Lake Norman Magazine

Il Bosco: Crisp, cozy, comfortable

Gnocchi Bolognese at Il Bosco Ristorante & Bar in Davidson.
Gnocchi Bolognese at Il Bosco Ristorante & Bar in Davidson. Richard Rudisill

Davidson’s restaurant Il Bosco is a family affair. Patrons will certainly feel welcomed into the fold with its warm, cozy ambience and comforting, expertly-prepared food. Il Bosco Ristorante & Bar opened in February, and partner Jimmy Hermann's wife Anne, son Joseph and his wife Shatarra all pitch in with operations. Hermann, a longtime Charlotte restaurateur, describes Il Bosco ("the woods," in Italian) as a moderately-priced fine-dining experience. Hermann took over the former Bucci's Ristorante space in November 2010 and spent six weeks renovating it (former owner Mario Bucci had his restaurant there since 2007).Hermann is well-acquainted with the cuisine of Italy. He started in 1976 at Amato’s in Amityville, Long Island. In 1989, he moved to Charlotte, where he worked at several Italian restaurants, including Toscana in SouthPark. Patrick O'Leary, his partner in Il Bosco, is a native Briton and is Chief Financial Officer at SPX Corp. in Charlotte. The two met 10 years ago when Hermann was at Toscana (he later co-owned Firenze in Piper Glen). They both praise the village atmosphere of Davidson's downtown, with O'Leary calling it European and Hermann dubbing it part South and part New England. Neither partner wanted to locate their venture in a “cookie cutter” shopping center, preferring downtown's pedestrian feel, character and charm. The restaurant is on Depot Street, just a few steps from Main Street and the Davidson Village Inn. The menu is full of familiar dishes executed with technical perfection. Dinner begins with warm crusty bread accompanied by Tuscan white beans, delicately seasoned with lemon and garlic. An arancini appetizer (a fried rice ball filled with meat sauce, cheese and peas) is an appealing combination of texture, as the crunchy breadcrumb crust contrasts with the creamy rice mixture within.Other classic Italian appetizers – ranging in price from $6 to $12 – include prosciutto e melone (sliced prosciutto with fresh cantaloupe and a balsamic reduction), misto di formaggi (a cheese board of asiago, sweet gorgonzola, taleggio and parmesan served with candied walnuts, crostini, and quince paste), calamari fritti (fried calamari with marinara sauce) and cozze fra diavola (mussels sautéed in a spicy tomato sauce). Three salads (priced from $6-$8) are on offer – a highlight is the insalata primativo, which is comprised of red wine poached pears, sweet gorgonzola and candied walnuts over arugula with a white balsamic vinaigrette. Homemade pastas are a specialty, and the gnocchi in a Bolognese sauce – Hermann’s favorite dish – is pillowy-soft with a well-spiced tomato meat sauce. It’s hearty and filling without being too heavy. Other homemade pastas include spaghetti al pomodoro (spaghetti in a cherry tomato sauce with fresh basil and parmesan cheese) and fettucine primavera bianco (sautéed with garlic, olive oil and white wine with assorted roasted vegetables). Diners can order pastas in either a piccolo (small) or grande (large) size, priced from $8-$18.Veal is central to many of Il Bosco's entrees. Vitello francese is one option, egg battered and pan fried served with a lemon white wine sauce. It is a good-sized portion of meat and is simultaneously light and satisfying. The veal chop is pounded very thin with a finely-crumbed breading and the sauce is a graceful accompaniment. Chicken, pork and beef are all on offer here – the beef in a daily steak preparation that comes from River Taw Farms in Cherryville. (O’Leary is a partner in that operation as well, which produces humanely raised grass-fed Black Angus cattle.) That dish is market priced, but other entree prices range from $16-$19. The wine list, compiled by Hermann’s son Joseph, is nearly all Italian and is divided by reds and whites and also by regions of Italy. There are seven reds and six whites available by the glass ($7-$10). The exceptional servers are very knowledgeable about the wines and food and also unfailingly polite and professional.Il Bosco's interior design is warm and inviting as well. A white leather sectional anchors the loungey, living-room bar area that comes complete with a cozy fireplace. A light wall color, frosted pendant lamps and abstract oil paintings in the dining area itself combine to create an open yet intimate atmosphere. The restaurant opens onto a large back patio strung with lights and decorated with hanging plants. Lunch is also served at Il Bosco Tuesdays through Fridays. Salads, several paninis (pressed sandwiches), pastas and a daily frittata (Italian omelet) are available ($6-$13).Desserts rotate – as does the menu with the seasons – but can include a gossamer tiramisu (ladyfingers dipped in coffee, layered with a whipped mixture of egg yolks and mascarpone and flavored with liqueur and cocoa) and a fresh peach tart topped with strawberries and drizzled with honey.Il Bosco is Italian family dining at its warmhearted, white-tablecloth best. Treat yourself to a trip "into the woods." Il Bosco Ristorante & BarWhere: 127 Depot Street, DavidsonHours: Lunch Tues.-Fri. 11:30 a.m. - 2 p.m.; Dinner Tues.-Thurs. 5-9:30 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 5 -10 p.m.,Sun. 5-9:30 p.m.Reservations suggested; proper attire requested.More info: 704-987-1388;