Let’s say you asked the guy who just did some work on your car for a dinner recommendation (what? Mechanics eat too!!) First he mentions Chili’s…not high hopes for the next thing on the list…then says Bambino’s. My general rule is to ignore further suggestions from people who’s first thought is “a chain restaurant near the mall is a good choice,” this despite the fact that I will eat at Applebee’s pretty much anytime. Anyway, I’m also not enthusiastic about Italian restaurants (once you’ve eaten in Italy, most of these don’t live up) and the name Bambino’s doesn’t lend itself to me reconsidering my view.
Let’s also say you are nearly 9 months pregnant and hungry and you are in Auburn, NY. The options are limited and you’ve lost your pickiness. So off to Bambino’s Bistro you go.
We’re asked if we have reservations and although it’s a fairly busy Friday night, we are able to be seated without too much trouble. I was offered a seat three times in the 10 or less minutes we waited for our table to be ready, by the owner(?) and two servers. As we took our seats, we both remarked that the table placement reminded us of Italy–meaning you were pretty much sitting with your neighbor. While I appreciate that this is bothersome to some people, we don’t mind; it usually means you can at least be nosy and listen to what could be interesting conversation and at most meet some really nice people. There is also a small patio that totally reminded of us of Rome–the way small Roman restaurants just kind of take over a parking space or sidewalk and put tables there, Bambino’s has done the same. It’s not usually scenic or decorated, just outdoors.
The menu was divided in the traditional Italian way–antipasto (that included a grilled calamari with white beans…), primo (pasta, soup, salad) and secundo (meats and fish) but without contorno (sides for the meats) with both very typical Italian American dishes and more traditional Italian style entrees. We were served water in a clear, hinged bottle (like this one) but were not offered a wine list. I didn’t even think about this until I saw a couple come in and place a their own bottle of wine on their table. It seems Bambino’s doesn’t serve alcohol…
It also seems that there is no permit in NYS for BYOB establishments; they are required to get a liquor license as if they were selling alcohol. Three different tables brought their own wine while we were there and all three were told that they couldn’t currently BYOB. This is where the super close tables are helpful! We were able to hear the owner(?) tell the couple next to us that hopefully in two weeks BYOB would resume. Of course I’ve googled NYS liquor laws and suspect Bambino’s is either in the process of applying for a license to sell or a club license (which means the owners are really ‘members’ and a ABC liaison is involved) and likely had been BYOB illegallly. It seems NYS is cracking down on BYOB lately, and many establishments have been caught unaware of the rules.
Anyway, no booze at Bambino’s at the moment, but it wouldn’t stop us from eating there.
We didn’t order much, I’m too pregnant to eat large amounts at one time and while I would have loved all three courses (to share!!) I know I get full so quickly that its wasted on me. We opted instead for a plate of calamari (the standard fried kind) and two pastas. The calamari was good, didn’t seem to be the frozen kind, and was plentiful. While eating my three bites of calamari I noticed some other dishes coming from the kitchen–oysters, looking outstanding, and an enormous pizza that wasn’t on the menu. Turns out Bambino’s has a take out pizza place in back.
Jake had Fruitti De Mare (linguine with mussels) and I had Penne Alla Caprese (penne with fresh moz, basil and tomato). Neither of these should be shocking to you–Jake loves mussels and I love fresh mozzarella. We were impressed with both dishes. The tomato sauce was the kind we learned to make at Mamma Agata’s: oil, cherry tomatoes, garlic and that’s pretty much it. Definitely not from a jar and not pureed, but cooked down.
For dessert (I know, I just said I’m super pregnant and nothing fits, but there is always room for dessert) we had two decaf cappuccino and a chocolate souffle with vanilla gelato. We’ve had some trouble finding gelato with the right texture outside of Italy–I’m not sure if its our rules about dairy or that it sits longer here or that we just can’t do it right, but it’s always a little icier or grainier that it should be. This wasn’t. The vanilla gelato was creamy and smooth, with the thick texture we’ve been looking for. And the souffle wasn’t bad either!
After our meal we looked at some other reviews and mostly it gets raves, but I think its important to know what you are getting into. It very much reminded us of Italy: the tables are tight, the service is pretty slow, there is no expectation that you have anywhere else to be. The food was pretty close too! We loved it, and will absolutely be back. Of course, we’ll call about the wine first…