Hours: 11am-10pm Sunday - Thursday; 11am-11pm Friday and Saturday
The monolith that is Bravo Cucina Italiana strikes an imposing, if architecturally gauche, posture atop its concrete perch on Sand Lake Road, the stark, garish exterior a Brutalist reminder of everything a trattoria isn't. There's no mistaking this concept chain for a mom-and-pop joint, but there appears to be a market for such larger-than-life dining establishments nonetheless, and what better customer base on which to unleash this prodigious restaurant than the fine folks of Dr. Phillips? Bravo anchors the still-under-construction Dellagio complex, a mixed-use compound that also includes Cantina Laredo (where they make a great tableside guacamole); Fleming's, Urban Flats and Dragonfly Sushi are all slated to open in the coming months. If you've dined at Brio Tuscan Grille, Bravo will seem all too familiar ' the restaurant's parent company, Bravo Development Inc., also runs and operates Brio. Inside, the décor fuses elements of kitsch (Corinthian columns in faux ruin) and comfort (soft lighting, carpeted floors, cozy booths), though al fresco dining enthusiasts will find the outdoor terrace an undeniable draw.
And like the columns under which we dined, the asparagus, mushroom and tomato flatbread ($5.99) crumbled into ruins. My plate resembled the bottom of a parrot's birdcage after biting into the flatbread's cracker-like crust, but the grilled asparagus proved the better crunch. Beware the complimentary, properly doughy and wonderfully herbed focaccia ' I think it may be laced with some illicit addictive ingredient.
Italian standards and wood-fired favorites make up a fair chunk of the menu, and like the fare at Brio or Carrabba's Italian Grill, the dishes I sampled didn't exactly wow me, but they gratified nonetheless. Mozzarella-stuffed ravioli ($9.99) were nicely crisped and plated with bowls of humdrum marinara and a creamy horseradish that added a little buck to the starter. Roasted red-pepper cream sauce highlighted the pasta bravo ($13.99), a signature dish of rigatoni tossed with wood-grilled chicken and mushrooms. The filling entree is ideal for those who like their pasta course rich. A sauce lightened with lemons and zested with capers made a winner of the chicken scallopini ($14.99). The flattened cutlets were dressed with portobello mushrooms and smothered with provolone; an accompanying herb linguine was cooked perfectly al dente.
A dolce trio ($8.99) offers variety in portions that are manageable. Of the three desserts, the torta di cioccolata, topped with a vanilla-bean gelato, and the warm berry cake were finished off first. The overly sweet tiramisu was a distant third.
Our well-meaning waiter was far too harried and distracted to seem genuinely concerned that we had a good experience. While I was in the middle of ordering appetizers, he started walking away, then had to return to the table when he realized I wasn't finished. Our glasses went unfilled for prolonged periods, and when I got the check, I had been inexplicably charged for a martini. Let's just say that Bravo has nothing on Carrabba's when it comes to service. Still, the colossal eatery is sure to be a draw for its welcoming digs, fair prices and familiar dishes ' just don't expect the flavors to match the restaurant's grandeur.
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