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The Great Buca Di Beppo debate

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My 2c on the Buca Di Beppo debate

OK, first a disclaimer and credentials: I am an official LA chowhound. I will drive anywhere on a Saturday or Sunday for a new recommended restaurant experience. Short list: I particularly love Soot Bull Jeep, Wat Thai (the papaya salad lady on saturday), Dino's chicken, La Super Rica in Santa Barbara, Loteria and Singapore Banana Leaf in Farmers Market. I am highly suspicious of chain restaurants. I love trying new foods and shopping at Trader Joe's is a fun experience for me. Really.

Having said that, >I like Buca!< and I don't understand the bad rap the place gets from most people on the board. The pasta I've ordered has always been cooked al dente (even, surprisingly, at the Citywalk location-- though I've been to Redondo Beach and Pasadena as well). Rigatoni Positano is my favorite--it's like a baked ziti dish (well, rigatoni actually) with grilled chicken, grilled eggplant and melted mozzarella in a red sauce. Sometimes I'll buy a tray of it and serve it on Sunday Sopranos night to my friends with TJ's chianti. Sure, it's a simple dish, but it's full of flavor because the sauce is thick and robust and the chicken has been seasoned/grilled nicely. It's a basic dish, well prepared-- and as any chef can tell you, it's always possible to screw up even a basic dish (for instance by watering down the sauce and steaming or not seasoning the chicken). Buca's preparation always tastes right.

The "per due" chicken parmesan with stuffed shells is really nice as well-- the ricotta has a spicy fennel/anise kick to it that adds a lovely and surprising flavor.

Sure the ambiance is all kitsch, but I find it charming as long as I try to forget that it has been planned by corporate overlords and not somebody's Italian mother in law. Kind of like when I visit Disneyland, it's easy for me to forget about Michael Eisner and have a good time anyway.

On the other side of the Italian chain restaurant spectrum, I feel that The Olive Garden is utter shite. How they manage to wash all the character out of a cuisine that is so full of flavor is beyond me.

I simply don't understand why Buca gets such a bad rap on this board. The food is basic but it tastes good and is well prepared, so what's the problem?

Mr. Taster

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  1. I also find their Rigatoni Positano very tasty and also enjoy their spicy arabbiata pizza. In fact, I enjoyed both a couple of nights ago while watching Sopranos season 4 on DVD!

    This is just my 3rd day back from a 3 week honeymoon in Italy. No disrespect to the high priced and highly acclaimed Italian restaurants in LA or New York, but for about $40, you can have a meal there (a nice bottle of regional wine included) that would just blow your mind. It's hard for a chowhound to ever say "it's the best I've ever had in my life"...but the seafood pasta dish I had off the coast of Amalfi was THE BEST seafood pasta dish I've ever had in my life. Amazing.

    Beautiful country...and their food is even more so.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Afty

      First of all, and most importantly, CONGRATULATIONS AFTY! Blessings and good wishes to you and your new spouse.

      I have been reading the various posts about Buca di Beppo with much interest. I too think the place gets a bad rap. I was just there Saturday night and got my favorite dish there - the previously mentioned Rigatoni Positano. As mentioned earlier, the pasta is always (in my experience at least) al dente, and the sauce is very tasty, not too salty or sweet, nor too watery (all characteristics of poor sauces in my opinion). The chicken pieces are good and the eggplant always imparts a nice flavor and is abundant in quantity. I have been to the Anaheim and Huntington Beach locations, both are consistent with no noticeable differences in quality or taste. No, Buca is not sophisticated dining, but some of the dishes are very tasty in my opinion. It is what it is - I don't think all of the crticism it receives is wholly justified.

      By the way, I too spent three weeks in Italy (last year). The three best dishes that stand out in my memory are penne in a light cream sauce that had been flavored with fresh orange juice and orange zest (Rome), lasagna made with fresh pesto and bechamel sauce (Cinque Terre), and deep fried artichoke hearts (Rome). Honorable mention goes to ziti topped with a duck ragu that I got at an Autogrill next to the highway (the Autogrills could be a whole seperate thread - amazing).


