Applause, applause for Bravo Bravo
In the age of Yelp, we tend now to get most of our restaurant leads and tips from people we’ve never met and probably never will, characters like Betsy L., Shawn A., and Jan K. with sometimes questionable standards and a hit-or-miss knack for telling us what we really need to know about a place.
That’s why I was happy to hear about Bravo Bravo in Mystic in a 20th-century context: a real-life suggestion from a person rather than an avatar, who said this is a praiseworthy and consistent spot for breakfast, lunch and dinner that’s attracted a well-deserved group of year-round devotees.
The first time I went to Bravo Bravo, I was initially struck by the atmosphere upon entering. It’s bright (on account of large, street-facing windows), modern and sleek. For a lack of a better way of putting it, the scene kind of reminds of the brunch place Carrie and the other "Sex and the City" ladies went to to discuss romantic misadventures over eggs Benedicts and fruit cups.
Each of the times I’ve been to Bravo Bravo, I’ve always gone for lunch. The dinner menu looks outstanding, with appetizers like Cajun BBQ shrimp over polenta ($14), shitake mushroom bruschetta ($12), and meatballs with pomodoro sauce and ricotta ($13); as well as entrees like champagne risotto with lobster and asparagus ($25), New York strip steak with hand-cut fries, blue cheese and bourbon sauce ($30), and a lamb burger with feta harissa aioli ($21).
But I do find something about the place quintessentially lunchtime: the bright atmosphere, the relatively quick service, and the portions — plates sized large enough to fill you up but reasonable enough to follow your meal with a comfortable stroll around Mystic and not feel like you need to go somewhere and lie down.
Onto the menu.
My older sister, bearer of wisdom to her younger brother, once told me that a restaurant with a massive menu, stretching out over six to seven pages or more, is a place you almost invariably want to avoid. It’s a sign they do lots of things, but nothing really all that well.
I find that mostly true, but I still do like a restaurant that gives patrons more to pick from than a few chef’s specials. In this respect, I think Bravo Bravo strikes a balance very well. There’s enough variety at lunchtime — appetizers, salads, grilled pizzas, and sandwiches and entrees sections — but the menu is not so long that you wind up lost and indecisive.
You’ll find some overlap between the lunch and dinner menus, and plenty of items that are hard to choose from. For appetizers, there’s the sirloin carpaccio with caper, olive oil and parmigiano reggiano ($13), mussels bravo cooked in broth with marinara ($13), and the lobster quesadilla ($15), to name a few options.
You also have an antipasto salad that comes with roasted red peppers, artichokes, olives, Genoa, provolone, Italian tuna and eggplant ($13), a crispy artichoke and arugula salad ($12), and a field greens salad with Gorgonzola, seasonal fruit, cranberries and candied walnuts ($11).
Most recently, I went with the tasty shrimp bruschetta ($13) that comes with sautéed artichokes, roasted tomatoes, and basil butter over a slice of thick cut, Italian toast. I recommend this dish, certainly for a couple looking to share something light before the main course.
Once I went with a Caesar salad ahead of my meal ($11; plus $3 to add chicken, and additional $3.5 for each shrimp) and regretted it. The salad was good but certainly not a standout considering everything else on the menu, and I felt rather foolish (and had buyer’s remorse) when I realized my sandwich came with a totally sufficient side salad anyway, which can be substituted with delicious pomme-frite-style fries.
If you are a burger person, the cheeseburger ($14) is a must try. It comes very simply served with American cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickle and onions. The difference here is in the preparation. It’s nicely seasoned, and the patty is cooked in that juice-capturing way you can never seem to replicate at home.
The baked crab cakes with lobster chive sauce ($15) are also excellent. The cakes are generous in terms of the meat-to-breadcrumb ratio. They come served over a small scalloped-potato-like serving, with grilled green and yellow squash. The lobster chive sauce is light, which should assuage the fears of anyone hesitant about ordering something that’s going to come with a gloppy, hollandaise-like sauce.
The fish BLT of the day, at market price, is another good choice. (It was $15 the day I ordered it.) It comes with field greens, bacon, tomato and lemon chive mayonnaise, sandwiched between two triangular-cut slices of foccacia bread.
I had it with nicely prepared grilled salmon, which I enjoyed very much. Unfortunately, I couldn’t shake the apologies from my waiter, who reminded me several times that they were out of the crispy cod — that one, apparently, is really “the bomb.”
Desserts all come $8 each, and you have a choice between an affogato served with malted ice cream, florentines, cocoa nibs, and espresso cream; fruit tort with berries; chocolate bread pudding; cinnamon sugar donuts; tiramisu; chocolate mousse; and cheesecake.
I’ve tried only the cheesecake. It’s less dense, not so cheese cream heavy, and the vanilla flavored slice comes topped with rum praline sauce and salted peanuts.
Service at Bravo Bravo is excellent. Each time I’ve been in there, my waiter or waitress was pleasant, accommodating, and quick to offer suggestions or explain the preparation of a given meal. It’s also the type of place where parents can get an outstanding meal in a sophisticated atmosphere and still feel comfortable bringing their kids along. High chairs and booster seats are also available.
Parking, of course, is typical for downtown Mystic: on street, or public parking. Expect more difficulty finding a spot in the summer tourist months.
All in all, an excellent restaurant. They say Bravo Bravo, but my guess is after your first trip, you’ll be calling for an encore!
20 East Main St., Mystic
Food type: American with Italian influence
Service: Friendly and accommodating
Price: Moderate to expensive
Hours: Lunch: Tuesday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m.; dinner: Tuesday-Thursday and Sunday, 4-9 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 4-10 p.m.; breakfast: Saturday and Sunday, 8 a.m.-lunchtime. Closed Monday.
Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover
Handicapped access: Entrance is several steps up; outdoor seating in warmer months is at sidewalk level.
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