Bocca Ristorante debuts as the silver lining of 2020.
By Jan Walsh
Chef and restauranteur, Tom Saab shared his vision for Bocca with me in 2017—before it had a name. I shared it with my followers—but only as a rumor, at his request, because the idea was still up in the air. And everyone was as excited as I. We all imagined Chef Saab translating his success at Bistro 218, from fluent French to incredible Italian…
Yet time went by, with no mention of it again from Chef, until February 29, 2020. On Facebook, I was asked to like an Italian restaurant that was opening soon in downtown Birmingham. I emailed him asking, “Is Bocca you? And I did not know?”
He cheerfully replied, “It’s me. You posted it three years ago on Facebook, lol.” And we caught up from there, without knowing the dark clouds ahead, which came just two weeks after its opening when the restaurant had to close due to the shutdown. Afterwards it had to close twice more, as well as being boarded up for protection. Yet, no matter what they say, timing is not everything, nor is it the only thing. Saab’s multi talents, vast experience, and quiet determination allowed Bocca to bounce back, reopening three times in one year. From rumor to reality, it has been worth the wait. And I hope there is nothing but blue skies for Bocca, from now on…
Tonight, Kev and I valet at the door and are quickly greeted and seated at a beautiful blue banquette in the center of Bocca Ristorante’s dining room. Under the sky light and near the bar, we watch as each social distanced space is filled. Chef Saab stops by for a visit, as we sip wine from the Italian Riveria, creating a magical Déjà vu moment for me. From the menu of modern Italian, including handmade pastas, seafood, and steaks, I ask for his suggestions. Both he and our server, Travis suggest the Prosciutto with Buratta as a antipasti/salad course. Yet Kev already had his eye on the Spicy Veal Meatballs. And I have never been able to resist a Panzanella salad. Yet we did take his recommendation for sharing our primi course of Linguini Carbonara. For entrees, Kev was torn between the Cast Iron Seared Tuscan Ribeye and the Veal Chop. And Chef said to go for the veal chop. And I ordered the Sea Scallops in Risotto.
Kev’s marvelous meatballs are served on a bed of house made marinara. And on first cut, the melted grana Padano, making a creamy centerpiece to this divine dish. Kev raves over them with each bite. So, I must steal one… Indeed, I agree. This app has it all: beefiness, cheesiness, and tomato sauce that coats each bite with a fresh tomato flavors and a nice acidity. Highly recommended! My Panzanella is a pretty plate of arugula tossed in focaccia croutons, dead ripe heirloom tomatoes, red onion, crisp cucumber, parmesan, and Italian olives, encircled with a drizzle of balsamic. This array of green goodness whets my appetite for pasta…
Our Linguine Carbonara boasts fresh pasta, sweet and savory guanciale, and is crowned with a crisp, breaded and fried poached farm egg and pecorino. The guanciale coats the strands of pasta with bacon fat.
And the addition of an egg to the top of pasta is always a nice touch—as the white adds viscosity and the yolk acts as emulsifier, binding the pork fat to the sauce. Yet I have never seen a fried poached egg atop pasta, or anywhere for that matter. One of my past favorites was a fried boiled egg, which I still miss from brunches at the former Fire restaurant in Mountain Brook—but a crisp poached egg? Never! We cut pieces of this golden and white goodness into the bits of pork and ribbons of pasta, which makes a scrumptious synthesis. And I will be back with video camera in hand to do a cooking demo on this dish because the culinary creation of this egg must be witnessed.
For secondi course, Kev’s tender, juicy veal chop is served atop Yukon gold potatoes and a mushroom demi, with grilled asparagus. It is cooked to order, juicy, and tender all the way to the bone. Kev exclaims, “Fabulous! Never had a better piece of beef.” No one has better scallops or risotto than Chef Saab. I know this because I have had both at Bistro 218 numerous times. But I have never had them together as he prepares tonight at Bocca. Class and comfort marry on this plate. Three, plump sea scallops are golden on the outside, white and milky on the inside. Each bite melds into the creamy risotto and melts in my mouth. Highly recommended!
For dessert, we shared a Chocolate Espresso Mousse Cake with house made ice cream. This heavenly wedge is reminiscent of my grandmother’s chocolate pies. The top is light and airy, and the bottom half exhibits deep, chocolatey texture. Sliced strawberries add a fruity touch. And the marvelous ice cream magnifies the dessert adding notes of coffee and white chocolate.
I have waited a long time for this night, and am uplifted to see Chef Saab’s Italian dream come true—in 2020. Grazie per la festa, Chef!
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