Like it, hate it or tolerate it just on road trips, everyone knows what fast food is. A new movement called "slow food" promotes the very opposite: food that is locally grown, organic, in season, freshly prepared and lovingly savored.
Only, of course, slow food isn't actually new at all. It's a return to our relationship with food as it was from ancient times until planes, trains and automobiles, supermarkets, refrigerators and agro-industry distanced us, geographically and psychologically, from the sources of our nourishment.
So it is perhaps ironic that on a suburban highway, within view of three gas stations and their associated convenience stores, lies Bado's Cucina, a bastion of slow food from the country whose mealtime culture is perhaps most legendary -- Italy.
Bado's menu is a focused exploration of authentic Italian cuisine: homemade pasta and sauces, pizza and, instead of full-on entrées, tapas-size portions of heartier fare such as lamb chops and spareribs. All dishes are composed of locally grown, in-season, organic ingredients, and most everything is cooked in a 625-degree wood-fired oven in the open cucina.
This kitchen, separated by a half-wall from the diminutive dining room, makes eating indoors an intimate affair, akin to a dinner party in an open-plan house. The walls are painted in warm colors and attractively decorated with paintings and family photos; conversation resonates off the Italian stone floors. There are also a few small outdoor tables shoehorned onto the walkway between the building and the parking lot. Because Bado's excellent, friendly, professional service extends to the "patio" as well (and, no doubt, because a heat wave had broken and the weather was ideal), we found this setting surprisingly pleasant.
We started our meal with white-bean dip, an appetizer whose name is deceptively simple. It arrived bubbling in a small casserole, looking more like queso fundido than the simple cannellini and olive oil we had anticipated. Chick peas and garlic added dimension, while sun-dried tomato pesto lent the dish a sunny orange hue and contributed to a suite of fruity flavors which played lightly against the beans' meaty paste. Served with Tuscan bread and olive focaccia, it was delicious.
The cucina salad was reminiscent of an Italian Cobb, with portions of organic mixed greens and herbs, garbanzos, sunflower seeds, shaved Parmesan cheese, halved grape tomatoes and shredded zucchini all grouped discretely -- not tossed together -- on the plate. The salad is available on its own or topped with crab, chicken breast, Portobello mushrooms or the catch of the day -- in our case, fruitwood-fired salmon -- and a light champagne vinaigrette. The succulent salmon was infused with the flavors of apple, pear and cherry woods, rubbed with herbs, and blackened to perfection. We shared this salad as a second appetizer, but it would make a lovely light but well-rounded meal in itself.
Angelique had vodka sauce on ravioli stuffed with a mixture of ricotta and gorgonzola cheese, one of two daily pastas made from scratch on the premises. The pasta was tender yet resilient, definitely al dente, and the filling sweetly tangy from the two very different varieties of cheese. The vodka sauce was thick, sweet and creamy, with a higher cream-to-tomato ratio than others we've had. It was garnished with shaved Parmesan and fresh parsley. For an extra $3, we received a baseball-sized wood-oven-baked meatball. This had the tender texture of veal but was, alas, underseasoned.
Ten-inch pizzas are available with any number of tempting toppings, including asparagus, prosciutto, soprasetta and seafood, but we went with the classico: crushed tomatoes, mozzarella and provolone. Bado's Italian pizza was every bit as cheesy as New York style, but packed an upgraded flavor thanks to the provolone in the mix. The chewy crust had a pleasant, mildly yeasty flavor and stood up well to the heavy blanket of toppings.
Jason's eyes being far larger than his stomach, he ordered two of the tapas, wild boar spareribs and crab cake. The ribs, marinated with red wine and a garlic barbecue sauce, tasted like a wonderfully sophisticated version of traditional Kansas City-style ribs, with the meat moist and firm. The crab cake was ingenious in its simplicity. Wood-fired in a casserole, the jumbo lumps nearly burst from the heat. The succulent interior joined crispy edges, and there was just enough breading to add texture. A classic creamy-tangy remoulade finished a dish that stands out even in our crab-cake-besotted local cuisine.
While Washington Road exemplifies a modern lifestyle powered by the internal-combustion engine, Bado's is a place to sit down and enjoy life, or at least a meal, in the slow lane.