BUCA: Maybe my best meal of the year

416-865-1600    |    $21 -$70+ mains

I’d be very surprised if you haven’t heard of Buca yet. The Jamie Oliver tweet, the constant praise, the mysterious alleyway on King West. I’m embarrassed to say yesterday was my first time, but having lost my Buca virginity, here’s my lengthy take on the experience.

Right side photo credit: Ian Mile Design


You’ll notice that there’s no menu link in its usual spot, that’s because it changes daily (and gets stamped to prove it) and is not published online. It’s too bad the lighting wasn’t better because it’s a beautiful menu: unique snacks, fried goods (fritti), starters, salads, pasta, carne, pesce, pizza. It’s not a small menu and it’s kind of bewildering at first.

We started our meal with four plates to get the variety the menu merited:

  • Nodini (below): A suggestion from our server, these little freshly made bread knots with a strong garlic and rosemary flavour are just awesome. Mildly crunchy outside, soft inside, really addictive.
    Photo Credit: Sifu Renka 

  • Lamb brains alla saltimbocca with caper agliata (below): Texturally, a very unique dish with the creamy lamb and crispy pork wrapping. We found the agliata to have much more parsley flavour than any hint of caper. Overall a nice snack of something very different for only $8.

    Photo Credit: Joseph Mallozzi 

  • Mixed kale salad with ripe persimmon, chocolate red wine reduction, macerated almonds and a lardo vinaigrette: This was a beautifully balanced salad. Kale gave it great texture, persimmon a unique sweetness, light dressing of chocolate wine reduction added the unusual, and the lardo vinaigrette gave you that meaty flavour without the meat. Can’t find any mention of this online, not a usual menu item.

  • Eggplant parmigiana (below): A staple on the menu, this small stack is classic and the very fresh basil on top sets it off. It’s tough to wow with this dish, and I don’t think it did. That said, it’s still good.

We had a difficult choice with the mains, especially turning down the pizza (served with pizza-cutting scissors), but we decided other things on the menu were more compelling.

An orecchiette dish was my favourite of the night (a different variation with scallops below). The subtly sweet brininess of BC mussels, the bitter green of brussel sprouts, the texture of al dente cannellini beans, and the salty,crisp pancetta make this a fantastic dish. One of the better pasta dishes I’ve ever had.
Photo Credit: Foodies Inc.

The other main was cripsy prosciutto-wrapped sweetbreads over lentils with poached duck egg, and marjoram agliata (above). Nicely balanced dish with rich, earthy flavours, crispy pork, and some fresh agliata to cut it all. 
Photo Credit: Buca Twitter Feed

To finish, naturally we needed to sample some desserts. The first we selected was an olive oil cake, topped olive oil gelato, quince, and a beautiful pouring of olive oil over top. Despite all this all olive oil, the only time it really came through was when you got some of what was poured on top. The gelato was nice and creamy, and cake moist, but neither really conveyed olive oil. I think less cake would have prevented muting of the other elements.

The second desert I labeled a “mindfuck” when reading. A chocolate…and pork blood…tart topped with espresso soaked figs, macerated almonds and a creme anglaise (below). Unfortunately, I didn’t get the use of pork blood; it seemed to be used as a thickener, but I don’t think it added anything and I felt kind of tricked into ordering it. I thought the fig and espresso flavours dominated the dish.

Photo Credit: Globe and Mail

Service and Ambience

From an ambience perspective, Buca is impressive. The height of the room, the amount of exposed brick, the displays of Italian fare - all of it makes the experience special. The only thing that threw it off a bit was the classical orchestral tunes. Is it purposefully pretentious? Maybe so, but it didn’t fit for us.

Photo Credit: Fashion Magazine

On the service side, everyone was friendly and food came out of the kitchen at a pleasant pace given the number of dishes we ordered. I’d say the dishes were slightly ‘over-explained’ sometimes. I don’t mind some table-side romancing, but I think it gets excessive when there’s an agliata in a dipping bowl and two separate servers remind you to use the agliata for dipping. We get it.

The Reco?

On the merit of some particularly exceptional dishes, it’s impossible to give this less than 3.5 stars. The orecchiette and kale salad were perfect, and we really enjoyed most of the other dishes. There’s an uncommon level of precision and thoughtfulness here that blends with authentic Italian flavours, and I’d be crazy not to return here for more.

Other reviews:
 Globe and Mail    |    Toronto Life |    Food Junkie Chronicles

 Posted by: Jacob, Visited Dec 18, 2011

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