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New Restaurant Review: Trattoria 31

By Chuck Sudo in Food on May 16, 2006 3:30PM

2006_05_trattoria31_1.jpgOne of the ironies about living in Bridgeport is that, for a neighborhood with a significant amount of Italian Americans, there aren't a lot of choices for Italian dining in the neighborhood. Unless one weighs his case for variety by counting all the pizza joints and sandwich shops, for years our only options were Gio’s Café & Deli or Franco Ristorante. When Chicagoist made the move to Bridgeport seven years ago, there was a place at 31st and Wallace called Graziano’s. Graziano’s had candles on the tables and served chianti in carafes. Other than that, and a chicken vesuvio sandwich so oily it moved like a fish trying to get off a hook, it wasn’t a place we’d have recommended to visitors.

With Bridgeport now on the radar for both homebuyers and folks looking for affordable rents, there’s been an increase in retail redevelopment, particularly along 31st Street. One notable rehab is the storefront that once housed Graziano’s. We’ve been waiting for the new Trattoria 31 to open with anticipation for some weeks. We actually missed their preview (where reviewers were treated to a continuous wave of entrees sent to their tables, as opposed to a standard buffet) last week while on vacation.

Trattoria 31 opened to the public on Friday; we decided to check it out Saturday night. Not only does Trattoria 31 provide a much-needed third option for Italian dining fans in Bridgeport, it also takes a place with Cobblestones and Polo Café as one of the best restaurants in the neighborhood. Follow past the jump for our full review.

2006_05_trattoria31_2.jpgThe owner and executive chef behind Trattoria 31 is Francisco “Paco” Ruiz, a restaurant industry veteran whose resume includes a stint at the Pump Room. Ruiz has also spent time abroad studying the nuances of Italian cooking. His menu offers slight tweaks on classic Italian cooking. Heavy sauces are downplayed in favor of lighter reductions; liberal uses of citrus, cheeses, and oils add new dimensions to traditional dishes; and coma-inducing "no one likes a skinny Santa" portions are replaced by more sensible, health-conscious servings.

2006_05_trattoria31_3.jpgWe started off our meal with an insalata provinciale (above). The white balsamic vinaigrette dressing perfectly complemented the granny smith apples in the salad, while the goat cheese didn’t overpower the mix. We opted away from pasta for the main course, ordering the Atlantic salmon, instead. Grilled and served with a stack of oven-roasted vegetables, the salmon was topped with a citrus mixture that was sweet, not tart or acidic. It’s something we didn’t anticipate.

2006_05_trattoria31_4.jpgFor dessert, we heeded the recommendation of house manager Adriana and ordered the chocolate fondue lava cake. Well worth the fifteen-minute prep time, this exercise in decadence was like nothing we ever had before. After two bites, the fondue flowed from the cake like an eruption from Pompeii: dark, hot, and smothering the raspberries in its wake.

The rehabbed interior at Trattoria 31 is warm and inviting. It can work well as a casual dining spot with friends, but also makes a great place to take a date. A tall, dark bar leads to the kitchen, where diners can watch Ruiz and his crew in action. The servers are friendly and attentive, clearing your plates out of the way almost as soon as you’re finished, and offering their own favorite meal suggestions. Trattoria 31 is BYOB for now, while they work on obtaining their liquor license, which Adriana said should be in a couple weeks.

It’s our gut feeling that Trattoria 31 will become a staple of Bridgeport dining, catering to White Sox fans looking for a quick bite before heading to the park, locals looking for some takeout, and new residents who won’t have to travel north for good bistro dining. Trattoria 31 is located at 605 West 31st Street. They’re open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m., and their phone number is (312) 226-3500. They do accept major credit cards.