With a name meaning “mouth of the wine god,” it’s no surprise that the new Bocca Di Bacco in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood embodies an atmosphere in which diners can enjoy both creative takes on Italian cuisine and outstanding wine. Boasting an Italian-centric wine list of over 300 distinct selections to match with the menu overseen by Executive Chef Kristin Sollenne, the restaurant brings a farm-to-table and contemporary approach to Italian dining. Sollenne focuses dishes around lean proteins, fresh vegetables, and herbs, favoring olive oil and white wine over butter and cream in her cooking.
The Chelsea location, which opens in December 2012, is the restaurant’s third location, which also has outposts in the Theater District and Hell’s Kitchen. The new location’s stylish and approachable design aesthetic sets the stage for guests to explore the flavors of Italy. “We want guests to walk through the front doors and instantly feel transported by the cozy intimate setting, and the aromas from the kitchen,” Sollenne says. “We want guests to relax and stay a while, and try new things, all while discovering new ways to fall in love all over again with Italian food and wine.”
Bocca Di Bacco is a New York City Restaurant Group establishment from dynamic restaurateur and New York native Robert Malta, who owns nearly a dozen restaurants throughout the city. “I’ve been in the business 25 years,” Malta says. “I opened the first Bocca Di Bacco in Hell’s Kitchen in 2007 and it quickly became a neighborhood favorite. The Chelsea location is an evolution of what we’ve been offering. There are new menu items, and a more refined look and feel, but it’s still a great spot for the neighborhood any night of the week.”
CHEF AND CUISINE
Passionate about cooking flavorful Italian dishes, with a healthful bend where possible, Sollenne grew up preparing meals for her Italian-American family in California. She developed an interest in a more mindful approach to Italian cuisine when she helped her parents lose a significant amount of weight and lead healthier lifestyles. “It has everything to do with your choices,” she explains. “People think heavy sauces when they think Italian food, but a lot of Southern Italy’s cuisine doesn’t rely on butter and cream to make dishes flavorful. Instead, they focus on fresh, clean flavors that aren’t hidden by too many seasonings. Simple makes an impact.”
Sollenne, along with Chef de Cuisine Crispin Mejia, and the rest of the kitchen team, keep that philosophy top of mind for Bocca Di Bacco’s menu, which centers on modern versions of everyday Italian dishes, inflected with seasonality. The restaurant is home to a state-of-the-art La Monferrina P6 pasta extruder machine for making fresh noodles in-house, including alternative versions made with whole-wheat flour and vegetable purées such as eggplant and spinach.
Bocca Di Bacco’s menu also features many sauces that center on farm-fresh and seasonal vegetables, with modest amounts of heart-healthy olive oil and accented with wine or broth for maximum flavor. “My approach to Italian cuisine is to remove heavy, high-fat ingredients whenever possible and focus more on the big-flavor tastes of fresh herbs, seasonal produce, meat, poultry, and seafood.”
The Cavatelli di Grano Arso, one of the executive chef’s signature dishes, features pasta made with durum wheat toasted in-house, resembling burnt-grain flour from Puglia; Italian sausage, chanterelle mushrooms, and a reduced gravy sauce join the toasted-wheat cavatelli before it is served topped with fresh ricotta cheese and chopped parsley. Dishes also include the Grilled Octopus appetizer, marinated by a coating of herbs and faintly smoky from the grill, served with a refreshing salad of celery and red potato; and reimagined entrées such as Braised Quail served on grilled polenta, drizzled with a balsamic reduction; Branzino Grigliato, grilled branzino with roasted potatoes and broccoli rabe; and Coda Di Rospo Livornese, pan-seared Monkfish in a tomato sauce punctuated with kalamata olives. Italian dessert menu classics get a fun makeover as well, with offerings ranging from Port Wine-Poached Pears to Sgroppino, a Venetian “adult” smoothie with sparkling wine, vodka, lemon, sorbet, and a touch of mango cream.
Guests will find their fill at weekend brunch with breakfast classics such as Steak and Eggs with grilled skirt steak; Frittata alla Peperonata, a sweet pepper and onion egg dish with mozzarella; and French Toast topped with mixed berries and apple cinnamon sauce. Other options include Tortino di Granchio, crab cake with shrimp served with warm mushroom salad; and Panino di Giorgio, a toasted baguette with eggplant, zucchini, portobello, bell pepper, and pesto.
WINE AND BAR
With enough vino to satiate Bacchus, the Italian god of wine, Bocca Di Bacco features an all-Italian list of over 300 food-friendly selections, many of which are exclusive to the restaurant. From top producers’ renowned offerings, to rare and esoteric varietals, the restaurant offers labels from Piedmonte in the north to Sicily in the south. An Enomatic wine-dispensing system offers more than 40 wines by-the-glass. Guests can also create their own wine flights, with guidance from the staff. “We encourage guests to sample and taste to find the pairings they like best with our cuisine,” Sommelier John Semchyshyn says.
The cocktail list features fun flavor combinations using a bevy of fresh ingredients and distinct liquors. The Uva e Fico, a favorite of Sollenne’s, combines Figenza Fig Vodka with fresh muddled grape juice and rosé wine, served in a martini glass garnished with dried figs and grapes. The Fior di Zaffiro cocktail pairs Bombay Sapphire and elderflower liquor with club soda, lime, and mint. Served in a martini glass rimmed with paprika salt, the Morso di Bacco includes Tanteo Jalapeño Tequila, Triple Sec, sour mix, passion fruit purée, and a red pepper garnish.
DESIGN AND DÉCOR
Designed by Therese Virserius, Bocca Di Bacco Chelsea conveys the rusticity of the original Hell’s Kitchen location, but embodies a warmer, more energetic and romantic vibe. Contrasting textures and colors remain the focus, with black and white décor, clean lines, and exposed brick walls throughout the space. Wood-paneled tabletops pair with classic bentwood Thonet chairs, and wire-brushed wood flooring anchors the space. Custom-designed black leather Chesterfield banquettes line the south wall of exposed brick. Specially designed linen pendants hang above the banquettes and add softness to the overall ambiance. White-painted vertical wood slats with slivers of mirror incorporated into the panels make up the center dividing wall, adding reflected light to the dining and bar spaces.
The bar’s curved footprint encourages interaction among guests. Custom-lathed spindle columns cap the bar millwork, and spindle legs support the bar-height tables. The ceiling above the bar features a woven covering with a flower pattern appliqué. Industrial-inspired lanterns adorn the bar walls, and the far wall showcases a textured black shagreen wall covering, complementary to the white millwork.
PRIVATE DINING AND SPECIAL EVENTS
Channeling the celebratory nature of the wine god, Bocca Di Bacco is available for private dining and other events. The Chelsea restaurant offers a party room downstairs from the dining room which seats up to 50 people. Bocca Di Bacco can also accommodate larger special events with a buyout of the main floor. For the perfect menu, Sollenne meets with the party organizer to understand the goals and expectations for the event, and then specially tailors a menu that fits those needs. “I want every party at Bocca Di Bacco to be memorable, from distinct antipasti to start the evening to fantastic wine selections to keep taste buds interested throughout the night,” she says.
For more information on booking an event at Bocca Di Bacco, visit the Bocca Di Bacco Chelsea Private Events page.