Restaurant: Buca Osteria & Enoteca – Part 1/3
Last Visited: February 28, 2013
Location: Toronto, ON (King West)
Address: 602 King St West
Transit: King St West at Portland St
Phone: (416) 865-1600
Price Range: $30-50+ (Mains $25-35)
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!
- Since 2009
- Executive Chef Rob Gentile
- Upscale dining
- Italian chefs/staff
- Regional authentic Italian food
- Some Canadian-Italian food
- House cured meats/charcuterie
- Local meats
- Local favourite
- Hidden gem
- Award winning
- Tasting menu available
- Extensive wine list
- Reservations recommended
- Sunday 5 pm – 10 pm
- Mon-Thurs. 11:30 am – 3:00 pm, 5:00-10:00 pm
- Friday 11:30 am – 3:00 pm
- Saturday 5:00-11:00 pm
- Twitter: @bucatoronto
**Recommendations: Boulate (Sicilian dumplings), Parmigiana di Melanzane (fried eggplant), Anatra (duck breast carpaccio), Bigoli (duck egg pasta), Spaghetti al Nero di Maiale (pork blood pasta), salumi, Melanzane Al Cioccolato (sugared eggplant tart)
Dare I say it? I don’t know because it’s a bold statement, but it deserves it. It was for sure in my top 3 favourite restaurants I tried in Follow Me Foodie to Toronto (and I tried a lot of fantastic restaurants), but I’m going to go even further and say it’s one of my favourite Italian restaurants in Canada so far. There, I said it. It feels good too.
I would have easily found it through research, but there is no way I would have found it walking down the street. This is not a place you happen to pass by or stop in to check out, this is a place you plan for, and if you don’t make a reservation, you’ll likely be out of luck. It’s considered one of “Toronto’s Best Restaurants” and as much as I criticize “best” lists, I can fully understand why this one makes it on many.
The restaurant is tucked away in an alley way and it’s one of the city’s well known hidden gems. I felt like I was back in Italy looking for it since the “best restaurants” were always found off the main strip. This isn’t a characteristic of Toronto, but it was of Buca.
The size of the restaurant was unexpected and it was located inside a giant brick walled historic warehouse. The architecture was something out of the 17th century (or 16th century? I’m no architectural historian) and there was an authenticity to it that had my heart racing and appetite going. I’m not going to lie, but it kind of reminded me of the “Everybody” Backstreet Boys music video set. Anyway I was excited. It set a mood. There was a theme, and I could feel the energy as soon as I set foot inside.
Even more is that most (if not all) the staff had Italian accents and I felt like I was really in Italy again. The whole experience took me away and for a moment I forgot I was in Toronto. This was Italy away from Italy.
Buca Osteria & Enoteca has been raved by local and international media, Torontonians, tourists (who are lucky enough to find it), and even celebrity chefs like Jamie Oliver, who tweeted it as his “favourite meal of the year” (and he was dining with chef Derek Dammann).
I was given the recommendation by the talented Chef John Horne at highly acclaimed fine dining restaurant Canoe in Toronto. When I passed the name to my friend Nicki at View the Vibe, she confirmed it as her favourite restaurant too. I respect both these palates, so I made it a top priority.
I know I’ve hyped it up a lot and I really don’t want to do that, but I’m passionate about this restaurant. Being from Vancouver, BC I can say we don’t have anything like this as to why I valued it even more. I don’t want to keep playing that East Coast VS West Coast game (I actually kind of do), but if Vancouver puts Toronto’s Asian (specifically Chinese) food to shame, than Toronto puts Vancouver’s Italian food to shame. Each city is lucky enough to have options for both, but it’s all relative and the Italian influence is just stronger on the East Coast. Toronto has the larger Italian population, and their Italian food scene is more vibrant and authentic with way more options and resources for ingredients.
