Venue Review: IL Bosco
The Charlotte Observer
Il Bosco, which means "the woods" in Italian, is more like a little clearing in Davidson: a place to pause, to breathe in, to look around and appreciate where one is.
It's a warm, calm place, offering a somewhat varied Italian menu with some real jewels among more straightforward fare.
Partner Jimmy Hermann is host, and it's his manner that sets the tone. Relaxed with no trace of forwardness, Hermann moves unobtrusively through the room, assisting the staff and offering comments only when conversation is clearly welcomed. Hermann had been at Firenze in Charlotte most recently, with experience at the old Si! and Toscana as well in his 20-some years around town. He has said he wants Il Bosco to be a gathering place, reminiscent of the Italian home he grew up in, and it's clear the staff is taught to make people comfortable, first of all. Coarse, warm bread arrives almost immediately, with some cannellini beans and good olive oil, and you peruse a menu dotted with the expected (sharing plates of cheeses and meats; linguine with clams; veal Marsala) and the less so (cremini mushroom cap stuffed with speck and Gorgonzola; housemade fettuccine with roasted vegetables; a daily feature using beef from partner Patrick O'Leary's River Taw Farms in Cherryville).
"It's a combination of recipes (from) over the many gray-haired years," Hermann says with a quiet laugh.
The setting is restrained: rough, creamy walls, Tuscan-colored artwork, landscapes and abstracts (for sale), and a handsome terrace outside, complete with fountain. Staffers wear suspenders, ties, black pants and deep blue collared shirts (not all black! I can't even remember when this last happened), and seating is sufficiently spaced that you can hear your own dinner conversation. There's also a welcoming lounge area by the front, which Hermann hopes people will adopt as a sort of living-room-away-from-home.
Gnocchi, made in-house by Hermann's son, Joseph, were terrific - the little uneven dumplings tender but toothsome, without turning to mush. Joseph makes all the fresh pastas (which, unusually, include spaghetti), as well as desserts. The chef is Deyman Paz, with time in at Luce and Coco Osteria, among others. Rigatoni with Bolognese sauce was the best version I've had since - well, about Bologna, in '01. Roasted red pepper stuffed with speck and fresh mozzarella, now off the menu, was perfect, and salads are a strong suit: The house has a lovely white-balsamic vinaigrette and the latest menu has wine-poached pear and Gorgonzola over arugula.
Also terrific: a bone-in Berkshire pork chop with vinegar peppers and white wine sauce.
Other fare had a few flaws: the beef-driven sauce on that gnocchi was much too salty, and offering Caprese salad before the best tomatoes are in doesn't work.
But the classic Italian Easter dessert of pastiera, or wheat pie - a sort of unlikely wheatberry and ricotta affair - was superb, and came with first-hand explanations of its presence in tradition (and, tragically, its absence from the standing menu). Ricotta cheesecake, offered routinely, is no slouch: gorgeously delicate and delicious.
With standards and variations, Il Bosco has enough to keep folks interested. The menu changes seasonally, and some current kitchen expansion means a grill is on the way, so expect the summer menu to include more of that grass-fed beef, among other things.
The heart of this woods is solid.