After noshing at Barbuto, I now understand what all the fuss is about Jonathan Waxman. His restaurant is vibrant and relaxed – the ideal combination of Meatpacking hotspot mated with neighborhood hangout; and his rustic and simple Italian food is just plain dreamy.
Barbuto is situated on a hip corner of the far West Village, just where it kisses the edge of the Meatpacking District; it’s located in a converted garage, complete with sliding doors that rise in the warmer months, leaving the restaurant open to the street and allowing for a significant body of outdoor sidewalk tables. Inside, perhaps the most distinguishable feature of Barbuto is the noise, followed by the heat. Trendy singles and the after-work set at the bar up front send peals of laughter and high-octane chatter through the industrial-chic restaurant, while the open kitchen, complete with a wood-burning brick oven, makes sure that the temperature stays high and hot. Normally, a high noise level paired with borderline uncomfortable heat would be more than enough to send me into misery, yet there’s something charming, and appropriate, about the frenetic hum and pulsing heat of this vivacious hotspot.
The food is casual Italian soul food, and it tastes so loved, as though it were cooked with heart. The menu is short and edited with a few traditional appetizers spruced-up (butter lettuce salad, bruschetta with eggplant carbonara, mussels in white wine), three to four pastas dependent on market availability, and several hearty entrees ranging from a lamb loin to Waxman’s classic pollo al forno to crispy grilled sea bass. Each dish is bold and flavorful, simply presented, and just plain delicious. The potato gnocchi is served slightly seared so that the plump and petite dumplings have a caramelized exterior; a rich buttery sauce of bright cherry tomatoes, chanterelles and roasted corn brings a warm lusciousness to the already decadent dish. The mussels are classic – perfectly cooked in a white wine and butter sauce – simple and satisfying. Pasta dishes rotate regularly, yet you can count on a little spice, a lot of butter and oil, and complex layered sauces. Even the side dishes wow with salty and thick fried potato wedges or a large bowl of wilted escarole and kale, doused in a citrusy garlicky chili dressing.
Barbuto’s got it all. It’s a trendy hotspot with a casual neighborhood vibe; it’s got interesting beers, even more interesting wine, and classic cocktails; the food is rustic and seasonal, impeccably prepared, simple, and tastier than you could ever imagine. If you’re with a big group, give it some advance thought and book the chef’s table in the open kitchen – it’s guaranteed to give you an incredible experience. If you’re with a date, get there early and ask for one of the quieter sidewalk tables. Essentially, Barbuto is a slam-dunk for pretty much any occasion.
Perfect For: first dates, after-work drinks, al fresco dining, Jonathan Waxman fans, Top Chef trackers, ladies night out, a more civilized Meatpacking experience