Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Restaurant Review: Chazz: A Bronx Original

As usual, this review is based on just one visit to the restaurant. In this case, I was invited by the Chazz PR team, the meal was comped and the restaurant knew who we were, so please keep that in mind as you're reading.

I have to be honest: when I first heard about Chazz: A Bronx Original, I was skeptical about it's chances. Really skeptical. There is something about the place's name, a clunky nod to actor and partial owner Chazz Palminteri, that drives me crazy and does not inspire much trust in the quality of the food. I worried that the restaurant's Bronx "hook" would overshadow the food and service.

Fortunately, in this case, my worry was for nothing. Yes, the restaurant has a bit of a theme edge to it, but it's no Rainforest Cafe. Plus, Palminteri did a smart thing when he partnered with Aldo owners Serge and Alessandro Vitale - people who clearly know how to run a restaurant. The end result, from where I sat, was inviting, friendly, fun for dinner or happy hour, and most of all, delicious.

We started with cocktails (obviously). I opted for a ginger gin and tonic (a little spicy, just interesting enough), while Cooper won the round with his order, the Bronx Cocktail:

Yes, it looks a little Sex and the City-ish. But like that would stop Cooper from sticking out his pinky and drinking the whole thing.
The drink, which was created at the Waldorf Astoria, starts with a classic gin martini and adds sweet vermouth and orange for a balanced, but potent result. We both loved it and I was jealous.

After our drinks, we ordered a bottle of Malbec from the wine list, which was interesting and more diverse than we expected (also less spendy than it might be, which is a nice bonus).

Our very sweet and very knowledgeable waitress suggested we start with something from the mozzarella bar - a concept that I love and that is just perfect for happy hour. We chose the burrata, because I can't resist it, and roasted peppers. The kitchen largely left the ingredients alone, which was perfect, since when you've got ingredients like these, there's no need to mess around with them:
Burrata might be the best thing I've ever eaten.
We also shared a veal meatball, which is one of the restaurants signature appetizers. It was cooked and seasoned pretty much perfectly, so we were very happy with it:
The sauce was nice, too!
The menu at Chazz's includes a lot of dishes that are on the lighter side - pizzas and simple pastas - and that aren't terribly expensive, which is nice and makes it a good weeknight option, especially for people who work and live downtown. Cooper and I decided to share two entrees: a pizza and a pasta. For the pasta, we ordered the caprese fusilli, a light combination of fresh tomato sauce, basil and mozzarella. Summery and fresh:
The sauce was excellent and the pasta itself was very good, too. I'm a sucker for uneven fusilli.
The pizzas are cooked in a coal-fueled oven that's visible from the bar area. The result is a crust that's crispy on the outside and chewy inside and just a little smoky.

The pizza menu is full of fresh vegetables and interesting meats and cheeses. We chose the parma proscuitto, which is topped with proscuitto, mozarella, fontina and a healthy heap of arugula:
Yes, there is proscuitto under all that greenery.
It was lovely - salty, but with just enough bite and freshness from the arugula.

For dessert, we shied away from the nutella pizza for two, after seeing two girls at a table next to ours give up on the powdery, nutty concoction after one slice each (they ended up sharing with another table - Chazz: Where Friends Are Made!). Instead, we ordered the coffee & donut - delicate chocolate glazed donuts served with a scoop of coffee gelato:
Breakfast for dessert?

It was as good as it looks (but more in focus!) and we weren't sorry.

Overall, we were very, very pleased with the meal. Everything we tried was excellent, our waitress was prompt, friendly and knew what she was talking about, and the place itself was bustling and fun. Thanks to big windows, it's bright and sunny for summertime, but it will definitely feel cozy in the winter.

As we walked out, we noticed that the happy hour business was bustling. The crowd was mostly about our age and dressed in biz cas - it's a great post-work spot for people working in Harbor East.

In the interest of fairness, I will admit that I've heard through the grapevine that some people who weren't comped had a less ideal experience, but I wonder if the place just had some soft opening kinks to work through. Our waitress even admitted to us that there had been some ups and downs in the first couple of weeks (when aren't there?). I watched the tables around us, keeping an ear out for any problems they might have had, and everybody seemed to be pleased with the experience. So hopefully those disappointing experiences were just blips.

Verdict: Two thumbs up from the Pollards on this one. I've already recommended it to friends who live downtown and we'd love to go back again.
Chazz: A Bronx Original on Urbanspoon

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