I much prefer to patronize local eateries over chain restaurants. Based on a select reading of my reviews, some may have a difficult time swallowing that fact. It’s just that I also prefer restaurants, local or not, that live up to what they say they’ll delver.
So when I enjoyed a satisfying evening at Bravo! Cucina Italiana in Eastwood Towne Center last week, I felt conflicted at first: This is a corporate chain, I thought, and a pretty big one, too, with locations in 19 states.
Bravo! is enormous on the inside, with a small legion of well-trained servers, cooks, hosts and a free-floating manager checking to make sure everyone at every table is happy. I sensed even the Roman ruin décor — busted faux-marble columns — had been market-tested and corporate-approved for maximum diner satisfaction.
I might have been out of my element, but Bravo! has this going for it: It delivers a pleasant, if not lovely, dining experience.
Aside from entrées served a bit too quickly, the service was great. My companion and I were seated quickly and we bantered easily with our friendly, attentive and knowledgeable server, who immediately suggested a wine when queried.
Sure, he attempted to upsell, but I’m asked if I want to add a salad or drink by many a server at local restaurants, too. (It’s funny — for as much as I hear folks hating on chain restaurants, there are plenty of local places, with loyal patrons, that do a serviceable job emulating the corporate model to a tee.)
And unlike other Italian restaurants I’ve experienced, I didn’t feel compelled to check my chair for long-forgotten tomato sauce, or my fork for someone else’s food bits before I ate.
Herbed bread, soft on the inside and crusty on the outside, is served with meals, alongside a mild olive oil mixed with sweet, sun-dried tomatoes, rosemary, thyme, basil and a tad too much salt to dip it into.
Instead of the appetizer menu, we went with a small flatbread ($7.49) from the pizza menu and were delighted with the dish. Crispy flatbread, no doubt charred with precision in the kitchen’s large, open-fire oven, held little silky-smooth bites of portabella mushroom, dollops of aggressive gorgonzola just barely melted and translucent onions the color of amber, cooked to the point of releasing their natural sugars.
We also ordered the lobster bisque ($5.49), a creamy blend of seafood flavors — lobster along with bits of shrimp — with some parsley and a drizzle of olive oil adding a fresh touch.
For entrées, we settled on the Fra Diavolo Campanelle with shrimp ($17.99) and the Chicken Parmesan Milanese ($16.99). Interesting note: There appear to be no gimmicks on Bravo!’s dinner menu, not even chicken fingers.
The pasta in both entrées was cooked al dente. The pasta with the chicken was herbed with a thin coating of oil, and the trumpet-vine flower-shaped campanelle pasta was a nice fit for the creamy Fra Diavolo sauce.
While the Milanese had a nice crispy exterior that soaked up the well-made, mildly acidic and gently sweet tomato sauce, the chicken itself (pounded breast meat, we presumed) didn’t stand out. If that sauce was out of a can, the cooks did a pretty good job making it taste like it wasn’t.
As for the Fra Diavolo, the creamy sauce hid the heat on first bite, but a warm hint of spice crept in after a couple of mouthfuls.
Things improved as the meal went on. For dessert, we went with the sample tray ($8.99) because it was just too difficult to select one item. The dish came with smaller portions of three desserts, all worth a try on their own. The tiramisu was velvety smooth; the flourless chocolate cake was dense and rich; and a still-warm slice of bread pudding warmed up the dish while its round cap of vanilla ice cream cooled things down.
Finally, Bravo! actually serves a fresh cup of coffee. If that weren’t enough (and believe me, for this town, it was plenty), they offer espresso, cappuccino, latte — you know, the kind of after-dinner drinks a self-respecting Italian restaurant should offer.
I’m not sure the evening deserved standing applause (except for the coffee perhaps), but we enjoyed our meal and our time together in Bravo! We didn’t really care that the meal was likely much more American than Italian. We had a good time and we ate good food. Whether a restaurant has locations in a half-dozen states or one location in town, that’s a recipe for success.
Bravo! Cusina Italiana
2970 Towne Centre Blvd., Lansing
11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday
11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
11: a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday
TO, OM, FB, P, $$$$