Baci & Abbracci: Dreaming of Life in Sorrento

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Pictured: Chocolate mousse with shaved white chocolate; red beet and goat cheese gnocchi. (Top-r): The owners of Baci Abbracci (Paolo Cappiello, Rocco Caldolini, Mimmo Cappiello) share a specialty pizza. Photos by ALLEN YING

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Mimmo Cappiello says he likes fresh, simple Italian food, seasoned with a touch of garlic, not too much oregano or basil. He doesn’t like things heavy and overly spiced. The restaurant he owns and runs with his brother Paolo and business partner Rocco Caldolini—Baci & Abracci (translated: Hugs & Kisses)—prizes its authentic Neapolitan pizza. The selections include a classic Margherita, a Pizza Blanca (mozzarella, ricotta, mushrooms, and sausage with spicy oil), Quattro Formaggi (mozzarella, gorgonzola, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and goat cheese), and Mimmo’s personal favorite, the Salsiccia e rapini (mozzarella, sausage, and broccoli rabe). There are pizzas with pancetta, eggplant, salami, artichokes, truffle oil… anything but chicken. Chicken on a pizza drives him crazy. “There’s no chicken on pizza in Italy!” he shakes his head and waves his hands. I wanted to ask him about Del Monte pineapple chunks, but I didn’t want to upset him any more. Anyway, there is no sense arguing with the man.

Baci & Abbracci won the best new pizza joint in New York award from Time Out Magazine a few years ago. This summer, Mimmo and Paolo’s mom is visiting from Sorrento, Italy. As a special treat for her sons’ customers she is making cannoli. “Sorrento style cannoli is different from the Sicilian style,” explains Mimmo. “It is filled with pastry cream instead of ricotta cheese and garnished with hazelnuts instead of pistachio.” I asked him which version tastes better. “They’re both delicious!” he declared with lighting speed. Mimmo has been in New York for 12 years, long enough to know you don’t mess with Sicilian grandmothers in Brooklyn.

The three business partners opened Baci & Abbracci in 2006. Their aim, to serve food they grew up eating. “Our family made our own bread, pasta, and pizza at home,” Mimmo says. Many of the restaurant staples are housemade. “We make our own bread and pizza, and about 80% of the pasta we serve is made here. My brother Paolo makes the pasta and the fresh mozzarella,” he says.

I enjoy the pizzas. The crust is not overly crisp; it’s very delicate and has great texture. Mimmo says they use flour imported from Italy. There are just enough toppings on it so the crust is not dry or soggy. It’s a great balancing act.

While you’re there, you may also want to try the Violette di Parma, which is a housemade red beet and goat cheese gnocchi with cheese sauce and arugula ($14). The seductive violet-colored gnocchi, although slightly gummy, is as soft and supple as a pretty girl’s red-stained lips (just guessing). The cheese sauce is velvety and sophisticated and garnished with fresh arugula that adds a slight bitterness and crunch. It lightens up a very rich dish.

If you’re looking for something lighter for the summer, go for the salads; Try the Insalata di arugula (arugula, endive, mango, dried cranberry with lemon vinaigrette). It’s pretty and sassy, and won’t add inches to your Speedoready body. Summer is a great time to dine here, as their dishes have a light touch. But in addition to pizza and pasta, Baci also has a full menu (Cioppino, sea bass, lamb chops, steaks, and more).

Baci & Abbracci’s interior is modern and rustic chic with a casual elegance. There is a great backyard, with a giant canopy to shield you from the summer sun. On Wednesdays, you can get a 50% discount on any bottle of wine, and at weekend brunch, you can buy one Mimosa or Bloody Mary and get two for free. Sit relax with your friends and never leave the pleasant garden!