      1. re: Afty

        It's not Italy, but next time you're in the mood for seafood pasta, go to Buca's Redondo location and ask for the linguine cartoccio. This is NOT a red sauce. It's a lemon-olive oil-garlic sauce that is light and wonderful. All the seafood is very fresh. We've had this dish about 50 times, no kidding, and we've never been disappointed.

      2. I have been exactly once, at the Universal City Walk location and I did post about it here. It was for my niece's birthday and it was her choice of restaurant.

        I found some of the food fine, the dish you mentioned and the pizza and something else that I am blanking on at the moment. The veal marsala was really pretty bad, almost not edible.

        But the main thing was that our waitress was a complete and total crackup. She had the whole back room where we were sitting with maybe 3 other groups roaring with laughter.

        This is the one time when the actor/actress wait person is a good thing because she was doing her shtick and was also getting the order right and the food out. So I enjoyed my visit. Would I go out of my way to visit Buca? No. But I would not be afraid to go back.

        1. You raise some good points, Mt. Taster. For one thing, different restaurants/experiences are suitable for different occasions and different gatherings of people.

          I've been to Buca's twice and didn't care for the food. But if we all agreed, there'd be no Chowhound and that would not be a good thing.

          As for Italian chains, I've been to Romano's Macaroni Grill in several parts of the country and always enjoyed it. Adventurous? Decidedly not. But it's a place most people will go (as opposed to, say, Tacos Baja Ensenada, which is too authentic and in too authentic a neighborhood (if I may put it that way)) for most non-Hounds.

          Most of us don't associate exclusively with Hounds so we look for places we can enjoy and the non-Hounds can, too!

          5 Replies
          1. re: Dorothy

            Re: Tacos Baja Ensenada... I've been there twice for the fish tacos. The first time they were so-so, and the beef quesadilla was delicious. The second time, the fish tacos were fantastic, and the beef quesadilla was greasy and unpalatable.

            Now I've gotta to back for the tiebreaker!

            Mr. Taster

            1. re: Dorothy

              I've always steered clear of Macaroni Grill (without having tried it, mind you) precisely because of my suspicion of chain restaurants-- but primarily because of the sorts of places it shows up (like Wal-Mart shopping centers, right next to the TGIFridays and Applebees), whereas Buca tends to show up in more neighborhood-y locations (minus Citywalk of course).

              What is the consensus here? If MG is decidedly better than Buca, I'll give it a shot.

              Also, what are some top notch hound-y red sauce Italian places in LA that you would consider leagues above Buca? (I attempted Vitello's but a high intensity fight broke out in the lobby between an owner and a customer and I left before being seated)

              Mr. Taster

              1. re: Mr. Taster

                You got lucky with Vitello!
                Buca's Pasadena location is across the street from Twin Palms in the heart of Old Town, while the Valencia location is across the street from movie theaters, Johnny Rockets and Poquito Mas and BJ's Pizza, and just down the block from the Valencia Mall. Not exactly neighborhoods. Macaroni Grill is owned by Brinker International, who also brings you Chili's, Maggiano's, On the Border, among others, and has credit up the ..., and landlords love that for the Wal-Mart shopping center venues, as opposed to the lesser, yet very good, credit of Buca. Just an economics thing. Encino was one of the first locations in So. Calif., and they took what they could find, and it does well, and is more neighborhoody, by comparison.

                1. re: Mr. Taster

                  I like Macaroni Grill. Yes, it's a chain, but it's a good one. An added plus is that it is within walking distance from my place of residence.

                  I like just about everything on their menu (Shrimp Portofino and their Meat Loaf lunch especially). The food and the atmosphere is more modern and crisp, when compared to Olive Garden, which I don't like at all (save for their Zuppa Toscana - the only thing I would order if I get dragged there).

                  1. re: Mr. Taster

                    I prefer Macaroni Grill. The food is much better, though by no means fine dining. The bread is decent and fresh, the house chianti was not swill (which it was at Buca), and the food, though still in gigantic proportions, is less greasy and cheesy.

                    The atmosphere of Buca was too much for me. There were people yelling as loud as they could, trying to talk, an no one could hear each other. We were in the Pope room, and though I am no Catholic, I found it sacreligious to eat with a statue of the Pope on the table.

                    To me, there is a line between a fun hubbub and screaming chaos, and Buca crosses that line.

