Did New York need another ingredient-driven Italian restaurant, where the base elements are so good the food practically cooks itself? We didn't think so, until we had a killer meal at Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria, the salumeria-trattoria spin-off of its slightly more formal sister restaurant Il Buco. The real question is: where do you start?
Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria
When we last checked in on Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria's gelato, we said of it: "We found ourselves reminded of Meredith Kurtzmann's gelato at Otto, and that is the very highest gelato compliment we can give." But that was about it. So we were overdue for a full report. I'll give it to you straight: this stuff is legit. Top gelato in the city? That depends on your tastes. Top 10? Definitely. Top 5? Probably.
With his burly physique, shaved head, and cauliflower ears, Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria's head baker looks like the wrong kind of guy you'd want to meet down a back alley in Bordeaux. And you'd be right: as a youth in France, Kamel Saci was a professional judo champion. But in his basement bakery, a completely different side to his personality comes out. For Kamel, dough is not an opponent to be beaten into submission; it responds best to a minimum of handling, the gentler the better. The results show his techniques work. Il Buco's ovens produce some of the crustiest and most flavorsome artisan loaves in the city.
Sardines and stuzzicchino, a spicy marinated vegetable mix, are enveloped in pillowy bread made in-house. The stuzzicchino, almost an Italian take on salsa, is made with chili flakes, eggplant, and other assorted vegetables, and added serious heat to the sandwich, which was nicely counterbalanced by the mild sardines.
A few things to note at Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria. First, they offer bomboloni now! They're $2 each and you can find them at the pastry counter alongside fruit foccacia and olive oil cake.
"With the new spring cocktail list there's a big change in terms of seasonality, of course—things that are lighter, more refreshing—but also a philosophical shift where we're focused on making drinks that are more cohesive with the food," explains Sean Kelly, bar manager at NoHo's Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria.
I stop by Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria on a weekly basis for gelato (a frequent rotation of flavors keeps things fun), but that doesn't mean you should overlook their other sweet bites. In particular, this Fruit Focaccia ($3.50).
Just barely an inch in height, it's plush with a fine crumb and that slightly crunchy texture from polenta, the overall cake only faintly sweet. It comes brushed in orange marmalade and thin slices of orange, rind and all. Morning or afternoon, practically perfect when devoured warm with a pot of tea.
Meet Bernardo Flores. He's the master butcher at Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria, the Italian market and restaurant that's continued to impress us with the breadth of its breakfast, bread, dinner, dessert, and charcuterie. I got to watch Bernardo in action as he made fresh sausage, dry salumi, and other cured items of deliciousness from several hundred pounds of hogs. Take a look inside to see.