Bocconcini Italian Eatery
Three forks out of four
Where: 4811 E. Central, 316-613-2523
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
Type of food: Italian
Alcohol: Beer and wine
Reservations: Accepted for parties of six or more.
Nathan Toubia’s new Bocconcini Italian Eatery at 4811 E. Central works, and the food is only part of the reason.
The restaurant, housed in the space that formerly had Sugar Sisters Bakery & Cafe, has been packing in crowds since it first opened in late July. The crowds have been so unexpectedly large, in fact, that the restaurant shut down for a few days just after opening to regroup and figure out how to handle the rush.
The restaurant works — despite its little imperfections — because it’s a buzzing, buzzed-about neighborhood eatery in an intimate setting led by a known chef/owner who comes from Wichita culinary royalty. (Toubia is the son of the late Antoine Toubia, founder of famous Wichita restaurants such as Cafe Chantilly, the Olive Tree and Bagatelle Bakery. Antoine’s can’t-miss portrait hangs in the restaurant’s entryway.)
It also works because the menu is filled with many well-prepared gourmet dishes that Wichita hasn’t seen before, served at surprisingly reasonable prices.
ON THE MENU: Toubia, who also owns Bocco Deli — a lunch spot several blocks west on Central — has filled the menu with unique appetizers, salads, sandwiches, pasta dishes and entrees using fresh gourmet ingredients such as figs, prosciutto, pancetta and polenta.
His is not a spaghetti-and-meatballs, lasagna kind of Italian restaurant. In fact, you won’t find either on the menu. The pastas are topped mostly with cream- and olive-oil based sauces, and the entrees showcase chicken, pork, beef, salmon and lamb topped with sauces that use wild mushrooms, capers and balsamic vinegar as their bases.
DON’T-MISS DISHES: On two trips to Bocconcini, we tried several memorable dishes. Among them was the pork saltimbocca ($13), made with two large, thinly sliced and pounded-flat pieces of pork tenderloin that were topped with prosciutto and a rich, buttery Marlsala sauce. The meat was fork-tender and sat atop a Nathan Toubia specialty — a perfectly fried triangle of creamy polenta. A generous serving of fresh, vibrantly green broccoli rabe finished the dish.
After spotting the beautiful beef mushroom dish ($14) on a neighbor’s table, we ordered it, too, and were pleased with its delicious simplicity. It featured a good cut of beef cooked medium (though we would’ve preferred it a bit more rare) and topped with thinly sliced wild mushrooms and a mushroom-based sauce. A generous serving of roasted garlic mashed potatoes and leafy cooked spinach were served on the side.
Two pasta dishes we tried also were good, including the chicken fettucini Alfredo ($10.50), made with homemade pasta cooked perfectly al dente, topped with moist grilled chicken on a pool of the richest, silkiest cream sauce I’ve had in Wichita. The only problem: The dish came out of the kitchen lukewarm.
We also sampled some of Toubia’s delicious homemade toasted ravioli appetizer, which featured four sandwich-bread size pieces of fried cheese-stuffed ravioli. The dish was $7.50 and was served with a side of marinara meant to be spooned atop the ravioli — only there wasn’t nearly enough in the bowl to adequately top the huge ravioli.
We were pleased that Toubia allows nearly every salad from his list to be ordered as a side salad for $3.50. The best was an arugula salad, featuring a large serving of the peppery lettuce coated in a light vinaigrette and topped with sliced pear, gorgonzola cheese and toasted walnuts.
For dessert, we passed up the homemade tiramisu ($4.50), which we already knew from February's review of Bocco Deli is excellent.
Instead, we tried the delicate panna cotta ($4), a sugary, creamy gelatin disc topped with fresh raspberries and stabbed with a delicate Italian cookie.
AMBIENCE: The dining room is small but dramatic, lined with a half-circle of floor-to-ceiling windows facing Central.
The decor is pretty basic, and the floor features two booths, a few square tables and several tiny circle tables too small to fit much food on.
One dining room complaint: The ceiling is so high and bare that the restaurant is unusually noisy. But it’s fun to watch Toubia in the open kitchen, where he can be seen either cooking or expediting orders.
PRICE RANGE: Very good for what diners are getting. Most entrees are in the $14 range, with the exception of a $29 rib eye and a $24 order of lamb chops. Sandwiches are $7 to $9. Pastas average about $9.50. Appetizers average about $8.
SERVICE: Our waitress was friendly and competent, though on both visits, the floor staff was a little too eager to whisk plates away before the diners were ready. And on our Friday-night visit, our salads came out before our appetizer, throwing off the rhythm of the meal.
Ratings reflect the critic’s judgment of the food, service and atmosphere in relation to the price. If you would like to nominate a restaurant to be reviewed, call 316-268-6327.
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