                2. It's not a regular dining destination of mine, but under the right circumstance does the job. I ate at the Encino location back a few years ago for a wedding rehearsal dinner. The atmosphere was lively and fun for a large, loud, diverse celebratory group of people. While the food wasn't a gourmet dining experience, it wasn't terrible either and the staff was very accomadating.

                  1. Buca's food is not totally terrible, kind of a low rent Marcaroni Grill, which is ten steps better than Olive Garden. Still it's corporate chain food, flavor coming from too much salt and heavy cheese. The atmosphere is way too contrived for me. I just have something against happy birthday singing at restaurants.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: Peter

                      Couldn't agree less. Macaroni Grill is for Iowans who don't eat garlic and like their pasta cooked soft. We ate there once and it was so bad we couldn't eat 1/2 of our dinner. My husband and I can eat enough for 6 people at Buca because the food is so good. Try the Redondo Beach location, and order the linguine cartoccio. You won't be disappointed. Perhaps you are ordering the wrong things.

                      1. re: di4cats

                        I could suggest the same to you about ordering the wrong things at Macaroni Grill. That being said, I would pick Romano's over Bucca anyday of the week.
                        Not only for the food but at least the tasteful ambience. I would also pick Maggiano's over Bucca.

                        1. re: di4cats

                          Mr. Tasty's post on the gen board linked this thread. Interesting debate. Can't really comment on the food as I've never been. If I was going out for Italian we have a large Italian population with dozens of family run Restaurants that produce excellent food. Sometimes the pasta is el dente, and you can even get garlic if you ask.
                          Iowans who don't eat garlic and like pasta cooked soft. Gimme a break. We don't talk about people in LA eating organic dirt and buying oxygen at a bar.

                          1. re: Bobfrmia


                            You're right. We have enough bad food to insult without insulting each other.

                      2. The food isn't very tasty, but it's decent. I like it better than olive garden.

                        This is a great group restaurant. I can feed 20 people for like 150 bucks and everyone's more than happy.

                        1. Part of the problem is the portion sizes. Each entree is large enough for 3-4. If you are a couple and want different things, you either have to negotiate on some common ground, or order waaaaaay too much food to accommodate your tastes of that moment. Thus the bill gets right up there, and yet for the same $17 or thereabouts entree price you could go to almost EVERY decent local Italian restaurant and get better food, and get exactly what you want. Then there is the happy birthday noise factor - by itself enough to never return. I know it is meant to be a party/festive place, but so is ChuckyCheese, yet another gourmet noise feast disguised as a restaurant.
                          And these thoughts do not even take into account the quality of the food. If you follow the "keep it simple, stupid" axiom, it can be palatable, but why, unless the party is the thing! Yet 2 more cents heard from.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: rmc

                            The 'per due' option per my introductory post was recently introduced. It's a limited menu selection for $20 for 2 people.

                            What places would you recommend?

                            Mr. Taster

                          2. Buca di Beppa, Domino’s, Old Spaghetti Factory, Maggiano’s Little Italy, Romano’s Macaroni Grill, Olive Garden, Pizza Hut, Sbarro, & Louise’s. With a side of Panera, the total Chef Boyardeezation of Italian cooking as we love it is near.

                            Get thy houndly selves to Vito, La Buca, Giovanni’s Trattoria, Alto Palato, Girasole, Amalfi, Vitello, Guido’s, & Trattoria Farfalla before it’s too late.

                            16 Replies
                            1. re: Mr Grub

                              Let's be honest and please try to shed the chowish elitism. Rating Buca with the corporate factory processed "Chef Boyardee" foods of Pizza Hut, Olive Garden and Domino's is simply unfair. Comparing a Pepsico-Globex owned restaurant with a comparatively small semi-national chain like Buca is like comparing McDonalds to In-N-Out burger. (Yes I know In-N-Out is a family-owned CA-AZ chain, but the comparison is valid for the point I'm trying to make.)

                              By the way, when was the last time your Chef Boyardee was served al dente? ;-)

                              Mr. Taster

                              1. re: Mr. Taster

                                Now, now, Mr. T., take a breath … think about, um, wildebeests.

