We were staying in a heavily Italian neighbourhood – a good example of this is that down the road there is a store that sells headstones and wood fired bread. Italy’s influence is everywhere in NYC and this can only be a good thing..
We had heard about the new Eataly enterprise that has been engineered by Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich and other many partners. In allegiance with the Slowfood movement, the idea is that you are in a “temple” and “food is more important than commerce”. Unfortunately they didn’t pass on their idea to the designer, who couldn’t have designed something with less soul. Do you like dining in Debenhams? No. Nor do I. So when we walked into a 50,000 sq foot of expensive soulless dining, we walked shortly back out again despondently.
What were we looking for? I sent a text to a friend ‘looking for a great neighbourhood Italian restaurant. Not too expensive, good food and good lighting’. I received a reply immediately ‘ IL BUCO. It’s amazing. Sit at the bar and stick with the appetizers’. We jumped on the subway and headed straight there.
Immediately on arrival I began to get really excited. The entrance has a lovely hedged entrance, with a few small tables, and on entry the front of the restaurant is free of ‘The Host’. Although I know you need one, how off-putting is it to have to get past the keeper to get to your dinner? Very. The windows are dressed with ol’ taverna style curtains, pulled in the middle, and the lighting is warm and dim. We sat at the bar, and was welcomed by Doug, our lovely bartender who kept us watered and fed throughout.
We ordered some wine and ordered the Burrata and the Carpaccio. The Burrata with cucumber, treviso, basil, anchovy and trout roe was a lovely medley of cool and creamy flavours with peaks of the sharp punchy..
While I was trying to enjoy this, S was next to me munching happily on the Bison Carpaccio, which had an almost purple-ish tone (is this normal for bison..I wouldn’t know as this is my first time) with crunchy chickpeas, black cumin, rocket, and podda classico.
Following that early hit of the night, we ate Crochette di Cavolfiori, otherwise known as cauliflower & gorgonzola croquettes. Crispy, they turned into a delicious creamy mess.
With these nuggets, we also had Uova di Anatra con Baccala. The duck egg was a good size, and the yolk was a sunny gloop which we covered the salted cod, capers and leaves in. Summer truffles were also added to it, which made the whole thing even more naughty.
Next we chose half sized Lasagnette ai Piselli, which was fresh egg pasta leaves, with summer squash and blossoms, with fresh ricotta and mint. This was, although windy and rainy outside, a transporter to Puglia, and all of a sudden were outside, on the balcony, eating and drinking in the sunshine. The Gnocchi con Porri e Speck on the other hand was much richer in flavour. The sauce had a consistency of a sticky jus, rich and potent with fluffy ricotta on top.
We sat at the bar for a little longer, enjoying a lovely complementary Moscato, and eventually gave up our seats to two of the many people that now hovered around. It was pumping on a Wednesday night. For a restaurant that has been open since 1994, and originally an antique store, it still has the energy of the newest hot thing on the street. It reminds me of many places I already know and love, but then it is probably its secret. Make a place that feels as cosy as your own living room and the people in there like your best old buddies and you will always have people lining up outside.