Il Buco: New York to the Bone
On a recent Thursday night, my good friend Danielle and I came to the conclusion that places like Noho’s Il Buco sum up succinctly what is so special about New York. It’s one of those restaurants that I get nervous writing about, perenially unsure of whether I’ll do it justice.
The antique store cum restaurant encapsulates the throbbing energy and trend-defying style that New York is known for. Thebrainchild of film-maker Donna Leonard and her boyfriend Alberto Avalle, Il Buco has managed to be ‘on-trend’ for almost two decades now without pretention or any apparent effort. Il Buco was and remains to be a trend-setter, opening in now uber-chic Noho 16 years ago when there was no cute neighborhood name and Lafayette needed some serious cleaning up.
The much-heralded restaurant is known for its bucolic yet sexy look and top-notch ingredient-driven cuisine. The main dining room is dimly lit with a soft golden glow that mercifully pours over everyone; rustic wooden furniture painted green and red yet since faded with age, shoots of fresh flowers, pottery-laden shelves, scattered wine bottles, copper pots hanging from hooks or stuffed in corners, and eclectic wall art transform a rather cramped room with low ceilings into a magical country kitchen straight out of Peter Rabbit or The Secret Garden. A small sidewalk patio is surprisingly lush with potted plants and window boxes, green garden furniture, and twinkling candles – you’d be hard-pressed to find somewhere more idyllic in the middle of downtown Manhattan.
Il Buco defies the odds by not only being a downtown Manhattan hotspot but also by offering truly wonderful eclectic European cuisine that feels neither tired and passe nor overdone. The menu is inspired by seasonal ingredients, by whatever the chef can find in the market that day; and thus, expect an enormous variety in menu items as weeks pass and seasons change. Menu items draw flavors and techniques from Italy, Spain, France, and other parts of the Mediterranean. Expect tapas plates ranging from buttery bison carpaccio to a citrus-infused wild sea bass crudo to a radicchio pizzetta and inventive pan-fried Hawaiian king prawns. With 12 to 15 mouth-watering options, you could just stay on the small plates-style appetizers menu all night long.
The main entrees menu operates like a set of specials, rotating daily to feature that morning’s bounty. This too makes choice near impossible with 4-5 pastas, 4-5 hot dishes, and a few teaser ‘starters.’ The asparagus risotto was creamy, salty, savory, and large enough to feed an army. So addictively delicious, I lapped it up, wiping my plate clean despite the gargantuan portion provided. The ‘pollo’, a half roast chicken, was tender and juicy, albeit difficult to get at with all the bones. On a bed of diverse vegetables, nuts and dried fruit, it offered a little bit of everything for those seeking a soul-satisfying and simple meal. The highlight of the meal though was by far the most petite dish, the wild sea bass crudo, served sashimi-style with bright and crisp medallions of tangerine, agrumato and a light zingy horseradish sauce; it was beautiful, complex, challenging, and just so smooth.
Il Buco’s got mojo; it’s slinky and seductive while still maintaining a charming accessibility; the food is impossibly fresh and executed with skill and sophistication. In short, Il Buco is the full package, perfect for date night, ladies night out, after-work drinks, and family gatherings alike.