                                We Grubs are troubled about the homogenization – the dumbing down – of ethnic foods generally & in my post Italian food specifically. While some of the chains I mentioned may be relatively better than others – as you believe Buca di Beppo is – all are slipping down the slope of Mt. Boyardee toward a mass-produced mediocre national palate.

                                I encourage you, & all fellow hounds, to patronize restaurants where an owner/manager/chef takes pride in creating dishes of individual distinction. My quick list of suggested Italian restaurants – of varying styles – are merely examples of places that seem to appeal to diners with discerning palates.

                                1. re: Mr Grub

                                  This is turning into a different debate... but just to weigh in, I am also quite concerned also about the homogenization of ethnic foods to the American palate and the corporate stranglehold that is on the average American (I went to school in the Midwest where I knew many people who believed Taco Bell was Mexican). But I also feel that immense strides towards cuisine authenticity have been taken over the past 15-20 years, and that authentic cuisine options are now widely available in ways that simply didn't exist for previous generations.

                                  Having said that, the basic red sauce Sicilian immigrant style cuisine has not been dumbed down for the American palate to nearly the same degree as, for example, Chinese has been. Historically in New York City, their style of Chinese was created by Chinese immigrants to accomodate Irish and Italian tastes, and while is delicious, it in no way represents the authentic Hong Kong style seafood you can get in the San Gabriel valley or Monterey Park.)

                                  Or if you take the authenticitiy debate to Mexican cuisine, think about how in the 1970's, people in LA had Tito's Tacos as their haven for "Mexican" food, which is clearly bland, flavorless and hardly authentic. Where I grew up in New Jersey, we would occasionaly make "Mexican" tacos (old el paso taco dinner kit with the crunchy corn shells) I remember not hearing about "soft" tacos until my first visit to a taco bell when I was a teenager, and thought it was something "new". Of course moving to Los Angeles helped me along in my discovery of authentic ethnic cuisines, but as with so many other trends the rest of the country is slowly but surely adopting to California's culinary rediscovery of authentic foods.

                                  I'm from New Jersey (a red sauce Italian mecca-- and where I grew up, there was nary a Tuscan trattoria to be found) and even though I was from a (non-practising) Jewish family, when we would venture out to eating "ethnic" cuisines, it was always Chinese or Italian. We never dreamed of cooking Chinese food at home (maybe the terrible "La Choy" brand). But Italian-- my Jewish mom was (and still is) excellent at making.

                                  Bottom line... I simply do not feel that Sicilian red sauce Italian cuisine was bastardized the way Chinese and Mexican cuisines were. Evidence of this is found for example in the fact that real Italian pizza is virtually the same as the kind of pizza you find in New York. (I know you're screaming Domino's!! right now, but I can't even begin to lump terrible fast food chains in with legitimate restaurants, even if they are part of a chain. Dominos is to Italian cuisine what Taco Bell is to Mexican. They're *not*.) Buca is an unpretentious, real red sauce immigrant Italian in the style found more often in New York than LA (minus the kitsch). The food is flavorful and filling and tastes like home. What more could you ask for?

                                  Mr. Taster

                                  P.S. I really would like to hear your favorite Los Angeles red sauce Italian restaurants!

                                  1. re: Mr. Taster

                                    One really nice "red sauce" Italian restaurant right around the corner from the Pasadena Buca di Beppo is La Fornaretta. 39 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena 626-585-9088

                                    On the westside, I like Antica Pizzeria (13455 Maxella Ave., Marina del Rey 310-577-8182), which is more Neopolitan than Sicilian, but still satisfies for southern Italian food. Excellent pizzas and really delicious seafood marinara.

                                    Also, both outlets of Alejo's make homey, delicious, and affordable versions of classic NY/American style "red sauce" Italian food. 4002 Lincoln Blvd., Marina del Rey, 310-822-0095; and 8343 Lincoln Blvd., Westchester 310-670-6677.

                                    1. re: DanaB

                                      I would add Casa Bianca to this list, especially for their pizza. Aside from that, red sauce based Italian food is, IMHO, quite boring. Maybe it's because that's the kind I was raised on, but its flavor really isn't as interesting as offering from other parts of Italy. Btw, I have eaten at BdB, in Irvine. Hideous decor, loud and obnoxious people, and so-so food (and way too much of it --no wonder people are fat).

