Although the West Village is brimming over with adorable, cozy restaurants that appear to be packed at all hours of the day, Barbuto itself is very distinctive looking from the street, with its industrial window-paned garage doors offering a very transparent view into the restaurant. We were seated quickly and the next thing we knew an overly friendly (read: sleazy) older gentleman was schmoozing with our table, eventually giving my friend Ashley a backrub of sorts. I was so confused, “Do my friends know this guy? Is there a chance he works here?!” After what felt like a long couple of minutes, he was seamlessly ushered away from our table and the host was apologizing profusely to our group for the inappropriate guest whom she had just noticed bothering us. Our two servers were apologetic as well, and we later received two desserts on the house as a result. I include this anecdote because I think it illustrates the level of service in many of the great New York spots that have withstood the test of time. The power of a warm and unpretentious front of house staff should never be underestimated, as it can easily make or break a dining experience. I’m going to make the assumption that Jonathan Waxman, the chef-owner, really is as lovely as his Top Chef Masters persona.
Anyway, let’s get to the good stuff. The meal started with a warm assortment of olives and some rustic crostini with grilled bread. I will make the embarrassing confession that between the distracting man at our table and the champagne on an empty stomach, I can’t tell you exactly what was on the crostini, but it was some combination of creamy, mild cheese and fruit and it was delicious.
We started out with cocktails, a manly martini for Miles (How’s that for alliteration?), and fun, bright cocktails for the girls. Ashley and I ordered the Fuoca Della Sicilia made with cachaça, muddled blood oranges, lime and sugar and it was very refreshing and not overly sweet. Amanda ordered the smooth and smoky Perso in Oaxaca, served up and made with Monte Alban Mezcal, tangerine, Aperol, and smoked sea salt.
We began our shared meal with two salads from the Antipasti portion of the menu: the Insalata Stagionale and the Insalata Cavolo Verde. The Stagionale is a salad of Cara Cara orange and grapefruit slices, celery, chilies, and olives. Lately, I’ve really been craving the combination of citrus and olives with a bit of heat and this dish fit the bill beautifully. I also really enjoyed the Cavolo Verde, made with kale, pecorino, bread crumbs, and anchovy. I loved that the kale was sliced so thinly it was almost julienned. In a way, it was Caesar salad’s older, more sophisticated sibling. Miles, a friend who has never let me down in the eating department, commented that he thought this one was a bit too ‘heavy-handed.’ This may have been the case, but a) I love salt and b) I was too giddy living on NYC Cloud Nine to notice.
For our main course, we shared a few really standout dishes. From the Primi section of the menu, we selected the Bucatini alle Vongole with littleneck clams, wine, and garlic. I’ve grown up eating this dish, as it’s one of my mom’s favorites, and this was definitely one of the best versions I’ve ever had. Salty and briny, we all happily slurped up each piece of perfectly al dente bucatini à la Lady and the Tramp.
From the Piatti Unici section, we shared the Pollo al Forno (chicken is one of Waxman’s specialties) and the Costine e Polenta, consisting of braised short ribs with polenta, raisins, and bread crumbs. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I will be dreaming about both of these dishes for a long time. The chicken, served with a salsa verde, was so incredibly flavorful and juicy and had the most wonderful crispy skin. It was clear after the first taste why this is one of Waxman’s signature dishes. The short ribs were so over-the-top luscious and tender that there were a few moments of quiet as I tried to really enjoy each creamy bite. We also shared a side of the excellent Patate, delightfully crispy potatoes with rosemary and pecorino.
The lively yet understated atmosphere made for the perfect backdrop for the great food and even better company. As the night was winding down, our server came over to discuss desserts. We selected the Bread Pudding with Vanilla Gelato to split four ways, but as I mentioned before, our server brought the Tiramisu as well, both on the house. In line with the ‘vacation mode’ title of this post, I will be completely honest and tell you that it took the four of us talking in following days to identify the desserts since there isn’t a menu online. However, I don’t want to call them forgettable as I think this was truly a product of the amount of wine consumed towards the end of the night. All you need to know is that they were both simple, creamy, and enjoyed by all.
After each trip, it becomes further solidified that New York City is one of my favorite cities. Few places have better food, shopping, nightlife, and people watching. People call Vegas ‘Sin City’, but the Big Apple highlights my huge lack of self-control more than any other place in the world. When I’m in New York, all I want to do is eat out. It doesn’t matter the time of day and frankly, it really doesn’t matter whether I’m hungry or not, which poses a bit of an issue for me. So unless I miraculously win the lottery and my metabolism starts working at triple the speed, I won’t be moving there anytime soon. In the meantime, I will savor every bite of my visits there and I couldn’t have asked for a better meal to kick off this particular trip than the one we shared at Barbuto.
Barbuto, 775 Washington Street, New York, NY, (212) 924-9700, http://www.barbutonyc.com, Open Weekdays for Lunch and Dinner, Weekends for Brunch and Dinner (check website for hours), Reservations Recommended