Bocce Bar Is Midtown's New Italian Darling
Timon Balloo doesn't want to dazzle you. At Bocce Bar, he cooks things simply -- braising duck legs in stock before plunging them into a pan with orecchiette, squash, and Parmesan. They are finished in a sauce that's thick enough to coat a wooden spoon and tastes of sage and thyme. They are unencumbered by trickery. This is the kind of recipe you'd tear from a favorite magazine, a dish you'd serve at a fancy dinner party at home.
billwisserphoto.com Bocce Bar's orecchiette
Balloo's approach to Italian cuisine is understated, not rustic. Yes, he went to Italy twice and watched grandmothers cook in Florence, Pisa, and Sicily. But at this midtown Miami restaurant, he extols the effortlessness of the cuisine. He finishes raw tuna with a sprig of lavender. He garnishes octopus with red sorrel. It's familiar and good-looking, so you might ogle your pasta before reaching for your fork.
On this manicured block of NE First Avenue, executive chef Balloo oversees two restaurants: Sugarcane Raw Bar & Grill and Bocce Bar, which are owned by the group Samba Brands. When it debuted in 2010, Sugarcane was a restaurant of the moment. Today, the menu employs pig ears, foie gras, and fish with miso or ponzu. There's an oyster bar, an herb-sloshed cocktail program, and a Japanese robata grill where chicken yakitori cook over binchotan coals. Sugarcane's success made clear that midtown would become a food destination.
Four years later, Bocce Bar is equally pioneering. The kitchen, aided by Padua-native chef de cuisine Tommaso Furlanetto, forgoes tonkotsu broths and instead embraces subtlety: a sticky Taleggio cheese paired with crisp, salted chestnuts; the dainty bounce between bitter and sweet in a grilled treviso with fig balsamic and pecorino; and the woodsy aroma of rosemary crammed bouquet-like into tiny tabletop vases. Vegetables get as much play as meats. There's a focus on herbs and nuts. So, in many ways, Bocce Bar is a restaurant of the moment.