New Italian restaurant Bravos long on taste, short on parking

03/06/2013 12:45 PM

03/06/2013 12:46 PM

It seems appropriate that the restaurant space with nine lives should attract a restaurateur with nine lives.

Actually, the spot at 217 E. Douglas has got to be on more than its ninth life, while Bravos owner Kas Zendeli, who moved into the space in October, is only on number three.

I can name at least eight restaurants that have operated in the space just since I moved here in the late 1990s, and there were many more before that.

Zendeli opened Bravos there after closing his once-popular Valley Center restaurant Bravo’s Italiani. He also had owned the short-lived Italian Bistro, which operated in the Market Centre building at First and Market for just a few months in late 2011.

On recent visits to the new restaurant, which during the weekdays has one of the worst parking situations known to Wichita, I did see something I haven’t seen much of when visiting previous restaurant incarnations in that spot.

Customers.

So far, Zendeli is earning good word of mouth for his restaurant, which seems to be attracting crowds at lunch and is stubbornly holding on to its evening and weekend hours, even though that block is traditionally deserted during that time if there’s no live event going on at nearby Century II or Intrust Bank Arena.

ON THE MENU: The lengthy menu is populated with pasta dishes drenched in creamy, buttery and tomato-y sauces as well as standards such as lasagna, manicotti, spaghetti and meatballs, fettuccine Alfredo, chicken Marsala, chicken Parmigiana, shrimp scampi, linguini and clams and more.

The menu also offers 12-inch pizzas, hot subs and desserts made in-house. There’s no lunch menu, per se, but Bravos has a long list of lower-priced lunch specials posted on a dry-erase board at the restaurant’s entrance.

DON’T-MISS DISHES: If, by chance, you’ve forgotten what an awesome duo butter and cream are, Bravos can help you remember. We started our meal with some of the best stuffed mushrooms I’ve ever had. Bravos’ version ($7.95) features six good-sized mushroom caps filled with crab meat, then covered in a creamy cheese Alfredo sauce and baked until the top gets crunchy. We sopped up all the sauce and even found ourselves scraping the perfect bits of charred cheese off the bottom of the serving dish.

We performed the sauce-sopping with one of the best reasons to dine at Bravos: a bread basket that contains one piping hot, perfect garlicky yeast roll for each person at the table. I would have paid for those perfect pillows of yeasty goodness, which were soft on the inside, crispy on the outside and far superior to any breadstick or butter-drenched piece of garlic bread you’ve been served at other Italian restaurants.

The entrees we sampled were all good, though in a lot of cases, their seasonings ranged from overdone to underdone. I needed to add salt to my piping hot lasagna ($8.95) and to the ricotta-stuffed baked cheese ravioli ($7.95) to get much flavor out of them. But the potato gnocchi ($11.95), a decadent creation featuring perfect potato dumplings, big walnut halves, mushrooms and hunks of Italian sausage, was swimming in an overly salted gorgonzola cream sauce.

We ordered one of the 12-inch pizzas, which is more than enough for two people. The supreme was $13.49 and featured a crust that was thick but bready, not greasy, and generous amounts of pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, onions, green peppers and black olives. Next time we want to try the white pizza, which is topped with ricotta, tomatoes and spinach for $12.49.

We also loved the chicken Parmigiana sandwich, which was a good value at $6.95. The sandwich, which came with a salad, was huge and served on toasted French bread with nicely crunchy chicken, cheese and marinara sauce stuffed in the center.

For dessert, we sampled two heavenly treats, both $4. The tiramisu was made with mascarpone that produced a perfectly creamy texture, and the layered limoncello cake was fresh and packed full of lemony flavor.

AMBIANCE: The dining room still looks much as it did under the last several owners, with simple tables and chairs and tasteful wall decor. We sat in a front window, which made for a sunny, cheerful lunch.

The main problem with the restaurant, especially at lunch, is the parking situation. There’s simply no place to park near the restaurant, and the one-way streets that surround it make circling for a space a frustrating, time-consuming experience. We were meeting people at the restaurant at 11:30 a.m. on a Monday and left in plenty of time. After circling for 10 minutes, we finally parked in a lot near Century II and walked a couple of blocks. My feeling is that this issue may have been a contributing factor to doing in many of the building’s past tenants.

Our waitress told us, however, that parking is not an issue on evenings and weekends, when nearby businesses are closed and no longer restricting their parking lots.

PRICE RANGE: Pasta dishes average about $8. Hot subs are $6.95. The 12-inch pizzas are $8.49 to $13.49. Entrees are $9.95 to $15.95. All but the pizzas come with a side salad.

SERVICE: Our waitress was very good and professional, but she was staffing the dining room alone during a busy lunch rush, so we had to wait a bit for our carryout containers and to pay the bill.

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