Raising the Bar: Finding Venice in Chinatown at Bacaro

"I leave my napkin smudged with cuttlefish kisses, but my plate is always returned spotlessly clean."

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Recently, I've been frequenting Division Street in Chinatown quite often; not for Chinese food, but for Italian. Tucked away on a a quiet street, one block away from Ling Kee Beef Jerky and Lam Zhou, is Bacaro—a Venetian bi-level wine bar with small plates but plenty of charm. The ground floor, with large windows facing the street, is the brighter of the two floors, making it more popular with gossiping girlfriends and long-time couples no longer needing to woo each other. The floor below, darker and sexier with the feel of a wine cellar in a romantic castle in Venice, is more popular with amorous couples meeting for a clandestine rendez-vous.

Personally, I never care where I sit. I go to Bacaro with only one thing in mind: the Spaghetti Nero.

09242009riceballinnards.jpgBefore my Spaghetti Nero, though, I usually order the Risi e Bisi ($9): fried orbs, dry to the touch, filled with hot molten mozzarella cheese, rice, and peas. The rice balls are a bit heavy, and I always wish the outsides were a little less dense and more delicate, but I enjoy them regardless. And I've found them always to be a table pleaser. It's hard to go wrong with anything fried and filled with cheese.

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Then it's on to the Spaghetti Nero ($14), spaghetti with cuttlefish ink. It's not pretty to look at and it may be better eaten downstairs in darker confines—as the ink will most definitely stain your lips an unflattering black. But the momentary unsightliness is worth it for the briny slippery bites. It's completely delicious, and when the pasta is gone, I make sure to sop up all the leftover sauce with some bread. I leave my napkin smudged with cuttlefish kisses, but my plate is always returned spotlessly clean.

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To drink, Bacaro has a small cocktail menu, but I always opt for some wine, which can be ordered in four different sizes: a tasting, a glass, a carafe, or a bottle. On my last visit I was greedy and ordered a carafe of the Soave Santi Monforte 2005 ($20), which was a bit hollow for my taste. So if you want to find that perfect glass of wine to go with your meal, I would recommend the tastings before settling on a bottle or carafe. You are in a an Italian wine bar in Chinatown, after all. Experimentation is definitely in order.

Bacaro

136 Division Street, New York NY 10002 (near Ludlow Street; map) 212-941-5060
bacaronyc.com