Good Twirl: House-made bucatini are twined with Reggiano, pecorino, and cracked black pepper for the cacio e pepe. Kevin Marple

Restaurant Review

At Il Bracco, Eat the Perfect Pasta à la Park Cities

The sleek Italian restaurant is well-suited to its Preston Center environs.

Amid the Bachendorf’s and Rolex and Sprinkles of Preston Center Plaza, we’ve got new Italian food. Open since late May, Il Bracco is the kind of spot where a brunette might feel out of place, a sea of blondes and men in button-down shirts. It’s all breezy cocktails and co-owners with connections to Thomas Keller’s kitchens and Hillstone. The Park Cities crowd seems to feel perfectly at home in this sleek venue, with its massive, imposing doors and terrazzo-tiled floor. In the entryway, there’s no space to speak of for waiting, but instead you take in a vista of the ceiling’s curved sweep of wood and a very see-and-be-seen bar.

It’s a place to get fried baby artichokes, each petal shattering between your teeth. Browned and delicious, they’ve been meticulously carved, peeled down to an even, regular shape. Pop those into your mouth, drizzled with a bit of lemon. I’m not sure I’ve had better. (Though I was smitten by Sprezza’s from the start, the other place where we can get this nibble that’s specific to Rome.)

Cacio e pepe, like all the house-made pastas, is saucy. Get a twirl, perfectly al dente, with a bit much Pecorino and Reggiano and the warm tingle of throat-clearing cracked black pepper.

The modern reworking of brined porchetta arrives thick-cut, like a pork chop or a steak, with fabulous texture and a crackling skin. Its sauce dabbles nicely in whole-grain mustard and a lightweight arugula-lemon salad provides a bite to balance the natural sweetness of the meat. It was almost upstaged by the equally thick, custardy rounds of eggplant Parmesan, lightly breaded (the breading stays remarkably crispy and intact) and generously topped with a bright, luscious sauce that lets its tomatoes shine, while an herb-infused olive oil lends luster. Dive in with a steak knife.

The clientele does not look remotely Italian. The chef and owner are not Italian, either. But in the vein of The Charles, Sprezza, Sassetta, they are Italian enough. I appreciated a $9 side of heirloom carrots with whipped ricotta, pistachios, and North African spices, pricey but vibrant, like a side of sunshine. When the kitchen takes liberties, they’re earned. The wine list is three-quarters Italian and the staff proved gracious, even when swamped.

For a summer dessert, a tangy panna cotta—it turns out to be made with sour cream and buttermilk and a little fresh-whipped cream folded in to give it a little more lift—came smothered with a fresh blackberry compote and crumbles of house-made biscotti. It was cool, spirited, chic. Perfectly Park Cities, naturally.

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