Bocca Coal Fired Bistro is a new Italian eatery in Margate that is the end product of a million-dollar renovation, and worth every penny
Our first opportunity to glimpse the space that would, as of Wednesday, Oct. 10, become Margate’s new Italian eatery Bocca, was early this past summer. At that time, the Ventnor Avenue property most locals recall as the former Sailfish had been stripped down to bare walls and earth.
A corner location at North Essex, it was still very much in the incipient moments of a transformation that would ultimately involve more than $1 million in construction.
In short, a monumental project.
Visiting during their “soft” opening weekend, it appears the investment confidence of Bocca’s partners was indeed well founded. Despite being mobbed with patrons — literally three deep at the lengthy bar — Bocca’s front of the house, and especially the kitchen staff, did a remarkable job. Their juggling act began with handling those overflow crowds.
Initially told to expect a 30- to 45-minute wait for a table, we were pleasantly surprised to hear our names called at the 20-minute mark. Seated at a four-top in their main dining area — there is a separate, attached pizzeria — we were already savoring a crisp pie ordered during down time at the bar.
Called the “Guido,” it brought a wild ride of ingredients; coal-fire roasted Italian sausage, broccoli rabe, sun-dried tomato, cannellini beans, garlic, and sharp, provolone and mozzarella cheeses. Crisp and well structured, the crust held together despite this cornucopia. Those white Italian beans, the only time we’ve seen them used in pizza, brought a depth of creamy texture that worked wonders against the natural chew of greens and tomatoes.
Once the meal continued with a glorious reinvention of the classic Florentine summer salad called panzanella. Generally revered as a simple recipe to utilize leftover bread with tomatoes and onions, executive chef Rob Pappas’ resplendent, soaring take stretched to include a mix of lettuces, parmigiano-reggiano, artichokes, caper berries, albacore tuna, prosciutto and red onions dressed with olive oil and balsamic. The tuna, formed in the middle like a snow-capped peak, was an ideal portion of quality protein.
This salad was so large it made us forget the mild disappointment of not being able to sample any of Pappas’ quartet of sliders — pork, coal-fired meatball, burger and buffalo chicken — all sold out by 8pm. Which, by inference, means they must be pretty darned good.
What we thankfully didn’t miss was another house specialty, coal-fired wings. Offered in Buffalo, hot and honey, Thai sweet chile and garlic herb, we went for the pair with geographical designations. Both were well done, as ordered, removed from heat just as the crisp skin began to blister, rendering the tangy poultry juicy and delicious.
Entrees began with an out-of-the-ordinary pasta called short rib ravioli. While that lusty cut of beef has become a modern chef’s darling, it remains rarely utilized in fillings of this sort. Six large raviolis stuffed with a well-seasoned, smooth mix, proved tender and hearty — just the right thing to close out an autumn day where chilly morning temps dipped below freezing. Making the experience sophisticated was a sauce of seared exotic mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes, Marsala and a hint of cream. Simultaneously sweet and woodsy, this auburn liquid added layers of complexity to the simple, but superior, pasta and beef.
My partner’s option, from and extensive list of Italian platters, was eggplant saltimbocca. Traditionally prepared with sautéed veal layered by Prosciutto, sage and mozzarella, the eggplant did an admirable job of standing in. Presented atop wilted spinach and finished with a mushroom-tomato demi glace, the eggplant — rather a culinary cipher — had plenty of contrasting playmates to liven up its naturally demure essence.
Our only complaint was undercooked slices of Tuscan-style potatoes, which would have benefited greatly from additional time spent roasting. We only sampled one dessert on this busy night, when patrons were still streaming in the door at nearly 10 in the evening. That choice, a nutella mousse, was delivered in a clear coffee mug. Cool and sweet, the chestnut-hued pudding, layered with slices of fresh banana was topped by whipped cream, crushed hazelnuts and an Amaretto-flavored biscotti.
In case you were wondering, and not of Italian origin, “bocca” translates as “mouth.” From what we could see during their opening weekend, there is much worth exploring at this bocca.
Bocca Coal Fired Bistro
Address: 7805 Ventnor Ave., Margate
Details: Liquor license, major credit cards accepted.
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