                                      Mr. Taster...I have a question. You wouldn't happen to be employed by Buca di Bepo, or it's corporate owner, would you? You really seem to be promoting it beyond what is normal on this board and seem to be quite defensive while doing it.

                                      1. re: Cynthia

                                        Employed by Buca??!!

                                        Search for my other postings. I think you'll find the majority of them just as enthusiastic as this one.

                                        That's part of what being a chowhound is all about... enthusiasm and passion for food.

                                        Mr. Taster

                                        1. re: Mr. Taster

                                          I guess those of us who love Buca are just very enthusiastic! I suggest you try something other than a tomato based dish. Buca has many, and they aren't boring. I hate Macaroni Grill and Olive Garden. Buca isn't in the same category. Try the pizza or the linguine cartoccio (not on menu, you have to ask for it). I find their southern Italian immigrant cooking to be always fresh, inventive, and full of garlic and spice, just the way I like it. Maybe I'm crazy, but I enjoy a Buca meal better than I liked Valentino's, where I was hugely disappointed. Not that one can compare the two, of course :-)

                                    2. re: Mr. Taster

                                      Italian cuisine is NOT "eggplant, chicken, and rigatoni casserole". Italians that came to the U.S. early needed to adapt to the lack of ingredients here, hence the cuisine that your'e familiar with. i.e. philly cheese steak is a delcious creation by italian-americans but is not Italian food. ask anybody who has/or whose family has come here more recently.
                                      Home-cooked Italian food is: healthy, filled w/different vegetable and legume preparations, and low in animal fat. That is not what you're eating in those restaurants.

                                    3. re: Mr Grub

                                      I agree with Mr. Grub! I have the same horror every time I walk into an Indian restaurant and find mostly mall type food, which they bring out suspiciously fast. I agree that it's especially frustrating that Italian food, which at its core is based on simple, fresh ingredients, has become so homogenized.

                                      I used to love that at Il Capricio on Vermont, you'd see Tony, the owner, cooking what you ordered AFTER it was ordered. He even had a strong Italian accent. Unfortunately, ownership has changed. However, if you want the fun, cheesy, simple, huge portions and wine from a cup sort of place, better to at least patronize independent restaurants like Palermo on Vermont or C&O Trattoria on Washington in Marina del Rey.

                                      1. re: aparna

                                        Il Capriccio's ownership may have changed, but it's still owned by a local family who are Italian (Sicilian, I believe). In my several visits there since the change, I've found the food to be as good as previously, and the new owners just as welcoming and friendly. Give it another try if you've been staying away since the sale.

                                    4. re: Mr. Taster

                                      I'm with Grub here. I think Buca's food is poor and on par with the other places he mentioned. Never enjoyed anything I've eaten there. You obviously disagree, which is fine. But I have as much right to say the food is terrible at Buca's as you have to say it tastes good. It's not a matter of elitism, it's a matter of taste and opinion.

                                      I can say that I've had a good time at Buca, due to being in the company of good friends and the party atmosphere.

                                      An SF hound who has unfortunately been to several Bucas in the bay area and L.A., including the Citywalk location.

                                      1. re: Mr. Taster

                                        Gotta agree with Mr. T- on both the specific and general issues.

                                        In specific, I think that Buca has very good food for its category and the atmosphere/experience is great. (In Pasadena, for example, it is clearly better than Carmine's, Charlie's Trio, South Lake Italian Kitchen, and Manny's Pizza for starters, all of which are Mom & Pop places as far as I know. La Fornaretta, as another poster suggested, is far better although I'm not sure it's in the same category because it's not geared to large groups and special occasions.) At Buca I especially like the lemon chicken dish, the garlic mashed potatoes, and the pizzas.

                                        As to the general issue, I take seriously the board's philosophy as articulated by Jim, which is very clearly against the kind of elitism that is annoyingly prevalent here.

                                        I wish those like Mr. Grub woud consider Roger Ebert's theory of 'generic criticism'. You don't compare Airplane! to Casablanca, you compare it to other slapstick comedies.

