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Bacio Italian Cuisine
2806 Route 130 North
Cinnaminson, Camden County, New Jersey
(856) 303-9100

By The Artful Diner
Special to nj.com

I recently stumbled upon an article that described Bacio as "South Jersey's Most Romantic Restaurant." I'm not sure I'd go that far -- but it's certainly in the running. Bacio, which means "kiss" in Italian, surely lives up to its name. The Tuscan-style dining room exudes a casual, chimerical elegance, courtesy of lush caramel-colored & mirrored walls, candlelit tables & tea lighted wall sconces, and the genial glow of a semi-open kitchen.

But Bacio has infinitely more going for it than its charming ambiance. The warm welcome, personable but unobtrusive service, and creatively sophisticated Italian cuisine all conspire to make your evening at table a most memorable one. Chef Robert Minitti holds forth as the power behind the stove, and his culinary expertise is beyond reproach.

And the moment the bread basket hits the table, you know you're in good hands, as the scrumptious focaccia and other offerings are accompanied by three utterly enchanting tapenades -- eggplant, black olive, and chili pepper with Parmesan -- the latter radiating just enough heat to keep the palate standing at attention. Hard to resist. But don't get carried away, as appetizers have their own unique rewards.

The chef's specialty salad, Insalata di Rucola ($6.50) is a highly recommended starter. The baby arugula, peppery and potent, is by far the best I've sampled anywhere, tasting as if it had been picked just moments before. It is companioned by cherry tomato halves, marinated artichoke hearts, toasted pine nuts, and gently tossed with a simple fresh lemon and extra virgin olive oil dressing. Shavings of Grana Padano (a nutty flavored, finely grained hard cheese similar to Parmesan) provide the perfectly complementary crowning touch.

Baby arugula also provides a sumptuous seabed for the pesto-grilled rock lobster tail ($12.00). The crustacean exhibits just the proper texture -- neither too tough nor too mushy -- and the greenery luxuriates in a superb blood orange/shallot vinaigrette.

There are, however, several other gems worth considering: Timballo di Melanzane ($9.00), for example, or the more innovative Olive all' Ascolana ($8.50). The former is a temptingly traditional timbale comprised of tender, thinly sliced eggplant stuffed with crumbled veal sausage, roasted peppers, and ricotta cheese topped with fresh Mozzarella and sprinkling of focaccia breadcrumbs, which arrives at table swimming in a delicate pool of pomodoro. The latter consists of four jumbo olives that are stuffed with ground veal and pork, then breaded and deep fried, and served surrounded by a delicate pool of cucumber/tomato salsa. Both are incredibly delicious.

Entrées continue with style. The veal saltimbocca ($28.00) is a staple in Italian restaurants, but here it is prepared with particular flair. For starters, the veal is sautéed to just the right texture; the seasonings -- primarily sage -- are right on the money; and the tender scallopini are set on a cloud of delectably creamy polenta. Veal may also be ordered Marsala-, piccata-, or Francese-style.

And speaking of "Francese," the pollo rendition ($22.00) is also quite excellent. Chicken may strike some as strictly mundane; but it is a finicky bird that is often the victim of careless overcooking. Not so here. The boneless breast is moist and tender of countenance, the breading applied with a light and discerning hand, and it is companioned by shrimp, a tiara of Fontina cheese rife with diced asparagus and roasted red peppers, and pillowed on more of that marvelously creamy polenta.

Pasta and seafood hold prominent places on Bacio's bill of fare, and the combos thereof are highly recommended. You may, for example, choose from such options as Cannelloni di Pesce ($24.00), rock shrimp and jumbo lump crabmeat cannelloni stuffed with ricotta, asparagus, and sun-dried tomatoes baked in a roasted shallot-brandy cream sauce; Fettucini alla Pescatora ($19.50), shrimp, scallops, and jumbo lump crabmeat simmered in a sun-dried tomato cream sauce over fettuccine; or Zuppa di Pesce "Fra Diavolo" ($26.00), shrimp, scallops, mussels, and clams simmered in a spicy pomodoro sauce over linguine.

On the other hand, if you wish to go solo on the seafood, when it is available, you can't go wrong with the wild ivory king salmon ($32.00). The filet is treated to a Santa Maria marinade (a light Italian marinade comprised of extra virgin olive oil, garlic, lemon, and salt & pepper); it is then grilled, served atop a seabed of baby field greens, artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, and crowned with a tiara of colossal lump crabmeat. Superb in every respect.

Side dishes should also not be overlooked. Try the angel hair pasta prepared alio e olio ($5.00) with an emphasis on the alio, which is guaranteed to keep the vampires away from your door... ditto the fresh sautéed spinach rife with cloves of tender roasted garlic ($5.00); but even better, in my opinion, are the superlative deep-fried artichoke hearts presented en casserole with pomodoro ($6.00).

Desserts are sensuous and satisfying. The crème brûlée ($6.00) sports rich vanilla crème layered with limoncello custard, a cinnamon-graham cracker crust, and topping of fresh berries; and the blueberry bread pudding crowned with a dollop of ginger gelato ($6.00) exhibits a homey but decidedly elegant air. If you really want to delve into decadence, however, try Aunt Yolanda's rich chocolate cake served with strawberries and vanilla gelato ($6.00) or the scrumptious homemade ricotta chocolate chip cannoli ($7.50).

Baccio, as noted at the outset, is the ideal setting for a romantic rendezvous -- but infinitely more. It is the perfect restaurant for all occasions. I recommend it highly.

Cuisine: Italian
Hours: Mon, Weds & Thurs, 5:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.; Fri & Sat, 5:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.; Sun, 5:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.; CLOSED TUESDAY
Credit Cards: All major
Attire: Smart Casual
Reservations: Recommended
Parking: Onsite
Alcohol: BYOB
Price: Moderate
Handicapped Accessible: Yes
Website: www.baciorestaurant.com

The Artful Diner is an independent, freelance food writer.  His latest review and an archive of past reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this site on the REVIEWS page.

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