Rule Breaker: Bocce Ristorante

Bocce Ristorante
3252 NE First Ave.

I’m sure you’ve heard of the sport. A game that originated among Italian migrants, bocce now serves as entertainment for everyday social gatherings — from backyard barbecues to beach bashes. And if you’ve ever played a match of bocce, you know the rules are quite simple: bowl your balls closest to the jack (the smaller ball) to receive the most points.

Ravioli di Barbabietola

Ravioli di Barbabietola

When it came to our dining experience at Bocce Ristorante, a widely talked-about, Italian-inspired space in Miami’s up-and-coming Midtown neighborhood, we expected the restaurant to play by a few essential principles: inviting atmosphere, attentive service and delicious food. We met up with friends, in celebration of my good friend Erika’s birthday, and we soon learned that Bocce is somewhat of a rule-breaker — and not necessarily in all the right ways.

As far as ambiance, this joint really nails the “industrial chic” concept, offering a welcoming indoor/outdoor, open-space concept. Plus, diners can engage in bocce matches on the terrace court strung with twinkling outdoor lights, while sipping cocktails or waiting for their next course. Speaking of cocktails … we thoroughly enjoyed our Italian classics. I started my meal with the Sbagliato ($13, Campari, Martini Rosso, prosecco) while my husband, Kenny opted for the Bandito ($13, Mount Gay white rum, pineapple, orange, lime).

Orecchiette, Salsiccia e Borlotti

Orecchiette, Salsiccia e Borlotti

Attentive, among other words including knowledgeable, obliging, polite and brutally honest, would describe our server that evening. He not only assisted Erika in recommending the ideal wine pairing for her meal, but when detailing the Italian-inspired menu with us, he openly admitted that he personally didn’t believe Bocce’s Bolognese was the best in town. We were shocked by his candor; so much so that we dared not ask him upon which local restaurant that honor has been bestowed. (I’m still very curious.)

Nevertheless, we now move on to dinner. Each couple shared antipasti (starters), as Erika and her husband, Matt delighted in the moist and tangy polpette d’agnello ($14, lamb meatballs, goat cheese, crostini) – she preferred the meatballs without the dry bread, while he used it as a vessel to sop up the accompanying red sauce. Kenny and I were less impressed by our pomodori e mozzarella ($11, heirloom tomatoes, house-pulled mozza), mainly because we felt the cheese was on the rubbery side and the dish overall could have used a bit more fresh basil and balsamic.

Spaghetti al Nero

Spaghetti al Nero

Entrees were served in several forms of pasta. Erika’s ravioli di barbabietola ($16, beet and goat cheese-filled pasta) looked like a piece of abstract art and offered a very rich flavor from the goat cheese. Both of the guys enjoyed the meaty bean component of the orecchiette, salsiccia e borlotti ($18, house-made sausage, borlotti beans, rosemary oil), but agreed a dash of salt would have elevated the flavors. I had my first go-round with squid ink through the spaghetti al nero ($20, house-made black squid ink spaghetti, seafood ragout, sun-dried tomatoes). While I enjoyed the saltiness from the squid ink and brininess from the clams, overall the dish didn’t wow my taste buds flavor-wise, and especially when it came to texture (pasta was over-cooked for my liking and past the point of al dente).

It’s always disappointing to be underwhelmed by the food when celebrating a special occasion, but who’s to say a return trip to try Bocce’s other specialties might prove more enjoyable? What this place might lack in the culinary arena, it certainly makes up for in atmosphere. Add in some classic yet refined cocktails and fantastic company and you’ve found a prime gathering space — especially for the competitive at heart.

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