Bocco di Bacco in Hell's Kitchen joins its sibs that live at two other West Side locations and, judging by the crowd, turns out dining and drinking experience that please. Dark wood tables, an exposed brick wall in back and lots of wine bottles are the major color notes here, providing a dimly lit setting for decent, if unremarkable, Italian food. The restaurant bills itself as a wine bar so it's no surprise that the wine list is humongous--even larger than the space devoted to food.
Long tables are set amidst smaller ones, great for groups celebrating anything from a birthday to a girls' night out.
A waiter reels off the daily specials--plenty of them. The staff tries hard even if there are a few glitches with orders (a request for vodka with tonic and soda was met with surprise but eventually got there, disturbed later when an over-zealous bus boy filled the partly empty glass with water). A plate with several cheeses, bread, honey and fig jam was the standout appetizer at my table, generous enough to share. An $8 side of broccoli rabe served first was also generous, the veg slicked with the requisite oil.
My Caesar salad was large and fine although it's always a disappointment when croutons are the tiny, out-of-a-bag variety rather than crunchy and homemade. One pair of neighbors were enjoying the involtini -- who doesn't like eggplant with "imported" bufala ricotta? -- while others dug into classic meatballs in tomato sauce ($12).
A secondi of tortellini was liberally laced with asparagus and lightly fried sage although it could have been a bit hotter and the pasta cooked just a tad less. Under or overcooking seems to be a bit of a given here as my red snapper, replete with a generous helping of mussels and clams, could have benefited from a little more time over heat. If you crave pasta, there are many choices including something called "burnt" cavatelli with sausage; spaghetti amatriciana with smoked bacon; raviolini with mixed seafood in a brandy sauce; and penne with gorgonzola cheese, peas and walnuts.
The lunch menu offers panini including one with skirt steak, Swiss cheese, tapenade and provolone and a tuna burger served with wasabi mayo.
At brunch from noon to 4 PM on weekends, egg dishes join the panini and pastas; if you want to booze it up a little, order the $20 bottle of champagne or a pitcher of Bloody Mary's, mimosas or screwdrivers.
Be warned that the noise level is intense, a clamor of chat with very loud music so don't plan on an intense conversation.
Bocca di Bacco is owned by brothers Enrico and Robert in collaboration with chef Kristen Sollenne. I'd happily return for a drink, especially as there are 40+ wines available, and great bar food like the arancini. The restaurant benefits from proximity to the theater district but the jammed tight tables and lackluster food keeps the lid on my enthusiasm down.