I have been waiting to write this post for a very long time. "But Barbuzzo just opened!" you might say. Yes, but this restaurant has been in the works for what seems like years. A & I have been fans of the 13th Street monopoly run by partners Valarie Safran and Marcie Turney for quite awhile now. Lolita was one of our very first favorite places to eat back when we were wee undergrads; we've purchased a number of gifts at Verde; our mom loves the decor that fills Open House; I'm a fan of the unique Marcie Blaine chocolates; and even met my boyfriends mom for the first time over dinner at Bindi. I've been preemptively drooling ever since this duo announced a new Mediterranean venture.
A & I snagged a somewhat early reservation on Friday evening, though the restaurant certainly never reached capacity during our meal. The very skinny, deep building is arranged with a bar and long kitchen-viewing counter along one side and tables pushed up against the opposite wall. This leaves a somewhat narrow aisle for hostesses, waitresses, bussers, and diners to navigate. Providing us with our own bottle of chilled tap water cut down on the need for water refreshment traffic. We were seated next to two sweet yet slightly nosy Jersey women- the close quarters had us sharing conversations and at one point, even food. Our table was also near the bar, which gave us the pleasure of listening to an obnoxious screechy-laughed lady who had too many glasses of wine.
However, we didn't let the atmosphere ruin our appetites. A started her meal with the "Pig Popcorn" ($5). Hopefully no one orders this expecting actual popcorn, because it is deep-fried pig skin. This was an annual treat from our childhood memory bank, as we always stopped to get a piping hot piece at a country fair in Northern Georgia. Barbuzzo's rendition was a little more classy. Tons of crunch (almost a bit too hard) and delicious smoky flavor, with the accompanying aioli providing a creamy kick of horseradish. A great snack to start with.
I really wanted to try the roasted marrow bones (still never tried marrow!) but A wasn't really feeling it, so I chose the chicken liver and foie gras mousse ($7)- still adventurous enough to keep me happy. This ended up being a real highlight of our meal. The mousse was incredibly dense, incredibly rich, and incredibly satisfying. The sweet tartness of the dried cherries added an extra dimension to the flavor. My one complaint? The bread was too toasted. I really would have liked some lightly toasted French bread instead of a dried up cracker. But really.. I'm being picky. The creamy, meaty mousse was so good I probably would have eaten it with a piece of cardboard.
The bread snafu was immediately remedied by the arrival of our vegetable board ($13). This long wooden plank offered up some soft, buttery grilled bread with the the perfect touch of toastiness. Unfortunately, this delicious bread was the star of the show. There were four different piles of cold seasonal vegetable "salads"; mushrooms, snap peas and white beans, sauteed eggplant, and a radish and beet concoction certainly provided an interesting assortment of vegetables. However, I think the fact that this dish is served cold made it easy to pick apart. The mushrooms were a little rubbery, the eggplant a little soggy, the snap peas a little stringy. Radishes and beets are too mild to pair together, at least in my opinion. If these veggies were served immediately after cooking, I think they would be terrific.
The dishes were coursed out well- at this point we had a little break to breathe, chat about the food, and anticipate our entrees. A's choice- the bucatini ($13)- was certainly worth anticipating. This thick housemade pasta was out of this world. Denser than your typical spaghetti, with an almost doughy bite, it was every pasta lover's dream (and I typically dislike pasta...). The sauce was sweet yet spicy, with a touch of lightly steamed escarole and a sprinkle of buttery burrata cheese. An additional depth to the sauce was provided by a little hunk of slow-cooked pork shoulder. While we wished there was a little more of the meat, it provided a hearty flavor that was much enjoyed. A and I compared the quality of the dish to that of our pasta experience at Vetri's Amis, with the added bonus of a bigger portion (totally sharable!) for the same price.
I opted to choose from the pizza section of the menu. The huge wood-burning oven gave a smoky-tinged bonfire aroma to the entire restaurant, and this was very well captured in the capricciosa pizza ($14). The dough was thinly spread, yet still maintained a chewy thicker outer crust (a pizza requirement in our household). The toppings were well chosen and incredibly high-quality- sweet San Marzano tomatoes, little piles of thinly shaved prosciutto, the perfect quantity of smoked mozzarella, soft bits of artichoke, and zesty, salty olives. Though we still think Zavino sells our favorite, Barbuzzo certainly knows what they're doing in the pizza department. A few leftover slices made for a great next-day snack.
I also had to try a side of the roasted brussels ($6). These seem to be a popular menu item, and I've enjoyed delicious renditions at both Sampan and Varga. Barbuzzo has a refreshing take on the dish- not overly cooked, with a good bit of crunch and a lot of that super fresh vegetable flavor- good for counteracting pasta and pizza. Some housemade pancetta, shaved caciocavallo cheese (like a mild parm), and a little crusty breadcrumb cap made the dish well worth the price. Again, great use of top-notch ingredients created something deliciously simple yet totally luxurious.
The dessert menu didn't have anything that screamed "you must eat me NOW!" so we topped of our dinner across the street at Capogiro. We spent quite awhile reminiscing about the meal and trying to decide what dish was our favorite. Narrowing it down to the bucatini and the mousse, perhaps we'll have to go back and have a second round trial to decide the real winner. Absolutely 100% without a doubt we recommend this restaurant- probably not good for first dates (a little loud) or big groups (a little cramped) but absolutely perfect for anyone craving a delicious meal with Italian influences.
110 S. 13th Street