Rocco's Italian Kitchen & Bar is the new identity of Mazzi - a makeover, not quite extreme. Mazzi, once a jewel box in Venetian hues, exits in favor of a more familiar, more relaxed Italian restaurant. And the retro style revitalizes a place that was getting tired. Owner Kathy Catanzaro's practical approach turns Rocco's into a community spot likely to encourage local regulars instead of luring destination diners. Catanzaro is a busy, welcoming host. Her staff still seems a bit distracted by it all, and service is uneven. On weekends, the mood is upbeat; weekdays, not so much.
Rocco's top dish is, appropriately, Sunday sauce. It's a hearty plate of red-sauced rigatoni with a beef braciola, a sausage and a meatball. No nonsense and simply flavorful, it's very 2009. Rigatoni with ricotta, mozzarella, provolone and Parmesan also shines, in a lush, creamy, white sauce. The competition comes from linguine with white clam sauce; or with tomato sauce and mozzarella. Unfortunately, the kitchen doesn't allow half orders of pasta. But you can start with meaty, well-seasoned crab cakes and savory, ricotta-stuffed eggplant. The meatball crostini with marinara and mozzarella will remind you of an open-faced hero. A refreshing poached pear salad with Gorgonzola, walnuts, red onion and greens and a tangy beet salad with walnut-crusted goat cheese add a contemporary note. The pork osso buco arrives moist and amply tomatoed. Likewise, the generous eggplant Parmigiana. Sole Milanese offers a mild and respectable alternative to veal.
Usually the problem with baked clams is overcooking. Rocco's keeps the bread crumbs blond and bland. Chicken Milanese shows up dry. Disappointing desserts, from pasty bread pudding to so-so warm chocolate cake, dull peanut butter-chocolate mousse cake, bakery-quality carrot cake.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Neighborhood appeal, with room to grow. --Reviewed by Peter M. Gianotti, 3/5/09.