Il Buco, July 10, 2005
47 Bond Street
Danna and I took her parents out to Il Buco for their anniversary knowing that they would love the atmosphere. My good friend Alex and his then-girlfriend Jen (not to be mistaken with his fiance Jen) took us to Il Buco about three and half years ago and we too fell in love with the place. Truth be told, I can't remember anything we ordered back then other than the cheese plate with 10 year old balsamic vinegar.
We wanted to grab a drink somewhere nearby before dinner but this neighborhood is simply not set up for that. Remote Bar? I don't think so, not with the in-laws. I thought Buddha Lounge would fit the bill but upon arrival it was bordered up. Ugh. So we went right to the restaurant, which was nearly empty at the time (7:00pm). The hostess was, I'll just come out and say it, really out-of-place for the restaurant. I was reminded of that Sesame Street song "One of these things is not like the other" when trying to communicate to this trainwreck of a girl.
"Hi, we have a 7:30 reservation and are a little early, so can we just have a seat at the bar for a drink for a little bit".
"Um, well, um. Ah. [long pause]. Oh, 7:30. Um, yeah."
Oh boy. So we sit at the bar and we buy (actually, Leo, my father-in-law, insists on paying for the spirits tonight) a bottle of the Barbera D'Asti Montruc 1997. This will do perfectly.
About twenty minutes later, we start to get rushed around a little by the manager (who is wearing blue jeans and general attire completely different than the rest of the staff or anyone eating dinner for that matter) and decide to sit. He pleasantly suggested this spot as the back room was very hot and more tightly situated. We did get a very nice table, the round four-top right behind the hostess stand and adjacent to the long communal table.
We decide on making this a sharing affair so that we can try a bunch of different items, at least for the apps. Here's what we ordered:
The pizzetta was a small, flat pizza with carmelized onions and some cheese that I can't remember. This was good but in my opinion not good enough to justify the $10 price tag. For 50% more you get a much bigger and much better pizza/pizzetta at Otto.
This was quail, stuffed with figs and wrapped in prosciutto. It came as four pinwheels on a dish with a light balsamic vinegar based sauce beneath it. Very, very good, but portion sizes (I know its quail but...) were again a bit small.
This was fried oysters, served in their shell and topped with a roumelade of sorts. A pretty decent dish...served six pieces but well overpriced at $14.
This was a peach salad of sorts that's description was mouthwatering. The end result = I can't really remember what else it had in it.
About seven minutes after we ordered our appetizers, we were brought a cold octopus salad. We said that we didn't order this. Bickering between the server and the waiter resulted in asking us again if we ordered it. We again said we didn't. About two minutes later we are served a farro salad of sorts by a different server. Again, we have to tell them that we didn't order this. This server, who seems to be on the ball more than anyone else in the place (he's the younger guy with the reddish, poofy/afro-ish hair) says, "Strike two. Sorry about that. Enjoy this on the house". Fine, thank you...and it turns out to be my favorite of the appetizers.
So for our entrees we order the following:
Tagliatelle con Gamberi e Gallinacci
Fresh egg pasta with ruby red shrimp, chanterelles and corn
Ruby Red Shrimp is, after some researching, actually Royal Red Shrimp but, for marketing purposes have gone the way of the Patagonian Toothfish (Chilean Sea Bass for most people). It is a deep sea shrimp known for spending much of the day at the bottom of the deeper reaches of the Northeast Atlantic Ocean and recently caught as a measure of preserving the traditional shrimp caught off of New England's coastline. They just happen to be delicious, with a hint of lobster. This dish, that Danna ordered, was the best entree of the night and I suppose reasonably priced.
Ravioli di Coda di Bue
Braised Grass-fed Oxtail-filled fresh egg pasta with summer beans, golden beets & grated horseradish
Carin, my mother-in-law, ordered this dish, and having tried a ravioli of hers can attest that its flavor was excellent. The portion size was perfect for her, but I would have gone home starving if I ordered this dish. Especially for a very low-cost item. Oxtail, homemade ravioli and the other ingrediants won't set you back that much as an owner. All of this at the same pricepoint as the shrimp dish. Something didn't calculate there. Aside from that, a pretty good dish.
Bistecca alla Griglia
Grilled, Over the Hill Farm grass-fed Ribeye steak with wild arugula salad
Both Leo and I ordered this. He chose medium well, I went for medium rare. The beef smelled wonderful when it came out, but Leo's was undercooked, so we had to send that back. The one basic waitstaff rule was dented, not broken, but dented at this point. The server said, "I see sir, our medium-well is slightly more medium." No. Your medium-well should be what the customer says it should be. The server did redeem himself however, by asking (nicely) what color my father-in-law wished the meat to be. Upon the second arrival of his dish, all was good and he, Leo, couldn't be happier with the dish. For that I was grateful. My order, unfortunately, was far too grisly. 15% of my steak was unedible gristle. And for "grass-fed" beef, that seems a bit much. The beef that was edible was good, especially after coating it with the roasted garlic bulb that they serve it with. The arugula salad was simply a bunch of very crisp arugula that was good, but really just a bunch of arugula. Overall I was slightly disappointed with my dish - especially when the price tag read $35.
We ordered some cheeses too:
Parmigiano Reggiano (Parma, Italy) - Farm #2895 Aug. 2002
Organic DOP mountain cow's milk cheese by Santa Rita
Ouray (Poughkeepsie, NY)
Made with grass-fed jersey and guernsey cow's milk from Sprout Creek Farm
Bayley Hazen Blue (Greensboro, VT)
Raw Ayrshire cow's milk based on a Devon Blue recipe from Jasper Hill
All of these were fantastic. The parmigiano being exceptionally flavorful (the 10 year old balsamic vinegar certainly helped) with the most amazing texture and crunch. Yum.
We also ordered the ricotta fritters - basically fried dough in the same vein as a zeppole or, in the Marino household, Sfeengee (this is phonetic), except these were chocolate flavored. Whatever they were, they were excellent, and really, really hot. The served about eight of these.
We also ordered Sgroppino, a lemon gelato that was really soupy and just not good at all. Disappointing.
We also ordered some awful grappa, one a framboise and the other I can't remember. Truly terrible. I've had excellent grappa before. These were not.
Total bill with tax, excluding the wine and grappa came to $219. Tack on about another $220 for the two bottles of wine and the grappa and you have a pretty expensive night.
Leo, Carin and Danna all loved the dinner. Which is all that matters. Danna even said at one point that she wishes this were her regular spot. Personally, I enjoyed my dinner immensely, but it had more to do with the company and the charming restaurant than anything else. The food was good for the most part, but the value is really questionable. Something about paying that much for some of those dishes made me feel dirty. I'm glad we returned after a three+ year hiatus and I'm thrilled my in-laws and wife had a wonderful time (I did too, because of them) but I see absolutely no reason to go back here when L'Impero, Alto, Babbo and many others are still serving equally, if not higher quality dishes at similar pricepoints.