Birthday bash at Buca di Beppo

We've lived less than a mile from Bucca di Beppo for almost 20 years, but Alfie and I were always too intimidated by the large crowd (and implied long wait times) to bother taking the kids there. We finally took the plunge and booked a table six months ago, and we had such a great time that I knew I wanted to go back to Buca di Beppo for my birthday dinner.  I've had such a crazy week that it ended up being my day-after-my-birthday dinner, but I can't think of a better way to celebrate my 42nd and start the Memorial Day Weekend.

Even though it's a chain with branches all over the US,  Buca di Beppo (the Palo Alto location, at least) manages to feel cozy and homey, as though it were a small, family-owned restaurant with red-checked tablecloths, wooden floors, mamma in the kitchen and Junior tending bar.

The walls are crammed full of Italian posters and black-and-white portraits, many of which are delightfully quirky (a bride kicking a soccer ball, nuns on scooters, a kid picking his nose) or naughty (see the gem in the photo below).

Meals are served family style -- in other words, DO NOT order one dish per person unless you want 3 days' worth of leftovers. Pasta and entrees come is 2 sizes: small serves 2 or more (emphasis on the MORE), large servers 4 or more (again, emphasis on the MORE).

Let's put it this way:  The five of us have healthy appetites.  We ordered 1 appetizer, 2 small pasta dishes, and a dessert.  We finished all the of the appetizer and dessert, and less than half of each pasta dish, so we had plenty of leftovers to take home.  We probably could have gotten by with 1 appetizer, 1 small pasta dish, and dessert!

I don't usually order drinks at restaurants, but since it was my birthday dinner I ordered a yummy mixed drink (non-alcoholic since I wanted to share with the kids) with pineapple, orange, passionfruit juice and grenadine syrup ($13.99).  It came in a souvenir glass, which I promptly forgot to take home with me. The boys had Italian soda ($1 on the kids' menu), and Alfie had a draft Sam Adams.

Check out our appetizer.  The bruschetta ($14.99) was our favorite dish of the night.  If you plan to order this, make sure you let the server know that you won't be needing the bread basket they put on your table!

Our pasta dishes were extremely filling and extremely good.  The kids loved the Chicken and Sausage Ziti (chicken breast, mild Italian sausage, red onions, roma tomatoes and spinach in garlic cream sauce, $20.99 for a Small). They could barely swallow the Penne Arrabiata (spicy Italian sausage and crushed red pepper in marinara sauce, $19.99 for a Small) because both the sausage and the pasta sauce were pretty spicy, but Alfie actually preferred it to the Ziti.

We probably could have eaten a bit more, but we deliberately saved room for dessert.  I've been waiting to order the Colossal Brownie Sundae since I first saw it 6 months ago.  It's served in a plastic martini glass with a rim as big as a dinner plate. so there was more than enough gooey goodness for the five of us. We could have shared with at least 1 more person.  Or maybe not.

The total bill came up to $92, and I had a $10 off coupon so we paid $82.  What's more, I paid with a $100 Buca di Beppo gift card that I had bought at Costco for $80.  We even brought home enough leftovers for tomorrow's lunch!

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