Phew!!! It's been a hectic couple of weeks of travel--hectic enough to throw us a bit off schedule. We missed last week's post altogether and an now suddenly we come to the beginning of another month so time for an installment of NYC FINE/DINING...lucky us, I say, lucky us...Barbuto's has just shot to the top of my list for my next trip to NYC. Read on and you don't agree...
Old garage doors create a unique atmosphere whether they are closed to the elements or open for warm days. (Photo courtesy of the New York Times)
Jonathan Waxman is credited by many as being the first chef to introduce the farm-fresh flavors, daily-changing menus, and casual elegance of California-style cuisine to New York City. His first and iconic restaurant Jam's opened in 1983 on the Upper East Side, exposing New Yorkers to a lighter, fresher side of French cooking new to the East Coast. Coming from the kitchens of pioneers of this new American food movement, such as Alice Waters' Chez Panisse in Berkeley and Michael McCarty's restaurant Michael's in Los Angeles, Waxman earned his own fame by applying their philosophies to the bounty of NYC's surrounding farmland.
After various other fleeting restaurant projects, Waxman shifted gears, realizing that his love of Italian cuisine had much in common with the ingredient-driven California cooking he had built his reputation off of. Opening Barbuto in 2004, it's still clear ten years later that Waxman has hit a home-run with this family-friendly, rustic Italian bistro.
The star of the menu, roasted chicken with salsa verde, is served in rustic portions meant for you to get your hands dirty with.
The corner restaurant in Chelsea was converted from an old garage, and the upward-sliding doors were left intact, allowing for them to be raised on sunny days and breezy summer nights, creating a delightful industrial-chic, covered porch atmosphere. During the chillier months, the doors are closed but lots of windows still allow for a great street view. The interior is quite simple, with painted white brick walls and lots of open door frames. The comfortable bar has a small selection of well-chosen cocktails and beers accompanied by a much larger wine list.
The star of the menu at Barbuto is the roast chicken. Deep in flavor and succulence and topped with a simple salsa verde, it's hard to believe how straightforward the preparation is. Simply coated with olive oil, salt, and pepper, the chickens are roasted in Barbuto's unique oven, which has a steel exterior and brick interior, creating many temperature variations inside. Cranking out dozens of sublime birds every day, the oven and it's skilled operator are clearly visible from the dining room. Only a low wall separates the tiny kitchen from diners, part of an open floor plan that creates a fun and boisterous atmosphere.
Delicata squash accompany tender seared gnocchi in this hearty dish.
Though the menu at Barbuto changes often, you can always count on favorites like the chicken to be available. The potatoes (smashed, fried, and tossed with pecorino and rosemary) that used to be served alongside the chicken at Jam's are now a side dish at Barbuto, but well worth ordering with your poultry. Brussels sprouts are a refreshing way to start your meal, shaved raw and made into a coleslaw with pecorino, lemon, and hazelnuts. The gnocchi, seared on one side so that the fluffy knobs have a delightful variance of textures, are served with delicata squash in a voluptuous sauce, and are a stunning and hearty execution of the fall season. I also recommend the swordfish, a whole filet served atop a bed of sauteed Tuscan kale, roasted tomatoes, and raisins.
The warm apple crostata comes with a heap of delicious cinnamon gelato.
Dessert was simple and satisfying. Among offerings such as affogato, biscotti, and cannoli, I opted for the two most composed dishes on the list. The chocolate budino was a pudding just richly dark enough to not be heavy, with a dollop of whipped cream and two biscotti ears poking out. And though I wished the warm apple crostata had been a bit bigger to match the giant scoop of cinnamon gelato on top, it was a perfectly delicious fall treat to end our meal.
Chocolate budino brings back the best of childhood.
Barbuto's lively atmosphere makes it versatile, a great place for practically any occasion: family outings, business lunches, or meeting friends. They also have two semi-private dining rooms that allow you to have your own space while not being completely cut off from the fun of the main dining room. It's worth a trip to experience the food of a legendary chef that won't rob your wallet. Let's be honest, it's worth it just for roast chicken like you've never had before. But if you'd like to try and make it at home, the recipe is no secret; you can find it right here: Barbuto's Roast Chicken Recipe.
775 Washington St.
Mon-Fri: Lunch & Dinner
Sat-Sun: Brunch & Dinner
Appetizers: $13 - $15
Pastas & Entrees: $19 - $28