cake Fork ordered the Fritto Misto. Mixed vegetables, battered and fried. What can be bad about anything dipped in batter and fried?! This was a very generous sampling of vegetables. There were green beans and peppers and onions and zucchini and carrots. All crisp tender inside and golden batter crispy outside. Served along side these beauties was a garlic aioli. A squeeze of lemon, a dash of salt and these were just wonderful.
Knork – who is a gigantic soup fan – ordered the Pasta e Fagioli. By the way, aren’t the white dishes just beautiful? Everything was served on these sculpted white dishes. The soup was hardy and rich. Thick with beans. Instead of a short type of pasta like tubetini, Bacaro uses a wide flat noodle. Perfectly seasoned, nice infusion of saffron in the broth.
There were a couple of plates Lasagna Treviso on the table. Dense and rich and so flavorful. Great bechamel sauce and tangy Treviso radicchio, rich smoky flavor from the smoked mozzarella. Gooey and crusty around the edges, like anything bubbling with cheese should be and a nice sized portion made this dish stellar.
And there was Pasta con le Vongole. One of this Fork’s favorite pasta dishes and not one that I would normally order in a restaurant. This recipe completely has changed that. Fresh, sweet clams, halved cherry tomatoes, garlic, onions, fresh chopped parsley and perfectly cooked al dente pasta all swimming in a delicious, clear broth. There were a surprising number of clams in this dish. All of them in their shells. I know you aren’t supposed to eat shellfish in any month with an R in it, but this pasta dish is a major exception to the rule.
We had an order of Bigoli en Salsa. Bigoli is an extruded pasta, which is a long thick tube. It is usually – as this was – a whole wheat pasta. There were lots of onions in this dish. And this is where I have to stop. The salsa is made from onions and – mostly – anchovies. I can’t do anchovies. I would love to say I am one of those artists that would suffer for their craft – and I would eat mountains of ice cream, bricks of butter, loaves and loaves of bread. I would try any preparation of nearly any food. But anchovies? Forks and spoons, you are on your own with this one! Although, I was told, that if you are an anchovy fan that this dish is amazing.
We also had Bigoli d’Anatra. Again, whole wheat pasta, but this time in a deep and rich duck ragu. You could taste the slow cooking and love that went into this dish. Laden with duck, tomatoes, garlic and onions, this dish had great flavor to it. This was one of those dishes – like the pasta with clams – that needed nothing more than a lot of crusty bread and you were all set.
Fork ordered Stinco di Maiale. Might have been the name. Seriously, how could anyone resist a dish with the word Stinco in it? Maiale is pork, stinco is the shank. This was a HUGE pork shank that had been roasted low and slow. The meat was surprisingly tender. Considering the muscles in that part of the animal that are worked and used every day the shank can be really tough if not cooked properly. This was obviously slow roasted with carrots and onions, some tomatoes for good measure. Served on top of creamy polenta and surrounded by the sauce it cooked in, this was fantastic.
For dessert – and you know there always has to be dessert – we had Panna Cotta. Very light, vanilla panna cotta, slightly drier than what you usually get and really much nicer consistency this way. I loved the speckles of vanilla bean through out the panna cotta. And the sauce? Oh, the sauce was amazing! Stewed cherries. Sweet and tangy at the same time. So worth the calories – though birthday desserts have no calories, n’cest-ce pas?
The wine list is great, the sommelier knowledgable. The cocktails are great.
If you can find this place, you will be very happy you did!