Bado's Cucina might just satisfy taste, memories
When Sam Badolato was about 6 years old, his Italian grandmother lined him up with his siblings in the kitchen to find who had the warmest hands for kneading dough.
"I won ... or lost, depending how you see it," he says, laughing. "I think (the siblings) probably put their hands on the windows to cool them down, since it was wintertime."
He ended up becoming his grandmother's eager pupil in the kitchen, absorbing her cooking secrets.
Even as Badolato later attended the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, his desire to cook blossomed. His desire to cook led him to a joint venture with his brother -- Bado's Pizza Grill and Ale House in Mt. Lebanon. His brother now runs the business on his own.
"My grandmother lived to be 101. She was very proud of our place in Mt. Lebanon. She would tell people in her old folks home to go try it," Badolato says.
If she were alive today, she would no doubt be proud of the success of Bado's Cucina, tucked in a small building off of bustling Washington Road.
And Badolato now has the chance to play her teaching role with his youngest daughter, Samantha, who is in college.
"Sam is a little clone of me. She likes art history and anthropology. The only difference is she likes to bake and I don't, so I tell her to go to town," he says.
Since Bado's Cucina opened on March 10, 2006, Badolato has had the chance to work out kinks and create a citywide following -- one which has forced him to take reservations only.
"I still use my grandmother's recipe for dough, but I just returned from Italy in March and I studied the way they do things. I want to bring back the old -- the way food used to be cooked," he says.
When he traveled to the small town of Badolato in Italy's Calabria region, locals noted his surname and motioned to the town, saying, "This is you!"
Bado's charm is in its size and rustic flourishes. A small bistro table outside is surrounded by grapevine wreaths and wrought-iron touches. Inside, walls radiate golden sunflower yellow, and light from the primitive wood oven plays across black-and-white photos and the restaurant's nine tables, coming to rest in the smallest flecks of mica on the painted walls.
The rough stone oven, crowned by a handsome copper range hood, breathes fragrant apple, cherry and pear wood smoke into each dish, as Badolato scurries between it and the floor to greet regulars.
Patrons arrive with bottles of wine, taking advantage of the BYOB policy. Badolato admits that if he had space for a bar, he would seek a liquor license, but he enjoys working in an intimate area.
The menu is tapas-style, its chronological order modeled after traditional Italian dinners. Badolato recommends ordering an appetizer and following the courses as they are laid out. The first course is a pasta, polenta or soup, the second is a meat and the third is a vegetable or salad. Though the prices for each are reasonable, dishes quickly add up. Diners should expect to pay fine dining prices if they follow the steps suggested in the menu, rather than ordering a couple dishes or a pizza.
We selected the Verde ($9) as an appetizer, which arrived on a sleek white platter. Large artichokes and an array of green, banana and red peppers were marinated and served over a bed of spinach. An assortment of dusky purple and green olives, in varying degrees of tartness, primed our palates for some of the oven's offerings.
Perhaps intrigued by the words "pirate style" in the description, my companion selected the Linguine Bucaniera ($12) as a first course. A rakish blend of fat prawn, calamari, mussels and clams, lovingly smoothed over with sweet marinara, it became an instant favorite.
Pasta Badolato ($11), in a silky garlic and olive oil sauce, was enhanced by the unexpected punch of pistachios.
Protein options for the second course range from land to sea, including veal, salmon, sausage and mussels.
We chose the Lamb Chop ($12) and breaded Chicken Carpione ($9). Of the two, the lamb was the standout, slathered with a rosemary rub and served with a blotch of sun-dried tomato pesto and a side of fresh smoked green beans. The tender meat, sourced from local Elysian Fields Farm, was robust and pungent. The chicken, though sweet and thick, was just a tad undercooked for us. Its breading, just barely dusted on, was wonderfully crisp and not soggy at all, though.
When it came to the salads, we were delighted.
"Ah -- the salad," Badolato says, "I did the Caesar one,two New Year's Eves ago. It became people's favorite dish of the night. I said 'The salad was• Are you kidding me?! ' " he says, laughing.
The Caesar Salad ($10) finds its way through the oven as well, the hefty stalk of romaine, curled with smoke and sprinkled with halved grape tomatoes, prosciutto and croutons. Homemade dressing rests on the side. Though the Portobello Salad ($10) showcased some meaty, well-marinated hunks of mushroom, tart pears, mozzarella and balsamic vinaigrette worthy of its own praise, we would both recommend the Caesar for its element of surprise.
You can't leave the premises of Bado's until you try a dish of the famous Bread Pudding ($8), which varies from time to time. Sometimes it features a s'mores take, other times berries are blended in. On this particular night, we got the classic taste with raisins and a warm drizzle of chocolate sauce. Dense and gooey, it, too, benefitted from the oven. We'll be back to try other incarnations.Additional Information:
Hours: 5-10 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays and 5-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays
Entree price range: $7-$12 (tapas dishes)
Notes: Major credit cards accepted. BYOB. Reservations required. Chef's tasting menu offered. Available for private parties. Catering available.
Address: 3825 Washington Road, McMurray
Details: 724-942-3904 or website