                                      2. re: Mr Grub

                                        By the way, some cursory internet research revealed that several of the Italian restaurants you recommended are not red sauce Italian/Sicilian immigrant food as Buca is... are you familiar with Buca's menu or are you summarily dismissing it because it is a chain? It's okay if you are, just be honest so we know where you're coming from. As you know, Northern Italian cooking is drastically different than the sort of Southern Italian immigrant food that Buca serves and it is unfair to compare the two styles. They are different cuisines entirely.

                                        It would be very helpful to know what your top no-frills, high quality red sauce Italian places are that could directly compete with Buca in terms of style, type and quality of food. To start-- any place with white tablecloths and multiple forks doesn't count.

                                        Mr. Taster

                                        1. re: Mr. Taster

                                          I completely agree, Mr. Taster!

                                        2. re: Mr Grub

                                          Beg to differ, but Buca is NOT in the same class as Olive Garden or Macaroni Grill. Perhaps some locations are better than others. The one in Redondo Beach is outstanding. We've never had a bad meal, and the decor is so silly it makes us laugh!

                                          1. re: Mr Grub

                                            WELL DONE!!! Mr.Grubster

                                          2. Hope you don't mind if an Neopolitan-Italian-American in Chicago weighs in on this Minnesota chain. Even "for what it is," Buca is simply nasty. I base that on a handful of consistently horrid meals at outposts in Tampa, San Diego, and here, in Chicago. (All gatherings for work, birthdays, etc., where I had no say in the matter.) And the "atmosphere" is so stupidly stereotypical that even I -- someone who never understood the beef Italians have with the Sopranos or the supposed glorification of gangsterism going back to Al Capone -- feel a tinge of indignation when I walk into "the Pope room" or see another big photo of dark ragazzacci clutching their genitals as a blonde walks by. Whenever someone around here wants to go to Buca (or to the Chicago-born Maggiano's, much, much better but still not worth visiting), I try to send them to one of the wonderful, old-school red-sauce places that still exist here and, for better or worse, served as inspiration for the caricature "homestyle Italian" chains.

                                            1. You are not alone! My husband and I love Buca so much, for several years, we'd eat there every weekend, and I gained about 10 lbs! And I am a true chowhound! Our favorite dish is not even on the menu, but they will make it for you if you request it: Linguine cartoccio. This is a huge, foil-wrapped platter of al dente linguine topped with super-fresh mussels, shrimp, clams, calamari, thin lemon slices, in a fabulous garlicky lemony, olive oil based sauce, spiced perfectly with a generous sprinkling of red pepper flakes. They bake it and it is scrumptious. We have yet to find a better seafood pasta anywhere! We also love the 1896 salad (I think that's what it's called). A huge Italian salad with delicious meats and every antipasto favorite imaginable. The dressing is a simple olive oil and vinegar that doesn't overpower. The pizzas are also extraordinary if you like thin-crusted pizzas. The pepperoni with pepperocini is heaven on earth. Huge home-made pepperoni.

                                              1. I have eaten at Buca several times (birthday parties, etc.) and have always been disappointed by the food. Everything sort of tastes the same. The food is too salty and the desserts are too sweet. It never tastes fresh. I finally made a vow never to return, no matter what the occasion.

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: Maureen

                                                  Would you really miss a birthday or other celebration just because it's at Buca??

                                                  1. re: JJ

                                                    Count me out. I can live without the headache.

                                                2. I happen to know that Buca di Beppo is one of Merrill Schindler's favorite restaurants, and Merrill's no slouch. Take that, you Buca bashers!

                                                  3 Replies
                                                  1. re: di4cats

                                                    Hi di4cats...

                                                    While I appreciate your enthusiastic support, you should know that Merrill Schindler is the editor of the Zagat guide for LA, and if you've read the FAQ for chowhound.com, this is most definitely an anti-Zagat zone...!

                                                    Just trying to help you keep your street cred...

                                                    Mr. Taster

                                                    1. re: Mr. Taster

                                                      I used to listen to Merrill's radio show and I like him - he's not a snob. But I agree with Chowhounds about Zagat. I don't understand either why Buca gets such a bad rap on here. I can understand people not liking the atmosphere, and can also understand if the only dishes they've tried are tomato-based pastas because they are boring by nature, but I defy anyone who likes seafood pasta to say they don't like the linguine cartoccio. We go for that and the salads. Great lemon chicken, and excellent thin-crusted pizza also. We just block out the noise and eat to our hearts' content.

