Back in July, Bocce Bar announced a change in its kitchen staff. Timon Balloo, who opened the Italian restaurant with a bocce court out front, would give up his role and stick at the neighboring Sugarcane, and Daniel Tackett would take over Bocce's kitchen as executive chef.
Together with chef de cuisine Nunzio Fuschillo and Balloo, Tackett has created a menu that has traces of the best of Bocce Bar from when it opened and new dishes that speak to the future of the Italian eatery.
Tackett comes to Miami with quite the resume. Formerly, the chef could be found cooking pasta at Scott Conant's Scarpetta in NYC. He was also executive sous chef at Alto, under the direction of James Beard winner Michael White. It's safe to say that Italian cuisine is his forte.
At Bocce, he's taken the new menu transition quite slowly. "We didn't want it to be rough for the staff and teaching everyone so we broke it up into three phases," says Tackett. "First with pasta and cold appetizers, then with hot appetizers, and lastly we'll be doing lunch. We're still looking at the format for that."
Tackett worked very closely alongside Fuschillo (whose former stunt was also Scarpetta in NYC) on the new menu, incorporating local products whenever possible and taking inspiration from some Italian classics to create new dishes that aren't too far outside the box.
Short Order was invited to get a sampling of the new menu. To effectively sample everything without rolling out of there, dishes were downsized to tasting portions.
Insalata di barbatietola was light and crisp. Beets, gorgonzola, watercress, peaches, and almonds all made an appearance. A full portion will set you back $11.
For something with more texture, the insalta di mare is as refreshing but packs a bite thanks to sepia, octopus and shrimp. Arugula and avocado provide the greens, while a saffron mussel vinaigrette adds that sazon ($14 for the full serving).
Moving into the pasta dishes, the cannelloni di coda stuffs the house made and baked pasta with braised oxtail and taleggio cheese. "Nunzio and I were talking about doing something bigger and heavier when we came up with this dish. We both love oxtail so it made sense and I love the idea of telaggio cheese but not too much so it's overbearing." If you sense a hint of goat cheese, it's because Tackett's added a touch to the dish. It was exceptional. (Full portion costs $18).
"Maybe the idea of oxtail throws people off, but we hope people will see that these dishes are very soulful but still simple." The same can be said for the orecchiette with the duck ragu, which has been left untouched on the menu.
Beet ravioli was a hit at our table. The beautifully plated dish looks and tastes like something out of a food show. Tackett kept it simple, filling ravioli with only beat and goat cheese and dressing it with some aged balsamic, allowing the flavors to speak for themselves. (Full portion is $16).
Gnocchetti is Southern Italy's version of gnocchi, only it's made with durum instead of potato and is much smaller than the beloved soft dough dumplings. This rendition mixed squid ink with the gnocchetti ($17), turning it black and infiltrating the flavor right into the dough. Baby octopus is then braised in tomato and tossed in with calamari and basil. At first I was confused by the flavors, but the more I ate the more I found it to be extremely comforting. "Everyone in the kitchen gets really excited when this dish gets ordered."
In the mood for fish? Dive into a branzino with artichokes, asparagus and bottarga (price is either $24 or $34 depending on the size).
Or you can go with a dentice -- an oven roasted snapper cooked with zucchini and lemon vinaigrette ($26).
Another favorite at the table was the wood-oven roasted pork chop, which at first glance seems like it's going to be a fatty dish, but one bite proves otherwise. The smoky bacon jus and spaetzle are a nice touch ($28).
Flat-iron steak with polenta fries and bone marrow remolata sounds promising, however, my rendition arrived a bit too cool. I would have loved some temperature to get a better feel for the dish that sounds like it ought to be a favorite ($34).
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
For dessert, pastry chef Jason Morale is whipping up some delicious tasting stuff. Sure you can go for the panna cotta al pistachio with dark chocolate and summer berries, which is definitely interested and unlike anything else. Or you can go for the cannoli croccanti with honey, warm stewed strawberries and 25 year balsamic gelato. But we recommend the Nutella stuffed bombolini, or even better ... the chocolate chip cookies. Yep. They're not on the menu (although they are available for brunch), but ask for one and you might just get what you wished for.
"I'm particularly excited about the fall and winter. I think we've got a good baseline and we'll start moving into fall items as the temperature gets a bit cooler and rotate with the seasons. Or the seasons we've got in Miami anyway," says Tackett. "We're just having fun."
Follow Carla on Twitter @ohcarlucha