Fort Worth has warmly welcomed the arrival of Bravo! Cucina Italiana, a newly opened chain Italian restaurant on Hulen Street. Apparently, someone at Ohio-based Brio — which owns the chain — thought it would have better luck in Fort Worth than Arlington, where a store opened in 2008 and closed the following year.
So far, good call: On weekends, the parking lot is full and diners must wait 30 to 40 minute for tables.
Bravo! is on the same playing field as Macaroni Grill and Olive Garden, however. Food can be good, but it’s streamlined for mass consumption. The less pizzazz or fireworks you expect, the more likely you are to enjoy your meal.
The space (formerly The Covey) is pretty, outfitted with new, antique-style furniture, gorgeous light fixtures and floor to ceiling, Roman-esque columns. You can sit in the dining room, in attractive booths or tables, at the bar or on a spacious patio. Bummer the restaurant chooses to line each table with white butcher paper, which is then scrapped and replaced after each party comes and goes; such a waste.
During both visits, service was friendly and enthusiastic but slow and uncertain. Basic questions — “Can you recommend a cocktail?” and “What time does the kitchen stop serving food?” — had to be run by a manager. Those cocktails were watered down from sitting on the bar too long, waiting to be delivered.
In an effort to please as many tastes as possible, the menu is huge. There’s pizza, pasta, seafood, steak, chicken, salad, soup, a light menu and gluten-free dishes. The restaurant touts itself as “affordable” but dinner entrees start at $10, hover in the $15-$17 range and shoot up to $30, and most do not come with a soup or salad.
Basics are done well. Bolognese lasagna ($16.79) was a generous square slice layered with a mix of pork and ground beef, red pomodoro sauce and a subtle Alfredo sauce — simple and good. Chicken rigatoni ($14.99) was another dish in which simplicity worked to its advantage. A large portion of tube pasta came bathed in a red pepper cream sauce that struck a nice balance between rich and spicy. It came topped with pieces of grilled chicken, cut like fajita meat, and sliced mushrooms. Again, a simple approach that worked well.
For an appetizer, mushroom bruschetta ($10.49) is a safe bet. There was a lot going on — sliced and diced mushrooms, tomatoes, caramelized onions, melted provolone and boursin cheese — but the toppings mingled well, and the toasted baguettes held their own under the weight of the toppings.
When the restaurant overreaches, it gets into trouble. The lobster ravioli ($17.79) was barely edible. A dozen soft, portly ravioli came filled with lobster meat and were covered in peppery tomato sauce, sliced grape tomatoes and tiny sauteed shrimp. Bread crumbs gave the dish a good crunch, but the presence of the shrimp was puzzling, as it took away from the main attraction. That turned out to be a good thing, though, since the lobster had an overly bitter taste that made it a challenge to eat; we ate three of the ravioli and gave up.
Seeing a stone oven in the middle of the bar area gave us hope the pizza might be good. What a letdown when the bartender revealed the magic trick: It’s an electric oven, made in Los Angeles, and the flame inside was strictly for show.
We tried the pizza anyway, ordering a pepperoni ($11.49). We liked the crust, cracker thin and crunchy, and the marinara sauce, what little there was of it, had a pleasantly zesty flavor. A nice touch: banana peppers. The pizza was straightforward, decent but devoid of personality.
The restaurant serves an ambitious number of salads: Ten. We chose the grilled salmon salad ($14.99) and liked the fish, which was nicely cooked — a slight char on the outside, moist inside. But the salad was practically ruined by an inordinate number of salty, fried onion strings that hid the grilled asparagus and shoestring potatoes, two of the better things about this salad; saltiness also overcame the sweet flavor of the balsamic vinaigrette dressing.
Most of the desserts are made in-house and, again, choices are many: two kinds of chocolate cake, one layered with mousse, another topped with vanilla-bean gelato; tiramisu; yogurt cheesecake; and a sampler. Oddly, the kitchen was out of the sampler, so we chose creme brulee ($5.99), basic in presentation and taste. A hard-top candy shell gave way to a smooth, creamy custard. Like much at Bravo!, it met expectations, but didn’t reach any higher.