Local Restaurant Week: Bambino Bar and Kitchen
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • September 27, 2011 @ 8:00am
While “local” is the trendy buzzword during Western New York’s biannual Local Restaurant Week, “authenticity” finds itself taking a backseat. Head chefs at many local restaurants take liberties in putting their personal stamps on foreign cuisine or adjusting ethnic foods to suit our regional palate. Not so at Bambino Bar and Kitchen (297 Franklin Street), where general manager Gabrielle Mattina’s knowledge of Italian culture permeates each dish, particularly the margarita (margherita in Italian) pizza, one of three choices for $21.11 during Local Restaurant Week.
“People like foods that are natural, home-made, rustic and local,” Mattina said of Bambino’s mission.
For $21.11, I received three slices of crusty bread, fresh olive oil, a house salad with Bambino’s own vinaigrette dressing, a generous plate of pizza and a cannoli. From previous LRW experience, we learned that some restaurants tend to skimp on portion sizes at the reduced cost. “Our portions are legitimate,” Mattina explained. “This is not just a tasting.” As someone with a rather ridiculous appetite, I barely managed to finish everything—I may have left a small piece of crust.
Having traveled through Italy as a tourist during college, I was able to sample authentic margherita pizza, notable for its fresh, sweet-tasting tomatoes, immaculate mozzarella cheese and thin crust. Growing up in Bellagio, Italy near Lake Como, Bambino’s general manager bloomed in the restaurant business at Michelina’s, and her deep Italian roots have served as guidance for her work at Bambino. The pizza, served piping hot from a wood oven, boasted a thin crust, pulled house mozzarella, fresh chunks of San Marzano tomatoes and a few basil leaves—identical to the offering in Italy.
“You won’t find thick crust, canned sauces or lots of grease [at Bambino],” Mattina said, emphasizing a simple approach predicated on freshness over complexity.
If a thin-crust Italian pizza isn’t high on your wish list, the other two Restaurant Week options include chicken milanese (chicken breast with arugula and garlicky greens, served with crispy potatoes), which Mattina describes as “pretty light,” and ravioli with ricotta and mint, Sunday sauce and a meatball. Sunday sauce is one of the few Bambino sauce offerings that’s thick and cooked extensively, Mattina mentioned, and customers hunting for deep flavor should look no further.
Bambino caps off the meal with a cannoli, which houses a creamy ricotta filling, concocted by owner and head chef Noel Morreale, within a fresh pastry shell. There are ample chocolate chips inside as well as a splash of chocolate sauce and sprinkles on the outside— the Mariano Rivera of desserts, you could say.
Moreover, Mattina’s purpose for entering Local Restaurant Week was far-sighted. “It’s about synergy,” she said. “Participation is positive for all restaurants—it’s like helping a brother out. To be competitive with other major cities, we have to work together.”
Sound good to you? Sounds good to us. You could do much worse than Bambino as one of your Local Restaurant Week destinations.
The patio is beautiful too, as you can see above.