Friday, January 27, 2012

Happy Italian

For years, I have been meaning to eat at tiny, rustic, romantic Il Buco on Bond Street. But the place almost never has a reservation available. So imagine my surprise when I snagged a prime table during the busiest part of the evening, one half of a communal table under shelves of ceramic bowls and hanging copper pots. It might be one of the loveliest dining rooms in New York, with its dim lighting and candles and Tuscan feel. I remembered a trip to a ski chalet in the Valley d' Aosta and bowls of warm polenta. One of the greatest compliments I can pay Il Buco is that it took me back to Italy.

But then, the food. I had limited expectations, but a mackerel crudo blew me away. It was salty and spicy and thick, without even a tinge of the fishiness that mackerel so often imparts. It arrived on a puree of sunchokes. We cleaned the plate. Ditto for a creamy burrata with paper-thin persimmons and a juicy Mangalista pork sausage over toothsome white beans with mushrooms.

Then: a handmade pasta with thick strands of rabbit and parsnips that tasted exactly like my mother's chicken soup, in the best way possible. The noodles came just al dente, the rabbit rich and earthy. I would go back for seconds, but Il Buco's dinner menu changes nightly.

Porchetta did not disappoint, either. Sliced thin and served with a plume of crispy skin, we ate through the tangle of salty Swiss chard and the accompanying beans with as much gusto as the meat itself. The first time I saw porchetta was at an open Tuscan market, where a man sold it sliced directly from the pig and where, in the summer sun, I ate that meat with my hands from a wax paper wrapping. Il Buco was an experiment in recreating my fondest Italian memories.

Finally, the creamiest panna cotta I have ever eaten arrived, decorated with a splash of balsamic vinegar. A grape cake with creme fraiche and almonds tasted of a holiday cake my grandmother used to make. For these things, I would go back again and again.

Il Buco
47 Bond Street, #1
New York, NY 10012

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