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By Steve LaRosa
Bravo Ristorante Italiano may be Sacramento's version of Hernando's Hideaway. It's located on Fair Oaks Boulevard in the heart of "Gourmet Gulch," tucked away behind a dry cleaner, so that you can't see it from the street.
Inside, it's like a Tuscan trattoria from the late '40s or early '50s. Check out the pictures on the walls-they could pass for publicity stills from La Dolce Vita.
Chef/owner Maurizio Contartese opened Bravo in 1994. He was schooled in the culinary arts in Milan, the city of his birth. Although the menu leans toward the northern end of Italy, Contartese, whose parents are from the south, covers the whole boot.
Virtually all of the pastas (as well as the breads and desserts) are made in-house, and a ravioli special is offered daily. We tried an especially tasty rav stuffed with spinach and ricotta, given zing by a delicate lemon cream sauce. It's available as an entrée or an appetizer. Also from the appetizer menu, try the terrific polenta with sautéed mushrooms. The mushrooms and onions are sautéed in olive oil; white wine is added and reduced to a very assertive sauce.
From the pastas, I'd go for the gnocchi-housemade dumplings in a delicious Gorgonzola sauce-or the pappardelle: wide pasta ribbons with a meat sauce of ground veal, lamb, pork and beef.
For meat lovers, one big recommendation: the leg of lamb. The meat is marinated in balsamic vinegar, olive oil and rosemary, then pan-roasted over high heat, making it crunchy outside, tender inside. White wine and vegetable stock are added and reduced to a delicious sauce. This is a great dish!
If you have room for dessert, the cheesecake is awesome. It's dense, but it melts in the bocca, which is Italian for mouth-no joke-a.
Bravo has one of the coziest little bars in the area. And with this place being so hard to find, it's probably a great nominee for Best Place To Have an Affair-especially if you're hungry.
2333 Fair Oaks Blvd., Sacramento; (916) 568-0494; Open 5-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, closed Sunday.
Look for Steve LaRosa's restaurant reviews the first Friday of every month at 11 a.m. on "News10 Midday. "