Bob Cole, chef at The DaVinci Room in Bayonne, always keeps a fresh jar of love in the kitchen.
While he doesn’t put love in every dish he makes, many over-the-stove discussions with owner Chris Cocchi revolve around how much love to use and in which dish.
Love, in this case, means the sweetest-tasting pesto in the world, made from purple basil, pignoli nuts, olive oil and garlic. Unlike many other pesto sauces, which can have a slightly bitter taste, this is so sweet you can eat it with a spoon. In fact, Cole encourages people to do exactly that.
Cole uses purple basil in many of his dishes and talks about how to get the most flavor from it, saying it has to be rolled a certain way and cut on an angle to get the most out of each leaf.
In some of his dishes, such as “Zuppa di Mussels” with red, white, sweet or hot sauce, the purple basil has a smoky taste reminiscent of sage.
Cole is a real treasure, a chef with a down-to-earth attitude about life and food, but with credentials that would qualify him to work in some of the finest restaurants in New York and Atlantic City – which, in fact, he has. A graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in New Hyde Park, N.Y., Cole went onto get his PS degree of culinary arts at the Le Cordon Bleu University in Paris, France, and has worked a number of food venues as chef and executive chef throughout the region. This includes working as a chef in the French Quarter in New Orleans, where he worked under the world-famous Chef Jacque Dom Laturene.
“It’s nice to be working in a small place again,” he said. “It’s like going back to where I started. I love doing this. And this is a wonderful staff.”
Cole said there is good communication on every level, and the kitchen staff is outstanding, and he often talks with Cocchi about the dishes and other aspects of the kitchen.
“We gelled right from the start,” Cole added. “We talk about everything, especially love.”
Back to basics Although the DaVinci Room started out an outgrowth of Mona Lisa Pizza, to which it is connected next door, with its own menu, management recently decided to emphasize tried-and-true menu items that helped build its outstanding reputation as a fine downtown eatery, with a décor that provides an entertaining fine-dining experience.
Cocchi said when he had an opportunity to take over the space formerly occupied by a florist, he came up with the new concept, including the design of the room, which involves a brick ceiling and columned walls with one side, opening onto the street. It was designed to resemble a streetscape of in Tuscany.
“We want to do more events,” Cocchi said, talking about a recent wine-tasting that was held there.
To this end, the DaVinci Room provides special menus for events such as a brunch menu for baby or bridal showers at $32 per person but features everything from scrambled eggs and home fries to imported cold cuts and cheeses.
Other events packages range in cost from $24.95 to $45.95 per person all including salads, pastas, entrées and dessert, while the high-priced packages also include appetizers and a wider selection in each category.
The DaVinci Room has a well-represented wine list and very knowledgeable bartenders who are more than willing to offer suggestions, such as the Ruffino Chianti, which, unlike other brands, is full-flavored but isn’t too dry.
Michael Pepe, manager of DaVinci, is – like Cocchi – a union carpenter, who started out as bartender and became manager earlier this year.
Although the original menu has been altered, it still provides patrons with a clear understanding of what they can expect when they come there to dine.
“We wanted people to understand what are in the dishes,” Pepe said.
“All the pasta is made fresh.” – Michael Pepe
The appetizers range in price from $4.95 to $7.50 and include a host of choices, from spinach rolls to fried calamari. It also includes many of the classic dishes you would expect, such as stuffed artichoke and eggplant rollatini, as well as a few surprises, such as broccoli rabe with garlic and oil.
The stuffed artichoke was particularly tasty, with an appealing citrus flavor. The mozzarella, made fresh daily, was very light, fluffy and tender, and the marinara sauce – different from the sauce served with the mussels – was sweet and tangy.
The mussels were extremely fresh with a taste like sage that came from the purple basil, which is a new twist on a classic dish. The spinach roll had a lot of spinach and was well-endowed with mozzarella. The bread served with the meal had a thin, but crispy crust.
The stuffed clams had their own wonderful combination of lemon and garlic for a very tangy flavor. The dish came with eight small but very tasty clams and garnished with bread crumbs. The sauce was particularly flavorful and made the lemons offered with the meal unnecessary.
Although the menu does offer some of the items found on the Mona Lisa menu such as burgers and pizzas, all at the same affordable prices, the real luxury are the affordable dinners that combined with the atmosphere, which provides for a very luxurious dinning experience at those same low prices.
Veal, chicken and eggplant dinners, which range from $11.95 to $14.95, are served with a choice of pasta or salad.
The eggplant had a rich sauce and tasty cheese and was provided in ample portions, and, when served with pasta, proved a sumptuous and filling meal.
The pasta dishes are served in two sizes and cover a full range of tastes from shells to ziti with broccoli rabe. Small dishes are priced between $5 to $10, while large dishes range from $8 to $11.
We sampled the rigatoni alla vodka that included prosciutto, sautéed onions and a light pink sauce, and the shrimp with sautéed spicy primadora sauce. With both dishes, the pasta was perfectly done. The rigatoni sauce was creamy and clung to the pasta and the vodka sharpened the favor, giving the dish a pleasant bite.
The linguini sauce had a nice lemony flavor, and the dish came with enormous shrimp. Slivers of fresh garlic combined with the lemon gave the dish a very unique taste.
“All the pasta is made fresh,” Pepe said.
The menu also has an ample selection of seafood dishes, some of which can be found on the specials menu, including a salmon dinner with mashed potatoes, a classic dinner flavored with pesto.
We also sampled small portions of five different deserts, each with its own appeal, including stuffed zeppoles, tiramisu, apple cobbler, cheesecake, and two types of bread pudding, each offering a dramatic and tasty end to an already impressive meal.
Open from 3:30 to 10 p.m. on Tuesdays through Saturdays, as well as staying open for private parties Sundays and Mondays, the DaVinci Room is almost a perfect place for any occasion, whether you want a quiet dinner for two or for special events such as engagements, anniversaries, or birthdays.
The eatery is located at 165 Broadway in Bayonne. For more info, call (201) 535-5050.