“It was exactly as it is in Italy,” said an Italian client to chef Eleonora Zuliani as she was leaving Il Bacaro, a Venetian restaurant hidden away on a quiet side street in Paris’s 11th arrondissement. She was absolutely right.
Zuliani, a native of Friuli and formerly an architect, cooks up wonderfully authentic and delicious Venetian dishes, with ingredients and recipes I have never before encountered in a Paris restaurant (she has them shipped directly from Italy).
The place itself is small, and we were glad we had reserved: it was packed at lunchtime with people downing the daily special: a main course of pasta or risotto and salad for only €13 (for €16, you get dessert, too).
We wanted more, however, so we decided to share the assortment of three cicchetti (Venetian snacks) consisting of moscardini alla busara (baby octopi in tomato sauce) with broccoli fialaro (a particular type of broccoli) from Creazzo, and puntarelle e salsa tonnata (chicory with a tuna, caper and anchovy sauce). In place of the baccalà (salt cod) with polenta, not available that day, we were given baked squash with Friulian cheese. Absolutely no resemblance to the standard antipasti served in Italian restaurants outside of Italy. The vegetables were especially interesting.
Next came what for me was the pièce de résistance: potato ravioli (homemade, as is nearly everything here) stuffed with guanciale (cured pork cheek) and anchovies, and drowned in a delicate cuttlefish-ink sauce, a surprising but wonderfully satisfying and delicious combination.
Since there was no polenta that day for some reason, our osso buco came with unseasonal peas, which I believe came out of the freezer. This was the only faux pas we encountered, and I had to forgive it because everything else was so excellent and unusual. Instead of lemon rind, the osso buco was topped with orange zest, a happy innovation.
For dessert, we shared a marvelous almond and amaretti cake with whipped vanilla-flavored ricotta, which paired famously with an orange salad dolled up with dates, walnuts and a sweet orange paste spiked with rum.
Since my lunch companion (Paris Update’s former restaurant reviewer Richard Hesse) and I are both Italophiles, it was only natural that we have a grappa with our coffee. I loved the grappa de Moscato perfumed with Muscat grapes, while he relished a glass of the rougher grappa d’Amarone.
Il Bacaro is a rare find, “esattamente come è in Italia!” indeed.