Buca specializes in regional Italian cuisine, and it is my favourite upscale authentic Italian dining experience I’ve had in Canada so far. It is not traditional fine dining, but it is sophisticated, sexy and refined. It is not necessarily romantic or intimate, but good for small or big groups and excellent for entertaining business affairs and guests.
While the food is authentic in spirit, it is made with local and global ingredients so the flavours are Italian, but also slightly Canadian. The cuisine and techniques are traditional, but the menu is inspired and modern with some innovative approaches while remaining true to its Italian roots. I use the word “authentic” lightly too, as I find it problematic – see here.
I was lucky enough to meet Executive Chef Rob Gentile who is the mastermind behind this epic dining experience. Everything is made from scratch, which is expected from restaurants of this caliber, but he takes it to another level. The bread, salumi, and pastas are house made and there is an expert approach to the craft. There are many restaurants making their own salumi that shouldn’t, and it’s an art most appreciated when taken seriously. Here, they know what they are doing and that concentration, passion and dedication is consistent in every dish.
The menu is fairly large and descriptive and perhaps a bit overwhelming. I wanted to order everything (no surprise), but ended up leaving it in chef’s hands with a couple requests that really caught my eye. For the size of the restaurant and the volume they do I was incredibly impressed with the quality delivered. The price is in the room and brand, but also for the expertly prepared food.
The care, detail and effort that went into each component made even the simplest dishes taste extravagant. There were many things I’ve had before, but trying them here made me feel like it was my first time. So many plates were unique to Buca and chef’s personal touches that they can’t be replicated even if copied. It was fancy without being finicky, and casual without being lazy.
Buca left a lasting impression and it’s one of those restaurants I will likely put on my itinerary every time I go back to Toronto now. That’s coming from someone who likes to always try something new too.
Note: MENU DEGUSTAZIONE Buca’s 8 course winter tasting menu $90 with wine pairings $150. Food photogrpahy credit to Nicki at View the Vibe.
On the table:
2010, Costaripa Castelline Groppello Valtenesi, Lombardy, Italy – It’s known as an elegant savoury red wine with flavours of sage and olive wood. It was great with the pasta courses and there was little acidity, some minerality, a touch of oak, medium body and a long finish.
- Spelt panella with pepperoncino and lime under Caciotta sotto sale (salty cheese).
- This was not on the menu and chef made it as an amuse bouche.
- If it was on the menu I would recommend ordering it though.
- Panella is a savoury Sicilian fritter (fried dough) traditionally made from water, chickpea flour and salt and pepper.
- This version was made with a mix of spelt flour, rice flour, and some saffron which is not traditional.
- There may have been fennel seed in the dough too, and it was aromatic and floral, but not overpowering.
- Traditionally Panella is served as is, as a street or market snack, and sometimes with a side of tomato sauce for dipping. These were fancy!
- It was topped with shavings of Caciotta Sotto Sale (salty cheese) which was aged for 1 month and flower petals.
- The cow’s milk cheese was made in house and it was mild, but salty and feathery soft.
- It was a very nutty, salty, sweet and zesty bite with pickled lime zest and juice.
- This took the “cheese and cracker” to another level.
- Fried dumplings with colonnata spiced lardo di buca ($7 a la carte)
- These are fried savoury dough puffs from Emilia-Romagna (Northern Italy) traditionally eaten with cured Italian meats (salumi).
- I haven’t even come across these outside of Europe and I didn’t even recognize them because they were so “done up”.
- The Gnocco Fritto was light and crisp and crusted in pistachio crumbs with a paper thin slice of melt in your mouth buttery lardo wilted over top.
- This was a housemade Lardo di Colonnata, which is not necessarily authentic if it is made outside of Colonnata, but it was still excellent.
- It is very ambitious to make Lardo di Colonnata because it can’t be easily replicated.
- Lardo di Colonnata is a highly prized lardo from Colonnata and I wish I knew more about it before I ate it.
- This lardo is made from a special breed of pigs from the Tuscan region.
