Bon Caldo… Not bad, not great

The big V-day is over and I walked away with a beautiful floral arrangement from Winston’s and a full belly from Bon Caldo (on Route 1) in Norwood.

When we arrived for our 7pm reservation at Bon Caldo, we both kind of giggled to ourselves. It’s difficult to explain, but this stand-alone establishment (with plenty of parking) has the feel of small town “nice” restaurant. The best way I could explain it to Dan was to say… I feel like I’m on my first dinner date ever (like when you are in high school) and my boyfriend has taken me to what is supposed to be the “nicest place” in your town — when in reality it’s a bordering-on-tacky, old-school, moderate restaurant at best.

Don’t get me wrong, Bon Caldo is cute in a “traditional Italian decor” kind of way and definitely appears to to be very busy and popular. It’s my guess that locals frequent this place and that you probably need reservations on most nights. That said… it just wasn’t our kind of place.

Vibrant Italian music (read: cheesey) plays loudly overhead. There is a fake (gas) fireplace in the center of the main dining room and there is also a bar area that affords more seats and a piano, that I can only assume is played live on certain nights. I also believe this place is most likely very kid-friendly. A family with a toddler was leaving when we arrived and there was a larger party in the main dining room (sporting two VERY bratty children — which was annoying and distracting) that the staff happily accomodated. The staff in general was very nice, though the service was pretty slow and it took a REALLY long time for our bread to arrive (after our salads).

The food at Bon Caldo was what I expected — it was good, just not great. The menu is quite interesting though, as it features authentic offerings from all the regions of Italy and includes many dishes and a certain level of creativity that you wouldn’t expect to find at a restaurant of this caliber. Many items are cooked using an open wood fire, which I’m guessing adds a nice smokey flavor to the food.

We started with salads instead of appetizers, as I wanted to save some room for dessert. 🙂 I had the Insalata Caprese (Campania) ($12), which had 3 pieces of fresh mozzerlla on top of sliced hot-house tomatoes (both red and yellow), served with sliced basil, a thick and perfectly sweet balsamic glaze and a drizzle of olive oil. The sauce was delicious and the cheese was very fresh. The tomatoes were exactly what you would expect for this time of year…. lacking in flavor.

Dan got the Insalata Pera (Emilia Romanga) ($8), which was made up of ripe seasonal pears, mixed baby field greens, walnuts, a balsamic vinegairette & shaved pecorino cheese. Everything about his salad was good. The ingredients were fresh and the dressing was a tasty — though they put a bit too much on.

For dinner, I decided to go with the special risotto of the evening and the suggested wine pairing. Not all meals have suggested pairings, just the specials. However, this place has been featured in Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast many times for their extensive wine list (another plus), so my guess is they probably have a few staff members who are able to make good suggestions.

My Risotto di Giorno ($24), was an raddichio risotto topped with scampi-style shirmp. The risotto itself was very creamy, bordering on being a bit too rich. The raddichio added a nice savory flavor, however, the overpowering amount of butter and lemon took away from the delicate flavors. The shrimp were lighly breaded and sauteed and were very good. For wine, I had a glass of the Lugana Zenato ($12), described on as:

Straw yellow in color with greenish hues, it offers elegant and appealing aromas of peach, citrus, banana and herbs, beautifully sustained by a crisp, minerally and supple body. The balanced acidity and a slight and pleasantly bitter finish allow for a wide choice of food pairings.

And listed at only $15 a bottle (vs. the $45/bottle Bon Caldo was charging). In fact, I did a web search because I really enjoyed this wine and I wanted to find out more about it. I thought it was a little expensive at almost $12 a glass, so I wanted to see what it typically went for at retail. Almost every place I saw was about $12 a bottle! Even various vintages from 2002 to 2006 were all in the same ballpark, so I’m not sure why it is so expensive at Bon Caldo. In any case, it paired very well with my risotto.

For Dan’s dinner, he ordered a full-size (versus half-size) portion of the Penne Gorgonzola (Lombardia) ($17), which was penne tossed with gorgonzola cheese, cream and a wild mushroom sauce and finished with fresh parmigiano reggiano cheese. While the meal was good for the first bite or two, it was ultimately way too rich to eat in any volume. The gorgonzola used was very strong and just made the meal too heavy. Neither one of us was able to finish our meals due to the high fat content, but we did enjoy them for the most part. As a drink, Dan just ordered a standard Mojito ($7). In addition to the large wine cellar, Bon Caldo also offers a full bar and has a list of several signature cocktails to choose from. Dan didn’t love his mojito (we have had some really good ones in the past). It was too heavy on the lime juice and club soda and too light on the simple syrup and booze.

Even though we were pretty full, I convinced Dan to order dessert with me. He stayed simple and got a dish of the Gelato ($6), opting for a combination of the vanilla bean and the cappuccino flavors. The portion was huge, but Dan didn’t really like it all that much. It was way too sweet and not nearly as good as the true gelato we had in Italy. I went with the Coppa Catalana ($8), described on the menu as a creamy baked custard with a layer of raspberry sauce and topped with caramel coated mixed berries. In reality, it was a custard… a sickeningly sweet one, with a layer of super sweet raspberry sauce at the bottom of the cup and topped with a fruit compote that consisted of mixed berries including currants — so it was pretty tart. Granted, true Italian desserts tend to be on the sweet side, but these were just not good. Neither one of us finished our serving. I did see some other desserts that came out that looked delicious, so perhaps we just made poor choices?

In the end, I don’t consider Bon Caldo a great date night place, unless what I described is your kind of thing. That said, I think it would make a very good family friendly option and we will probably return to give that a spin. I like how each dish includes the region of Italy it comes from and I also like how all of the pastas come in half portions, allowing you to keep the cost low while still getting a taste of a few different things. I don’t like how extreme and overpowering many of their flavors are, but I’m willing to give it a second chance.

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