Opened on Nov. 9, 2011 and instantly busy, Bravo! Cucina Italiana gives shoppers at the Willow Grove Park Mall another tasty option for a bite between buys. Like it’s across the way counterpart, the Cheesecake Factory, Bravo! has high ceilings, large booths, and well-dressed friendly waitstaff.
The wait is sometimes long, but once seated diners can linger and enjoy.
We arrived just at the noon hour and were seated fairly quickly. Our waiter on this visit, like the waiter on a previous visit, recommended the Shrimp Napoli for an appetizer.
And for good reason.
The eye-appealing plate showcased the tender crustacean, which was housed inside a peppery crust and made even more delectable after a swim in the accompanying tomato vinaigrette ($10.99.)
Caesar salad ($3.99) arrived classically coated in a smooth garlicky dressing, and the Insalata Della Casa ($3.99) was cool, crisp, and light, enriched with bacon and parmesan cheese.
Perhaps it is the current weather that is tilting my perspective, but the soups at Bravo! are exceptional. The Lobster Bisque ($3.99), available everyday on the menu, was sunny in color, rich in chewy chunks of lobster, and further enhanced by a sherry splash and brightened by a parsley sprinkle.
Should you be lucky enough to dine on a day when Tomato is the soup du jour ($3.99), you’re in for a treat. Bravo!’s version is everything tomato soup should be and isn’t often enough: silky and thick, heavy on the cream, and with a bread accompaniment – in this case hefty croutons on top half drowning in the smooth liquid.
Moving on to main courses, the lunch portion of the Chicken Apple and Bacon Salad piled high a dizzying list of ingredients – greens, bacon, gorgonzola, apples, spicy pecans, mushrooms, and crunchy angel hair pasta – in a very mustardy, very herby vinaigrette ($7.95).
The flavors didn’t meld perfectly, but the tender chicken was thinly sliced to be cohesive with the other ingredients, while the angel hair added an deciphering crunch.
The BLT Toscana Pizza’s crispy crust played host to smoky tomatoes, savory boursin cheese, salty bacon, and dressed greens on top. Though I think it would have been better without the raddichio, which was included in the mixed greens and added its signature bitterness, the pizza was just the right size for a light lunch ($7.79).
The muffin-sized Frittata ($8.49) – supremely light and fluffy eggs hiding boursin cheese, broccoli, and sundried tomatoes within – was so airy and sublime everyone wished it were larger. Especially the one who ordered it, as we were stealing so many bites of the egg goodness, and leaving her with the accompanying side salad.
Available in half-sized portions, the Ravioli Al Forno also was accompanied by a salad ($9.99). Large cheese filled pasta pockets bathed in creamy alfredo sauce, with decorative pesto and tomato argyle lines to cut the richness, was baked in its own dish with crunchy Panko bread crumbs on top. Even the half portion was filling.
Everyone at our table agreed that the highlight of the meal was the Braised Beef Ravioli. Delicate pockets of pasta were filled with tender, melting meat, and topped with deeply brown and caramelized cubes of sweet potato, all smothered in an intoxicating opaque brown butter sauce infused with dusty sage. This dish was innovative, unexpected, and simply divine ($9.49).
After practically licking the beef ravioli plate clean, we moved on to dessert. The Apple Crostata ($6.99) contrasted baked apples with crunchy nuts, wrapped up in a disappointingly flavorless doughy pocket. Its saving grace was the rich vanilla gelato and salty caramel sauce.
The mini chocolate tort, served in miniaturized versions as part of the Tre Dolce dessert trio ($8.99), was decadent and warm, with a deep, dark bitterness only slightly tempered by the cool vanilla ice cream.
The tiramisu, another component, was tasty and classic, despite the waiter insisting that it was an original recipe. The crown jewel in this triumvirate was easily the bread pudding, though, with its soft, buttery texture. Pure and sweet, heady and moist, this was one of the best bread puddings I have ever had.
The food coming out of the blazing brick pizza oven, and loud, bustling, flaming open kitchen make Bravo! truly something to cheer about.
Bravo! Cucina Italiano receives 4 out of 5 Whisks for the tomato soup, beef ravioli, and bread pudding, which could very well be on my short list of foods to eat as my “last meal.”
Second Helping of Information:
Location – 2500 Moreland Road, Willow Grove, PA 19090
Hours – Sunday through Thursday – 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday – 11am to 11pm
Phone – (215) 657-1131
On the Kids Menu – Kids menu with pizza and pasta, highchairs and booster available, changing table in the ladies room
Third Helping of Information:
While it has been an honor to contribute to Upper Moreland Patch, "Worth the Whisk with Heather Greenleaf" is going on an indefinite hiatus. I would like to sincerely thank everyone for following my column. Should you wish to continue reading my writing, please check out my blog at www.foodconsidered.blogspot.com.