>> Wednesday, August 15, 2012
This is the sixth post in the Eating the Big Apple series. Other posts include Soba Koh, Sylvia's Restaurant (Gospel Brunch), Torrisi Italian Specialties, Ippudo, and Tasty Hand Pulled Noodle.
I rarely visit the same restaurant twice.
OK, perhaps I exaggerate slightly. Maybe I should say, if I’m not in Boston, I hardly ever re-visit a restaurant that I’ve written about in a blog post. Why “waste” a meal on a restaurant I’ve visited before when I could be trying dishes, photographing, and writing about a completely new restaurant?
Instead, my typical modus operandi involves scouring my favorite sources (my “go-to’s include Chowhound, the Michelin Guide, Zagat, and various “Best Restaurant” lists on the internet”) and planning the trip itinerary around the food.
I broke my own rule the last time I was in New York.
Come to think of it, I think I regularly break that rule in New York. I’ve visited Le Bernardin and Sushi Yasuda (two of my favorite restaurants in New York), at least three times each.
And now I think I’m adding another restaurant to that category.
Il Buco Alimentari & Vinera, the closest thing to Roscioli (our favorite Italian marketplace/restaurant in Rome) this side of the "pond", is definitely a place that is worth visiting over and over and over again.
Il Buco Alimentari & Vinera is the second restaurant from Donna Lennard, founder of the first Il Buco back in 1994. Donna longed for a restaurant that embodied the philosophy that she saw all over Italy. In Italy, markets selling the day’s freshest and best salumis, cheeses, and pastas sit a stone's throw from the local eateries.
What you end up getting are local, family restaurants that serve incredible food because they have easy, virtually immediate access to some seriously fine ingredients.
Il Buco Alimentari & Vinera aims to recreate that little Italian "village." They bake their own breads, cure their own salumis, and carry a huge selection of fantastic olives, olive oils, cheeses, and other fine imports from Italy.
Culatello, salame Toscano, finocchi, guanciale, capocollo, pancetta, prosciutto, mortadello, “bologna”
The house-cured meats are fantastic. The availability always varies depending on which meats are ready. During one visit, for example, our sampler plate included the mortadello, prosciutto, “bologna”, speck, and guanciale. They also have a nice selection of imported cured meats from Italy and Spain (among other places). It's fun to order a variety to share.
If you don't want the entire large share plate you can custom order a smaller share plate (even though it's not on the menu). Bryan and I did that the second time we visited when it was just the two of us.
We started with the Crispy Artichoke with Preserved Lemons and Parsley. Pickled and then flash fried, these mini-artichoke hearts were great starters. I was not expecting them to be so brown, but I still enjoyed this snack. Artichokes are huge in Rome, and thus this appetizer totally reminded us of our recent Rome trip.
Ceviche with Local Fluke, Black Radish, Cucumber, and Jicama was light, fresh, and just a beautiful combination of flavors and textures (crunchy, creamy, and bright!). Perfect for summer.
Octopus a la Plancha was expertly grilled - gorgeously crispy on the outside yet soft and tender on the inside. It came with Corona beans, Taggiasca olives, and kumquats.
The Chittara (house extruded pasta) with Ramps, Fresh Chili, Lemon, and Pecorino was fantastic. The texture of the pasta had a nice toothsome bite to it, and I loved the herbaceous flavor from the ramps, one of my favorite springtime vegetables.
Paccheri (another house-extruded pasta) with Braised Oxtail, Greens, and Parmigiano also had great texture as well as a deep, rich, flavorful meat sauce.
Bucatini Cacao e Pepe is pasta with Pecorino Romano and black pepper. It is deceptively simple, relying a lot on the pure quality of its ingredients. I loved the al dente "QQ" bite of the pasta. Though the ingredients were simple, this dish packed a ton of flavor, seriously contending as one of the best pasta dishes we’ve ever had in America. (!)
The Lasagnette, served with spinach and braised pork shoulder, was also very tasty. The pork was fall-off-the-bone tender and the tomato-based sauce full of flavor from the braised meat.
thyme, coarse sea salt, caramelized lemon
I’ve had branzino several times in many area restaurants. Every restaurant I’ve visited recommends the branzino as the restaurant’s house special, claiming it's one of the best dishes. Although it’s usually quite good, at the end of the day, I’ve always though of salt-roasted branzino as an oven-steamed fish – nice with lemon, but nothing extraordinary.
Il Buco changed all that. The branzino at Il Buco was seriously the best branzino I’d ever had. Though similar in preparation, the texture was super soft and the flavor was somehow incredible. It must be the quality of the fish.
Porchetta alla Roman
shaved fennel, blood orange, mustard greens, cracklings
This wonderfully “porky” dish came with soft, fall-off-the-bone porchetta that was incredibly juicy and flavorful. The smoky cracklings added a lovely defining crunch to the dish.
Spit-Roasted Short Ribs
Castelvetrano olives, celery, walnuts, horseradish
The result of being cooked for many, many hours, these short ribs were soft, meltingly-tender, and absolutely delicious.
I did not expect a small splash of aged balsamic vinegar to make such a difference, but I was blown away by the house made panna cotta with 10-year aged balsamic vinegar. The aged vinegar was deep, almost-syrupy, and sweet. It added a lovely complex dimension to the creamy panna cotta.
In fact, I liked it so much I broke down and purchased a whole bottle of this gorgeous balsamic vinegar at the market after our meal.
I confess, I often sneak small cups of this addictive stuff and drink it straight up. It's that good.
I ended the meal with a Cappuccino and some cookies.
Bryan went with the Espresso. Both were great and totally reminded us of Italy, again.
The food here is excellent. We've only been here twice (once for lunch, once for dinner), but both times we had a great time. Everything is good. The salumis are among the best we've ever had, the cheeses are excellent, and the pastas are unparalleled. Every single meat/fish dish was executed really well.
It's hard not to be tempted to shop at the market after the meal. The best part is that you can often purchase things that you enjoyed during your meal, such as particular cheeses, cured meats, or olive oils.
I picked up a huge bottle of amazingly fragrant extra virgin olive oil as well as a bottle of that lovely balsamic vinegar.
They are used to dealing with out of town customers, so they can help you pick out market items that will last your trip home. In our case, we ordered a bunch of fantastic cured meats as well as some of their delicious bread. Perfect for a sandwich on the train or bus ride back to Boston!
Il Buco Alimentari & Vinera
53 Great Jones St
New York, NY 10012