A recent birthday was all the excuse we needed to pay a return visit to one of our favourite Italian eateries, Buca Osteria/ Enoteca in King West. On previous occasions we'd found it impossible to pass over the pizza, and had always sworn that next time we'd try the pasta, for which they're quite renowned. As luck would have it, we'd indulged in our own home made pizza the evening before, so on this night we were both game for some noodles.
Of course, one can't visit Buca without first rewarding Chef Rob Gentile for all his hard work in the house salumeria, so we kicked things off with a couple of glasses of lovely prosecco and a 5 Salumi Platter. The platter, as always, presents an array of cured meats ranging in texture, fattiness, spiciness, and of course, flavour. And we dare any of you to remember the names of the salumi a day after your visit (no stealing of menus allowed!) Here's our best effort:
- salsiccine- dark, hard, spicy, delicious bits
- sopresetta- you know this one- elongated cross section, firm and pliant, picant, and delicious
- something round, smaller, softer in texture, moist yet seemingly less fatty,...and delicious
- something prosciutto-like, a bit pale in colour, melts in your mouth, delicious
- something else prosciutto-like, darker in colour, doubly delicious
The platter also serves up 3 condiments to compliment the cured meats, in our case a very red pickled radish dice, tiny slices of pickled asparagus, and some paper thin rounds of pickled scape. Each is served in a wee bowl, each has its own distinct ratio of brine to sugar, and each in its own way magnifies the deliciousness of the already delicious salumi! Did we mention that everything was delicious?!
Photo of 3 salumi platter courtesy Sifu Renka on Flickr
A wine we'd enjoyed on a couple of previous visits is no longer on the list, so our server helped us find a suitable alternative that would pair nicely with our dinner choices. His suggestion was Mutro' from producer Val di Neto in Italy's southern Calabria region. It proved to be delightful.
On to the pasta! Jay chose the daily Orecchiette: on this night a bowl of house made pasta "ears" served with cherry tomatoes, crispy fried zucchini blossoms, a huge portion of chunked Nova Scotia lobster, and finished with Ottawa Valley butter and summer herbs. Light yet sumptuous, this dish was superb!
Orecchiette (with different ingredients): photo courtesy Sifu Renka on FlickrBee opted for the Bigoli, which it turns out is Buca's signature pasta dish. It features house made pasta (made using duck eggs!), duck ragu, mascarpone cheese, venetian spices (cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg?) topped with a fresh basil leaf. The texture of the pasta was incredible and the mascarpone, while somewhat rich, was not overly so, and it allowed the ragu to adhere to the noodles. The spicing added an exotic touch, but never overpowered the dish's finely tuned balance.
Bigoli photo courtesy Sifu Renka on Flickr
Buca was, of course, very busy on the Saturday night of our visit. We had a late-ish reservation at 9:30, so we watched the place transition from its earlier comfortable dinner crowd of married downtown couples into a later night assemblage of King West scene-sters, many appearing to have driven in to the city for the evening. A curious highlight was a foursome of visiting Italian gentlemen who sat down beside us late into our meal. They spoke to each other and to their servers only in their native tongue (all the staff at Buca seem to be fluently bilingual in Italian and English), ate and drank with gusto, and generally had us feeling by the time we left that perhaps we'd been magically transported overseas for a brief while.
Speaking of servers, our one and only quibble comes on this front: Patrons are attended to by a plethora of staff, and it can lead to some confusion on both sides. Our first waiter offered drinks. We discussed options with him, then he left to look after an adjacent group. A second waiter approached to discuss the dinner menu, and asked in passing if we had been offered drinks. We had to admit that we weren't sure whether an order had actually been taken, and upon checking he informed us that nothing at the bar was destined for us. Throughout dinner service various combinations of runners and waiters brought dishes, cleared dishes, and attended to wine and water. In short, Buca's service aspect is lacking in personal attention. Sure, you're well looked after, but there's no sense of commitment. Maybe it's an old-fashioned concept, but when you're dropping a few bucks it's nice to feel at least a little bit doted-upon.