Though you need a liquor license to serve wine in a restaurant, you don’t need one to cook with it. One of the more striking uses of wine—visually and in flavor—I’ve seen in awhile is chef Anthony DeVanzo’s risotto al Chianti, one of his signature dishes at Bici, his Italian BYO in Ramsey.
It arrives a glistening garnet red, the Arborio rice having been subjected to patient dosings of Chianti or related Tuscan or American red wines at the beginning and end of the cooking process.
While the color is singular, the flavors and aromas are complex—earthy from black truffle shavings and white truffle oil, salty from pecorino, sweet and nutty from grana padano and sweated onions. The wine’s acidity and burnished sweetness balance the rest. It’s a dish to swoon over. Best of all, it’s available in half portions, saving room for later swoons.
Risottos and pastas are menu strengths. For a more traditional risotto, try the al funghi, made with foraged mushrooms, sweet Marsala syrup and the mellowed tang of sage. Gnocchi, made in-house daily, hit the textural sweet spot between chewy and droopy. Served under Bolognese made with ground Colorado lamb, they are hard to resist.
Pappardelle Toscana, studded with slices of wild boar sausage in a tomato and basil sauce with truffle-flecked ricotta, makes a hearty entrée.
A pasta shape you don’t see everyday is malfatti. “In Italian it means ‘badly made,’ because they’re shaped by hand and never uniform,” DeVanzo explains. “They’re a variation on gnocchi, a peasant dumpling formed from flour, egg, ricotta and chopped spinach, then poached. I wanted mine lighter, so I played around, used less flour, left out the spinach. I roll them in panko breadcrumbs, pan-fry them and serve with a tomato béchamel sauce and frizzled spinach leaves for textural crispness.” These ‘badly mades’ were so well made I practically purred.
There is, of course, much more to the menu. The cauliflower sformato, a savory custard, was flavorful and rewarding under a frisée salad and beet vinaigrette. Plump steamed mussels are served with a soup spoon for retrieving the other goodies: delicious broth, basil, roasted garlic, plum tomatoes and cannellini beans. Chef de cuisine Chris Braun’s excellent shrimp appetizer presents six juicy, deftly fried shrimp over frisée, heirloom tomatoes and caramelized onions with vibrant splashes of pesto and house-made sweet chili sauce.
“Bici” is short for bicicletta, or bike, in Italian. DeVanzo often pedals one of his two high-end bikes between his home, in Washington Township, Bici and his other restaurant, Velo (bike in French), a bistro in Nyack, just over the border in Rockland County, New York.
DeVanzo grew up in Suffern, in Rockland, “eating my family’s Southern Italian cooking and tinkering in my dad’s auto-repair shop.” In high school at Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, he realized he could combine the two, “working with my hands, making food. I started to bake and cook, encouraged by my girlfriend, Teresa, who’s now my wife.”
After earning a CIA degree in 1996, DeVanzo worked in Italy for four months, primarily at Agata e Romeo, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Rome. “I felt like I was doing what I was meant to do,” he says. “I memorized every dish’s ingredients and flavors.”
On his return, he became a line cook at Marcello’s in Suffern. “I learned everything I could about pasta, risotto and sauces,” he says. “Basically, you don’t stop adjusting it till it’s perfect.” He left after three years, having risen to sous chef. “Then I hopscotched around—the Ho-Ho-Kus Inn for awhile, and the Paris Commune [an institution in New York’s Greenwich Village].”
In 2008, DeVanzo opened Velo, hiring Brazilian-born Marcelo Gambarato, who had studied hospitality and restaurant management at the CIA, as general manager. In 2016, the two teamed as partners to open Bici. Credit Gambarato, the GM, with Bici’s polished, attentive service.
Among entrées, Dentice Rosso (red snapper) was sensational: a filet over whole shrimp, flavor-bombed with cipollini-onion marmalade and sweet chili sauce. Fried polenta spears provided crunchy textural contrast.
A frequent special pairs pan-roasted scallops with a fanciful melange of peppery watercress, roasted fennel, tropical mango-basil relish and creamy polenta. It’s eccentric yet exquisite. Another special, Bistecca, an unaged sirloin, was nicely grilled but lacked beefy flavor, and its fingerling potatoes and rich mushroom sauce struck just one note: buttery.
Velvety Atlantic skate was beautifully fresh. (All seafood is delivered daily.) But the skate deserved more interesting accompaniments than whipped potatoes and haricots vert, faultless though they were. DeVanzo does elevate a bistro mainstay with his Costolette—Black Angus short ribs, braised and served off the bone with broccoli rabe, pecorino-enriched polenta and a reduction of Marsala and balsamic vinegar.
DeVanzo, 43, makes all the desserts. (“I baked before I cooked, back in high school,” he notes.) His updated trattoria classics are his best. Like his risotto al Chianti, his version of tiramisu upends expectations. It’s not cut from a pan like a cake but composed on the plate between two ladyfingers, one round, one square. DeVanzo makes his ladyfingers softer and moister than traditional ones, and instead of soaking them in espresso, coats them with an espresso crème anglaise.
“It makes for less bitterness and more complexity,” he says. He adds zabaglione, with its marsala flavor, to the mascarpone that separates the two cookies. Finally, rather than the usual dusting of cocoa powder, he balances a strip of dark chocolate bark on top and sprinkles it with crushed espresso beans. It’s a terrific reboot of a classic.
His crème brulée is winningly flavored with anisette, and his ricotta cheesecake is kissed with limoncello. By comparison, his Dutch chocolate cake lacked intensity and his cannoli shells were heavy and clunky, squelching the delicate filling.
Clearly, there is a great deal more to relish at Bici than to regret. If you surrender to temptation and overindulge, do what DeVanzo does—go for a bike ride, then come back for more.Click here to leave a comment
- Cuisine Type:Italian
- Price Range:Expensive
- Price Details:Appetizers, $10-$17; pastas, $24-$31; entrées, $25-$38; sides, $8-10; desserts, $6-$11.
- Ambience:Elegant, yet convivial
- Service:Genial, informed, helpful
- Wine list:BYO