The Menus of Madison County: Barbuto

  Despite recent proclamations to the contrary, we have just left the real world and returned to the gloriously fake one at Colgate. To celebrate our arrival and honor the epicurean civilization of our recent past, I am going to again travel outside of my typical geographic boundaries and take you to Barbuto (775 Washington Street at West 12th Street) in New York City.

To celebrate the arrival of 2010, we decided to venture down to the West Village for dinner at Barbuto on New Year’s Day. The restaurant occupies the ground floor of Industria Superstudios in a garage space. As glamorous as this sounds, Barbuto is actually a very cozy spot. The restaurant boasts an open kitchen, respectable (well-stocked) bar and brick oven that all contribute to an inviting and lively atmosphere. Two of Barbuto’s expansive walls are actually glass garage doors that, I have been told, open up in the summer time to transform the restaurant into an open-air space with an enviable amount of sidewalk seating.


For the time being though, the twenty-degree temperatures dictated that the doors remain closed. We were brought to our table in a corner where the two glass walls met, allowing for a good view of street action. White string lights festively adorned the walls and tea lights were placed on the tables and around the restaurant, creating a very attractive lighting scheme.


Barbuto is the creation of celebrity chef Jonathan Waxman, who made his name in California running the kitchen of Chez Panisse for Alice Waters in the late seventies. His roots in greenmarket cuisine are reflected in Barbuto’s simple Italian fare: the restaurant’s menu changes everyday according to seasonality and availability of local ingredients. With this kind of aggressive rotation, Barbuto is perfect for those of us with finicky palates as well as those environmentally conscientious granola eaters.


On this particular night, Barbuto’s menu reflected the season with offerings of rich pasta and meat. The four of us decided to split two appetizers after learning from our waiter that they were best family style. We decided on bruschetta (this actually refers to the grilled ciabatta bread, not the typical tomato topping) with fresh ricotta cheese garnished with sea salt and honey, as well as proscuitto with focaccia bread.


The appetizers were generously portioned and were a perfect start to our meal. The fresh, creamy ricotta was livened up with accents of crunchy sea salt and just the right amount of honey. We were free to heap the cheese on top of our bruschetta ourselves. The proscuitto was also an enticing, clean way to begin our meal. This plate of cured Italian ham was delicately sliced, taking on the appearance of a little girl’s pink hair ribbons. It was tender and did not suffer from over-salting. Its accompaniments of chewy ciabatta bread and crunchy olive bread sticks enhanced its flavor.


After this strong start, the expectations for our main meals were high. I settled on the grilled skirt steak with Parmesan butter. My dining companions chose pasta with pork and veal ragu, duck breast with a chunky applesauce, and scallops with grilled endive. We split a side of fagiole, white beans cooked lightly with pancetta and tomatoes. Our table was silent as we dug in. My steak was tender and flavorful on its own; the Parmesan butter pushed it into the realm of decadence. The ragu was boldly flavored with tomatoes, wine and huge hits of meat adorning homemade pasta; the duck was the most generous portion on the table and cooked medium-rare with a crispy skin – some at our table said it was the best they ever had.


The only dish that did not live up to its expectations was the scallops, which, though seared to perfection, paled in comparison to the mountain of duck that my other dining companion had. The fagiole were garlicky and salty, spiked with bits of pancetta, the perfect side dish to all our meals.


 Taking in our surroundings after we polished off our food, we were satisfied and ready for sleep. With simply prepared but delicious seasonal offerings, I was consoled by the fact that if I have to leave the fake world for the real one in May, at least there’s Barbuto.