March 30, 2007 | BITE: My Journal
A Detour to Barbuto
If only there were a Barbuto in every zipcode. Photo: Steven Richter
Obviously the appetite for amplified tumult is a generational thing. The fierce decibels gens X,Y and Z thrive on are sheer torture to me and my boomer and avant-boomer pals. Still, I’ve always trekked down to cacophonous Barbuto because I love Jonathan Waxman’s rustic Italian ways, determined never to be more than four, so we can lean in and shout over the din.
It helps when milder evenings permit sliding the outside wall up and away, letting a measure of clash dissipate into the street. And frankly, I also appreciate a spot you can eat more than you mean to for $50 a person, tip and a glass of wine included.
The other day when Waxman was off opening a new venture with pals in Sebastapol, California – West County Grill - he told his staff to park our cranky six-some in the small private dining room I didn’t know existed - paradise with a window on the main bustle, so not at all claustrophobic. We didn’t even mind the parade passing through heading toward the loos once we got distracted by a generous toss of treviso with sieved egg, bread crumbs and anchovy dressing, and a platter of prosciutto and triangles of focaccia (gift of the house -- inevitable here where I make a reservation in my own name when I’m not reviewing and hope to crash the usually booked Barbuto.)
Give my guy, the Road Food Warrior, a menu offering razor clams and that’s what he’ll order. These alas, are huge and tough, too chewy for me. A mixed salad with toasted walnuts, smoked trout and the sweet tinge of its moscato wine dressing is typical of Barbuto’s offbeat ideas (Italian inspired and then what?), and it’s good. Tonight the spaghetti with spinach, pancetta, and charred red onion is a little soggy. A thicker noodle would be easier to keep al dente. My fussy gourmand guest doses it with salt, pepper, and more parmesan. That helps.
But I’m happy with the tagliatelle – egg noodles cut wide as pappardelle – scantily dosed (in the authentic Italian way) with duck ragu, a splash of Sicilian wine, and parmesan. The hanger steak with a few slow-roasted shallots tinged with valdeon (a Spanish blue cheese) is not exceptional, but good enough for my incurable carnivorean mate’s craving.
Our exuberantly enthusiastic waiter (“Don’t ask me, I love everything”) has warned us: the chicken, so carefully roasted in the brick oven, will be solo on its large oval plate. So we order sides: sautéed escarole and crispy potato cuts with garlic, herbs and a hit of vinegar. We linger, congratulating ourselves on being lucky enough to score this private (well almost) cubby…truly too full to even think of dessert. “The kitchen has sent you a selection of sweets,” the waiter says, setting down small plates of goodies, sensational raisin-studded olive-oil cookies, and another bearing a plop of seriously irresistible chocolate pudding. Oh, this is so bad for my reputation of not accepting gifts from restaurants. Truth is, I’ve known Jonathan too long and been a fan since he arrived in 1979 on East 79th Street at Jams. It’s easier to refuse an offered bottle of wine or after-dinner drink than cookies or a pizza. Last time at Barbuto it was a sensational pizza, not even on the menu. (Okay, enough disclosure.) We’ll leave a little extra tip.
775 Washington Street between Jane and West 12th 212 924 9700