The thing that struck me speechless was the salumi.
I know what you're thinking. "Salumi?" you're thinking. "That is so, like, 2006." Maybe. But when it's as good as it is at Bar Bambino, it never goes out of style.
The small salumi plate ($9.50) was the first thing my boyfriend and I settled on during our inaugural meal at Bar Bambino. The selections, which change daily, were chosen for us by Alex Potter, Bar Bambino's salumi guy. He and his batons of porcine goodness occupy a small corner of the main dining room, just to the right of the bar, where he works feverishly to keep up with the plates that circle 'round and 'round the room.
Clad in an impeccable white chef's coat, Alex himself delivered a wooden tray to our table that glistened with creamy pork fat. It was stacked five rows deep with three kinds of housemade salame as well as prosciutto and pancetta. He walked us through each one so that there was no doubt what we were eating -- an oversight too many good restaurants make.
"This is the ciauscolo," he said, pointing to the one farthest from me. As owner Christopher Losa explained via email, ciauscolo comes from the Marche region of Italy, just south of Emilia-Romagna on the eastern seaboard. "Ours is done in a bit firmer form than most (it's traditional in the Marche to have ciauscolo spreadable, not unlike French rillettes) because I like to have the purity of the meat flavors and seasonings be fully accessible and not competing with bread," he wrote. Bar Bambino flavors their version with garlic and allspice.
Next there was a salame toscano, made with red wine and black peppercorns, and a finocchiona, distinguished by fennel seeds, lavender, and other aromatic herbs. I picked up a sliver and held it up to the light. It was sliced so whisper thin, I could have read the menu through it.
We happily munched our way around the plate, letting slices of barely crisped pancetta melt on our tongues and fighting over the last slice of finocchiona. Christopher says that all of Bar Bambino's own salame is made from Duroc pork that is raised naturally in Iowa. "But we recently found a Duroc-mix locally (Sonoma) that our next batches will be from. I'm excited to see how the local pig fairs [sic] from a taste/consistency perspective."
In addition to Bar Bambino's housemade salumi, all of which is made in a curing room in Geyserville, Christopher offers a sopressata from Salumeria Biellese, a New York-based artisan producer that's been around since the roaring twenties, and plans to expand his selection by offering goodies from other like-minded producers.
"I am an avid supporter of the renaissance in cured meat artistry that is occurring locally and I want to offer the best of Italian-style cured meats that we can source," he continued. "Just as I can't make the best wine, cheese or bread to offer my customers, I know that somebody can do more than we can alone."
My boyfriend and I enjoyed the rest of our meal equally well, from the "al ginepro" bruschetta ($8.00) -- creamy chunks of chicken liver enlivened by a sprinkling of fleur de sel -- to the polpette ($14.75), meatballs in a light sauce of tomatoes, onions, and chard. My only real complaint was the chintzy wine pours (I noticed punier than normal glasses at Nua, too -- a disturbing new trend?). As annoying as it is to pay good money for a Lilliputian glass of vino, it's even more frustrating to be constantly waving down your server.
But the meal was lovely, and the salumi some of the best in the city. This little piggie cried "whee, whee, whee" all the way home.
2931 16th Street
Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday