Buca offers a seductive dining experience // Judge Foodie

Sampling the salumi di buca, tortelli and Scamorza pizza

By Kirsten Thompson

On Thursday April 12th, 2012


604 King St. W. (at Portland St.) | 416-865-1600 | buca.com

As soon as I walk through the door of Buca, the maitre’d makes smouldering eye contact and greets me. He also tells me I look lovely, which goes a long way towards scoring a good review. He shows me to my table, taking my coat, pulling out the chair, handing me the menu (again with the smouldering eye contact). As I sit down, he leans in and promises me that I am about to have a marvellous experience.

Well, a girl does love to be wooed…

At Buca, the entire evening can feel like a seduction — being drawn in by the flavours and aromas and the lovely young men who serve them. The food is Italian, the kind you would expect an Italian grandmother to make. Owned by Peter Tsebelis and Gus Giazitzidis (who also own Brassai and Jacobs & Co. Steakhouse), Buca’s kitchen is the domain of Rob Gentile, a Mark McEwan protégé.

The focus at Buca is on artisanal techniques, from bread-making to the in-house salumeria, and the menu is printed daily and reflects what meats, breads, and preserves have been made. Anyone hoping to impress the higher ups (especially hip higher-ups who enjoy good food) would do well to bring them here. The tables are well-spaced and the room lends itself to easy conversation, particularly the “so…about this partnership thing” types of conversation.

Buca is in the re-purposed boiler room of a heritage building and the exposed brick walls support a triple-height ceiling, with the space above lit by an array of filament light bulbs. There is a second room on the north side with more conventional dimensions; I would call it more intimate, but frankly, it’s dark. Seeing us struggling to read the menu, our waiter offered us a choice of mini flashlights for just this problem. I’m not sure if this is a new trend in Toronto restaurants, but if it is, it must stop now. Three times in the past two weeks I’ve been forced into enclaves so dark that patrons have had to read menus by the glow of their Blackberries. This is reprehensible. Word to the wise: if bringing clients or colleagues, request the south room when you make the reservation. If bringing a date, by all means, try your luck in the north room.

For an appetizer, we chose the salumi di buca, a choice of three or five meats with daily preserves (3/$18, 5/$28). All are good, but the standouts here were the venison prosciutto and, on another visit, salsicce ciociare (pork and fennel sausage, cured in-house). The olive ascolane (fried olives stuffed with sausage; $8) and nodini (warm bread knots with olive oil, rosemary, garlic and sea salt; $7) are also popular.

For the main, our waiter directs us to the tortelli (milk braised veal breast and porcini mushroom-filled pasta with sweet butter, ragu bianco toasted hazelnuts, rosemary, and fresh pregiato truffle). Our waiter is right — the tortelli is exquisite. We share, but with five tortelli on the plate, there is one left over; my companion doesn’t even ask before claiming it for herself, and she doesn’t look particularly apologetic. I can’t blame her.

There is pizza here, too, and Gentile’s rectangular format and blend of flours has succeeded in doing that rare thing: producing a pizza without a soggy core. My companion and I split the Scamorza  pizza (smoked local buffalo milk cheese, salumi di buca, cicoria and chili; $19) and it is soft, yet crispy, and with rich and bold flavours. The pizzas are served with large scissors for cutting which can seem gimmicky, but frankly, as someone who lives in fear of dislodging the entire pizza onto my companion’s lap, the scissors work.

Judge Foodie’s verdict:

Highs: The flavours, the south room, the salumeria, the staff

Lows: The dark (unless it’s date night)

Kirsten Thompson is a Toronto-based research lawyer and commercial litigator. Since her call to the bar in 2000, she estimates that her restaurant to courtroom ratio is approximately 14:1.