Sunday, March 12, 2017

A First Time Visit to Bravo Cucina Italiana

Interior of Bravo Cucina Italiano/Galleria


When I first heard that Bravo Cucina Italiana was introducing three new entrees to its Italian-focused menu, which happens quarterly as I understand it, I got on the phone and dialed up two fellow foodies.

"How about a taste test outing?" I asked.

Deciding to meet at the restaurant’s Galleria location in Mt. Lebanon, I pulled into the parking lot for my first-ever Bravo experience. First impression - cozy stylishness.

A warm yellow light seeped through the restaurant’s large windows out into the lot, a welcoming sight on a cold winter’s evening. The comforting mood continued inside where a smiling hostess greeted us. Behind the hostess counter, a sizable bar was stocked to the ceiling with bottles of whiskies and liqueurs.

From the airy spaciousness of the restaurant’s dining area, golden chandelier discs hung from the ceiling, lighting row after row of four-top tables covered with white table cloths. In one corner, a brick oven pizza was clearly visible in the open kitchen area where the chefs did their culinary magic in full view of the dining audience.

For starters, we began with a warm ricotta/ciabatta appetizer ($8.99) that’s garnished with marinated red peppers and thinly sliced sopressata. The colorful dish is served on a pizza paddle that rests on a metal stand.

John, our waiter, said the ricotta is made fresh daily in-house and that the copious appetizer is sometimes chosen by some patrons as their entree. At any rate, the warm cheese spread is a good match for the grilled ciabatta enhanced by slices of sopressata and red pepper.

Grilled Shrimp Entree
Our next goal was to sample each of the three new entrees and share them family style so each of us could try them. The trio of menu newcomers are currently featured on the seasonal "Taste Good — Feel Good" two-course lunch and dinner menus, now offered in the Pittsburgh area through Saturday, April 15. At $14.99 for lunch and $16.99 for dinner, the two course meals include either the soup of the day, Italian wedding soup or lobster bisque or a choice of salad.

In the mood for some chilled greens, we opted to share three salads. Ironically, we each preferred a different preparation. My top pick was the classic Caesar, made with romaine and tossed with an in-house prepared dressing that includes Parmesan cheese and  anchovies (they’re so well blended, you don’t even notice them visually) and topped with foccacia croutons. If you want more anchovies, as I did, order them on the side.

The Bravo chopped salad is a 50-50 mix of iceberg and romaine tossed with cucumber, tomato, bacon and crispy pasta nicely coated with a Parmesan dressing. The Caprese salad proved a classical rendition of vine-ripened tomatoes (surprisingly tasty this time of year), fresh Mozzarella, basil, greens and a balsamic glaze.
All three salads were nicely chilled, refreshing and enlivened with fresh tasting vegetables.

If you’re into wine with your meal, Bravo has an interesting option I’ve not seen elsewhere. In addition to regular pours by the glass and bottles, it offers 9 ounce portions for those who might want more than a glass with their meal but slightly less than two.

Parmesan Encrusted Talapia with Siracha Aioli
After our waiter placed the three new entrees in the middle of the table, we did our best to apportion them equally. Note: I often get more pleasure from a fine dining experience when I’m able to share entrees or at least sample a bit from my fellow diners’ plates, making sure the sampling is done just after the plates are laid down and with unsullied silverware for obvious hygienic reasons.

Again the consensus of our tasting group’s favorites varied. If I had to pick one, I’d go for the grilled jumbo shrimp served over orzo, faro, red peppers, zucchini, crunchy haricot vert and a fennel, red pepper, feta sauce. The rich creamy sauce brightened up slightly scorched puissance of the shrimp while the vegetables added their own nuances of flavor.

Surprisingly, for someone not overly fond of talapia, Bravo’s rendition gave the shrimp a run for its money. The mild, meaty, moist fish was coated with a Romano crust and served with fingerling potatoes, spinach and a Napoli sauce made from charred tomatoes and lemon butter. Streaks of Siracha aioli finished the plate.

While the Chianti-braised beef ravioli was the top choice of one of my fellow diners, I liked it least, partly because the beef filling was too mushy and flavorless for my taste. That’s something you can’t say about the brown butter cream sauce brightened with fresh sage, a too often overlooked herb in my book. The accompanying roasted sweet potatoes added a sweet touch to the ravioli, made with the most tender of pasta pillows.

Chianti-Braised Beef Ravioli with Sage Cream Sauce
With a little snooping I discovered that executive chef Drew Archer hails from Oklahoma, where he majored I hospitality at Oklahoma State University. Most of his culinary expertise came from working for the TAG Restaurant Group in Colorado and a stint with Brio, a member of the Bravo group, in Denver. In August 2015 he transferred to the Bravo Galleria in Mt. Lebanon where he’s remained ever since.

"Our vegetables are prepared fresh as are our pizzas in our brick oven," he said. "All sauces, vinaigrettes and many desserts are made in-house including our banana bread pudding.:

Speaking of which, I highly recommend ending your meal with the moist slab of banana infused bread pudding made with brioche and served with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. The dessert takes bread pudding to an entirely new level of deliciousness.

About BRAVO Cucina Italiana – Pittsburgh/Galleria

BRAVO Cucina Italiana – Pittsburgh/Galleria is located at 1500 Washington Rd., Pittsburgh, PA 15228. BRAVO offers lunch and dinner, as well as an award-winning children’s menu; brunch is offered Saturday and Sunday until 3 p.m.

The restaurant is open Sunday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday –Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. For more information, visit www.BravoItalian.com. For reservations, please call (412) 343-3366.

Other Pittsburgh locations presenting the seasonal "Taste Good — Feel Good" two-course lunch and dinner menus include West Homestead, McKnight, Cranberry and Robinson.

Enhancing Bravo’s Italian-style meals are two featured wines -  a rich and medium-bodied 19 Crimes Red Blend (South Australia) and a crisp and fresh Torre di Luna Pinot Grigio (Trentino, Italy).

Guests can now make reservations online for all BRAVO restaurants by visiting www.BravoItalian.com.

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