In one of New Haven's residential areas near the Hamden border sits a small Italian restaurant where Italian music plays softly into a canoped outdoor patio. Caffe Bravo offers authentic Italian cuisine six days a week for lunch and dinner, with a menu that ranges from traditional to new and inventive dishes.
The vibe: At the north end of New Haven's mixed-use Orange Street – two- and three-story homes interspersed with chic local markets and a handful of restuarants — Caffe Bravo sits on a tree-lined corner. The sound of utensils on plates, wine glasses clinking, and laughter pours out into the street on a busy night. Inside, you'll find a small bar, table seating and a warmly lit interior.
The food: You know you've made the right choice when the waitress says, "Oh that's so good" as she writes down your order of Pollo Caffe Bravo. The dish of breaded chicken topped with mozzarella and spinach was an understated but well blended combination in a white wine sauce. But first came the bruschetta and starter salads. The bruschetta tasted great, but the bread was slightly soggy and thus missing the customary crunch, also making it slightly messy. Similarly, the focaccia was a little too moist, but tasty. Dinners began with small salads topped with a light lemon dressing.
After the salads, we were ready. The Tilapia Vesuvio, with its small spicy peppers, was a table favorite. All dishes are made to order so any allergies can be accommodated, and dishes can be made to be more or less spicy. The tilapia was well seasoned, helped along by seasonal cherry tomatoes. The Margherita pizza, with freshly sliced mozzarella and basil atop the house red sauce, was the delight that New Haven thin-crust pizza is expected to be. The Rigatoni Butera, crumbled hot sausage and snappy green peas in a pink sauce, was topped with a discreet amount of ricotta cheese. It was a large portion, but so good that it had to be finished.
The bill: The entrees range from $15 to $25, depending on whether you order a pasta, a meat or a fish dish. Add a bottle from their well-rounded wine list (with an emphasis on Italian wines) for about $30 or more. The bruchsetta appetizers was $6 for five pieces. The focaccia and bread came with the dinner order, as did the salads. The lunch menu is more conservatively priced, topping off at about $15 for the priciest of dishes. It also features paninis, which are not offered at dinner.
The particulars: Caffe Bravo only takes reservations for parties of six or more. On a week day, we had no trouble getting a table for four for dinner. There is indoor and outdoor seating, which thankfully didn't suffer from mosquitoes.
The verdict: For a nice evening out it is a low-key and dependable spot, as long as you're not looking for something with a great view. It's also ideal for lunch as an escape from some of the busier New Haven streets.