- The fatback is cured in garlic rubbed white marble basins from the Alps (area known for its pristine marble).
- It cures and ages in caves and takes a minimum of 6 months to age and it requires no additives or preservatives.
- It is often spiced with rosemary, black pepper, cinnamon, and or cloves.
- The process to make this lardo is very technical, but the method has never changed since the Roman Age – see more here.
- It was all white, silky smooth, and basically pure fat so it was very rich and this was just enough.
- The Gnocco Fritto was really not the focus, the star of the show was the lardo even though it was made in house and not the “real deal”.
- It was an impressive house made Lardo di Colonnata and I just wish I had the real one to compare side by side.
- It was also served with a thick 5 year old balsamic vinegar on the side to cut the richness of the lardo.
- I used it sparingly because I really wanted to taste the lardo. I had the vinegar after.
- Sicilian dumplings, guanciale, brussels sprouts, pecorino crotonese ($10 a la carte)
- @$#%! I loved these! I wanted a full order of them, but I knew there was a lot more food coming.
- I’ve never tried these before and now I’m afraid to because these set the standard very high.
- Sicilian bread dumplings are like mini bread rolls. It was crispy on the exterior and then a bit chewy.
- If you like bacon and brussel sprouts, or bacon and cheese pizza, than this is a no brainer.
- I could taste salty ham, bacon, brussel sprouts and the sharp salty grated pecorino crotonese cheese on top.
- The fillings in the roll will vary, but this appetizer is easily liked by many palates.
- It was almost like a rolled flat bread pizza bite, but the flavours delivered beyond that concept.
- Warm bread knots with olive oil, rosemary, garlic and sea salt $6
- This is one of the house favourites and most popular appetizers, but unfortunately I couldn’t find the same love for them.
- Chef Gentile shared his recipe for his famous Nodini in the Toronto Star (here) and it is made with bread flour and semolina flour.
- It tasted exactly like the description and it just seemed like pizza dough baked fresh from the oven.
- They had a nice and crisp exterior, but I found the inside a bit dense, bready and chewy rather than soft or pillowy.
- I really wanted to love them, but they just didn’t do it for me and it was a bit ordinary.
- I expected the olive oil to be very fruity with a lingering spice from the antioxidants, but I didn’t get that either and it was just good.
- I love burrata (who doesn’t?), but it is hard for me to talk about it because I haven’t tried a burrata in Italy.
- Real Italian burrata has to be made in Italy and even Italian burratas we get in North America are not really the authentic kind.
- Technically, burrata “expires” the same day it is made, or is said to be best eaten within 24 hours of it being made.
- It can still be eaten after “expiry”, but this is not ideal.
- So if it needs to be exported to a far away country, then it’s not technically the fresh Italian burrata they eat in Italy.
- It is cream and fresh mozzarella wrapped up in solid mozzarella.
- It is then wrapped in leaves of asphode, but exported burratas are never wrapped in leaves and even in Italy they aren’t always wrapped in leaves.
- I have grown to love the “Italian burrata” served in North America despite it not being the “real deal”, so it is hard for me to appreciate the real version of it now. A bit sad, but true.
- This version could very well be closer to the real burrata found in Italy, but unfortunately I wouldn’t know and have yet to experience it.
- On the other hand I loved how Chef tied up the bundle with a white anchovy and that was brilliant despite it being non-traditional.
- I cut open the bundle and inside was a mixture of mozzarella scraps, herbs and cream, but more mozzarella chunks/curds than cream.
- They weren’t squeaky cheese curds, but pieces of mozzarella and it was a crumbly stuffing.
- The cream should have been buttery and rich (burrata meaning “buttered”), but it was on the runny and watery side so I wasn’t as keen.
- It is a great way to use up mozzarella scraps and I was happy to see nothing wasted, but it wasn’t my style of burrata although I appreciate the effort.
- The first time I tried a housemade burrata was actually in Vancouver at Cento Notti – see here.