North Boulder is now where folks weary of the yoga pants-squeezed bustle and hustle of downtown can still enjoy the Boulder lifestyle. Bacco Trattoria and Mozzarella Bar counts as its neighbors the delightful Pupusas Sabor Hispano, the neighborhood classic Restaurant 4580, and a non-delightful, non-classic Subway.
It's an odd space, but the restaurant itself is admirably single-minded. Executive Chef Marco Monnanni, who's behind the Bacco restaurants in Littleton and Fort Collins and a number of past and present pasta joints in Boulder, has a fixation on straightforward, white-tablecloth Italian -- with a happy hour menu that made my eyes bulge. See also: Happy Hour at Bohemian Biergarten: Fun by the Liter and the Boot
I mean, take a gander at this menu. "Pesce! Fritti! Verdura!" I muttered to myself, taking in Bacco's bounty. Some restaurants make you feel like you're eating off the kid's menu at happy hour, but this is a fleshed-out, adult menu of small plates. There's even an entire seafood section with mini versions of Italian classics like shrimp scampi ($5).
Happy hour is all night long on Mondays starting at 3:30 p.m. (and running from 3:30 to 6:00 p.m. other nights) so my dining companions and I silently vowed to go all out. We pinballed across the menu, ordering bowls of meatballs in marinara ($3), plates of Brussels sprouts crusted with sharp cheese ($3.50), peach-sized balls of arancini ($4). With the exception of the simple Brussels sprouts, these dishes were above average but simple.
In search of more sustenance, I tried a Sardinian flatbread with prosciutto, Haystack Mountain goat cheese and honey ($7) instead of a more conventional pizza. Rookie mistake. The gentle rapport between sweet, sour and salumi made an impression, but it's a shame it was stacked on top of a listless cracker. Rule #24 of the happy hour playbook: if you see cheap pizza, order it.
Bacco's cured meats are all-around delightful, including that prosciutto and a plate of speck ($4) that had just the right amount of smokiness and spice. Another pleasant surprise -- a batch of fried zucchini ($4) -- was decorated in a fluffy, light batter and paired with a lemony garlic aioli that lent a kick to the proceedings. $4 glasses of house wine smoothed over any other faults that lay under Bacco's slick surface.
There is a glut of middle-to-highbrow Italian restaurants in Boulder, but few have a happy hour quite as expansive as Bacco. I felt like Simba surveying his kingdom when I looked out on all the plates before me. It's good to be king.
Perfect for: A Monday evening after a hard day at the office. Any problem can be solved by an all-night bacchanal of wine and meat.
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Don't miss: The antipasti section of the menu, where marinated Hazel Dell mushrooms ($3.50) and oven-roasted cauliflower ($3.50) epitomize the best of Bacco's fresh approach.