Filler Summer Sensibility

Boccata Rolls Out A Lighter Seasonal Menu.
By Rebecca Cook

THE RELIEF OF a few sputtering rain showers aside, there's no question that the heat is on--and with it comes a longing for food that is lighter, less filling than our standard fare.

Chow The folks at Boccata understand this seasonal trend towards simpler meals. They've put together a special hot-weather menu that, while sacrificing nothing in terms of quality or flavor, gives us a reprieve from the rich, dense foods we so love at other times of the year.

Entitled "Summer Sensibility," Boccata's current menu features poultry and seafood; no beef and only one pork item can be found among the offerings. (To accommodate appetites that still crave heavier meals, Boccata has retained a sampling from their usual menu.)

Far from being a tired revival of the rice-and-vegetable theme that often dogs the lighter-dining urge, Boccata has assembled a series of dishes that reflect flashes of culinary brilliance.

Immediately upon being seated, Boccata sets before you a complimentary appetizer of the beans d'Ivrea, a puree of whipped great northern beans with garlic, rosemary and virgin olive oil, served with crostini. Smooth and delicious, this is a perfect munchie as you make those all-important dining decisions.

If you'd like to nosh a bit longer, choose from other tempting appetizers, our choice one evening being the caprese--sliced fresh mozzarella and ripe tomatoes drizzled with a basil-lemon vinaigrette.

A kinder, gentler menu inevitably will highlight some spectacular soups and salads, and this is definitely the case at Boccata.

Salads include: a stunning Caesar laced with a heady dressing of blended garlic, anchovies, lemon and parmesan cheese; the mango mesclun, a combination of mixed field greens, mangoes and tomatoes tossed in a spicy dijon vinaigrette; and a heartier salade au canard, smoked duck breast, julienned snow peas, carrots and jicama served atop a potpourri of salad greens tossed with a tangy blackberry vinaigrette.

Soups change daily at Bocatta and the evening we visited the special was an artichoke and sun-dried tomato concoction with a chicken-stock base. Rich in flavor only, this soup, along with a basket of warm bread, was a satisfying treat.

Image The featured entrees are the stars of the show, though, and not to be missed.

There was a time when vegetarians were forced to order either a green salad or some other token platter that showed little thought and absolutely no inspiration. At Boccata, however, the vegetarian offering is truly inspirational.

The crespelle alla polenta azzurro consists of three crepes stuffed with a tasty blend of blue corn polenta, corn, shredded carrots, zucchini and squash, which are served with sliced, carmelized red onions and a spicy-sweet tomato vermouth cream sauce. Try this dish and you may swear off meat forever.

Fresh fish is always emphasized at Boccata, and the summer menu is no exception. I couldn't resist a grilled, fresh cabrilla served with rice and tomato coulis. This was surrounded with a vegetable melange of sliced red and yellow bell peppers, zucchini, yellow squash and julienned carrots, all cooked to a crisp-tender perfection and lightly brushed with a semi-sweet glaze.

Although the portion was so generous I had to request a take-home carrier, every bite was pure pleasure, and the only reason I didn't persevere until it had disappeared is that, summer or not, I wanted to leave room for dessert.

One glance at Boccata's dessert menu, and the best of intentions to eat less fall by the wayside.

In addition to creme brulee, cheesecake and lemon mousse, you can opt to go over the dessert deep end with the cream puff, ice cream, whipped cream and chocolate sauce concoction, or a wickedly dense chocolate torte made with ground dried apricots and walnuts. Served warm and with a dark chocolate glaze, this latter dish constitutes a mortal sin.

The service at Boccata is leisurely but never neglectful, and the view of the city at night from the second story of the River and Craycroft location augments a serene atmosphere. Balcony dining is an option, barring the advent of monsoons or immoderate temperatures.

Even though it's plenty hot, thank goodness it hasn't become so intense that Boccata's staff has vacated the kitchen for the summer; eating well here is definitely a year-round affair.

Boccata Bistro Bar. 5605 E. River Road. 577-9309. Open 5:30 to 9 p.m., Sunday through Thursday, and 5:30 to 10 p.m. Friday and TW

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