Bricco Trattoria, Glastonbury
Adjectives fly, superlatives pile up. “Terrific,” “amazing,” “phenomenal,” “awesome.” What the blogging world is ecstatic about this time is West Hartford chef-owner Billy Grant’s second Bricco act—across the river in Glastonbury.
I’m a Grant fan from way back but I’m a show-me type, too. I’m impressed by the fact that the menu changes every day, and I believe it when “they” say Billy himself is often seen cruising the dining room, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating of the pappardelle, not to mention the sweet-potato gnocchi with parsnips, sage, roasted hazelnuts and grated amaretto cookie.
So here I am at Bricco Trattoria with a cohort of co-tasters to satisfy curiosity and appetite on a recent Sunday night.
I love the look of the place. While there’s nothing flashy about it, it’s very of-the-moment, a series of intimate spaces that flow seamlessly together, each with its own stylish blend of comfort and drama: clubby banquettes, café chairs as minimalist as MOMA, exposed brick walls, velvet draperies, sleek contemporary wine room, convivial bar with de rigueur wood-burning pizza oven ablaze.
The menu, a confident compendium of familiar Italian with an edgy kick, suits the scene to a T-bone—make that a rib-eye for two, a specialty of the house and a terrific bargain at $42. More about that later.
The first thing we try makes us glad we came: bruschetta—good bread, fire-toasted with a tinge of char, heaped with gloriously fresh ricotta and loamy hen-of-the-woods mushrooms subtly scented with truffle oil. No gimmickry, no drop-dead presentation. Just swoon food on a plate.
And plenty of it. Which is not to say that portions are humongous. But you won’t go away hungry—even if you’re on a budget. A four-course trattoria supper is available for $32 per person. Tonight it’s prosciutto, sausage and salami followed by penne alla vodka, Tuscan pot roast with potato purée and baby carrots, and cannoli for dessert.
Our tasting mission, however, is more far-reaching and we order a “Salumi for Two.” It’s an interesting selection including cacciatorini di cinghiale, a rustic Italian sausage prepared hunter’s style, i.e., small enough to carry in the pocket of a hunting jacket. I remember doing just that on a hike through an oak forest in Italy where we saw nailed to a tree a sheet-iron target in the shape of a wild boar riddled with bullet holes. The term di cinghiale tells me this cacciatorini is made with wild boar. I don’t speak Italian so I won’t swear to it, but I like its chewiness and note that it’s not strong and gamey, just sort of nutty with a rough-hewn texture that contrasts pleasingly with the silken, paper-thin, pale pink slices of prosciutto di Parma laid out alongside. Sopressata, salted and dried, and hot coppa (cured pork shoulder)—hot as in fiery red pepper flakes—spice up the plate.
Steak tartare is a pleasant surprise, more Piedmonte village than Venetian villa, finely diced, juicier and more of a presence in the mouth. Simply dressed with olive oil, lemon, basil, Parmigiano Reggiano and hazelnuts, it’s served with thick-cut, grilled artisanal bread.
An equally bountiful tomato-and-mozzarella salad includes, in addition to the usual suspects, olives, roasted peppers, green beans, and moist, delectable, freshly made and still warm chickpea croutons topped with balsamic dressing. Sweet-potato gnocchi with parsnips, browned butter, roasted hazelnuts and grated amaretto cookie sounds almost baroque but it’s a light, lovely dish, with each flavor and texture finely attuned. No, it’s not too sweet.
Like most Bricco entrées, braised salmon with walnuts, parsley, preserved lemon, farro, leeks, pancetta and baby beets is a well-balanced meal in and of itself, no sides needed.
Aunt Josie’s Sunday ragu, however, goes a bit overboard when it comes to copious and homey. Do we really fancy finishing off a mash-up of meatballs, Italian sausage, beef short rib, polenta and broccoli rabe in one sitting? On the farm, yes—in Glastonbury, maybe no. Garnishes are one thing but these are heavy-duty components. On the other hand, if you arrived by bike or spent the afternoon in the gym, go for it.
And then there’s pizza, of course. Bricco’s classic Margherita heads the list, followed by a dozen options ranging from familiar to far-out. How about truffle, speck, mushroom, Fontina and Tallegio DOP with a soft-boiled egg on top?
Kid’s pizza and portions are always available, and even a monumental steak won’t break the bank. Bricco’s 24-ounce bone-in rib-eye is designed to serve two for $42 and does so brilliantly. Billed as “Steak Fiorentina,” it’s juicy, tender, perfectly grilled and comes with a side of rapini, a bowl of Tuscan beans and two of Bricco’s legendary extra-plump meatballs. A bargain? Do the math.
A word to the wise: Never leave a Billy Grant restaurant without sampling his award- winning desserts. Each mouthwatering treat is more luscious than the last. A tangy trio of Meyer lemon cheesecake, lemon pudding cake and lemon curd ice cream manages to be both refreshing and sumptuous. Olive oil cake is topped with fruit chutney and prosecco sabayon, but that’s not all—alongside there’s a dollop of mascarpone sorbet and a scoop of fig-and-Armagnac cream. Even Nutella, as ubiquitous in Italy as peanut butter is here, turns up in the form of an ambrosial mousse garnished with orange sabayon and a cloud of whipped cream.
Spin-off restaurants are often formulaic, their template so rigid that the regulars don’t need a menu. If Billy Grant has a formula, it is to blend authentic Italian home cooking with the very best of what’s fun, delicious and new.
Welcome, Bricco No. 2.
124 Hebron Ave., Glastonbury 860/659-0220; billygrant.com
Monday through Wednesday 11:30 to 10, Friday and Saturday till 11, Sunday 4 to 9. Wheelchair access. Major credit cards. Price range: appetizers $7 to $11, pizza $14 to $18, entrées $19 to $26, desserts $6 to $9.