                                                      1. re: di4cats

                                                        I've really enjoyed this debate. I could take or leave BDB, I've been there once and even that deal that they have for two people is too much food. We didn't like what we had but we liked the garlic bread. We've always contended it would be a fun place for a party.

                                                        Personally, I don't feel like one should be required to "block out the noise" when paying for a dining experience. For me, atmosphere is a good sized part of what makes a dining experience and I'm not saying that I only go to places with fancy decor but I don't close my eyes when I eat either.

                                                  2. Hi Mr Grub--

                                                    I'm still very curious as to hear your recommendations for red sauce traditional immigrant Sicilian cooking in Los Angeles.

                                                    I really am curious as to where you're coming from on this debate, and if innovation is your true criteria to knowing whether a restaurant is worth your spending time at. You say that you want to preserve traditional authenticity in cuisines but you have yet to weigh in on this particular style of cuisine.

                                                    If you feel that this style of cooking is pedestrian, I'd like to know. Or if you dismiss all peasant cooking of all cultures, that's ok, I'm just curious to know your philosophy.

                                                    If you do enjoy the aforementioned style of traditional Sicilian immigrant cooking, then please post your recommendations below!


                                                    Mr. Taster

                                                    10 Replies
                                                    1. re: Mr. Taster

                                                      The Grubaroni, too, is an immigrant from NJ. Had I weighed in on the What Kind of Restaurants Is L.A. Missing? thread a while back, I would have lamented the surprising lack of (are there any?) decent gloppy red-sauce Sicilian joints in LA neighborhoods. The Grubbas used to semi-satisfy that Jones at Pinnochio & Bruno’s on the Westside, Anna Maria’s Mid-City, & Little Joe’s (the foreboder of Buca di Beppo) Downtown. None great, but had the feel.

                                                      Among those affordable, individually run restaurants I listed, Vitello, Guido’s, & Trattoria Farfalla are worth trying for basic southern fare w some character. Taste of Hoboken on Pico, Miceli’s Hollywood & Zita (downtown) are also worth a shot. My problem w Buca is not so much that the excruciatingly bland food does not satisfy my occasional wistful need for the old neighborhood Italian, but that it is served in a forced fraternity party atmosphere.

                                                      1. re: Mr Grub

                                                        Hi Grub... thanks for the reply and recommendations. It's good to know that you understand what I'm talking about with the red sauce Italian joints.

                                                        Re: the forced frat party atmosphere, I get that from horrible chains like Applebees or TGIFriday's... But I simply don't get that vibe from Buca... I think they encourage the atmosphere of a loud Italian family at dinner, certainly... but frat party vibe I've never gotten.

                                                        I would have loved to have tried Little Joe's, but sadly I was new to LA and only found out about them by reading about their closing in the paper. I will give some of your recommendations a shot and report back... maybe Vitello's is worth another shot (as long as I'm not the one who gets shot... :-)

                                                        Mr. Taster

                                                        P.S. Give the rigatoni positano a shot... takeout if you must!! :-)

                                                        1. re: Mr. Taster

                                                          If you want the forced party atmosphere and tons of red sauce without the corporate overtones and occasionally offensive touches of Buca ("goombas" on the bathroom door), try Palermo in Los Feliz Village on Vermont. It's cheap, filling, and sometimes really hits the spot. Plus they have wine tasting and such.

                                                          1. re: aparna

                                                            Right you are, Aparna, about Palermo. Should have mentioned it -- good call.

                                                          2. re: Mr. Taster

                                                            Mr. Taster, I ate once at Little Joe's not long before it closed, and the linguine with clams tasted like it had been thickened with flour, and the clams tasted like canned Chicken of the Sea. It was as bland as white bread and very gummy, yuck! Since you like Buca anyway, you must try the linguine cartoccio and let me know what you think. They should be paying me a commission on this dish!

                                                          3. re: Mr Grub

                                                            Mr. Grub,
                                                            I have a proposition for you! You say Buca is bland!?! Do me a favor. Go with earplugs, order the linguine cartoccio (it's not on the menu, but offered there as a special most weekends). If you don't like (dare I say, love?) it, I'll pay for it, how's that? I am quite serious. But go to the Redondo location. I've never been to the others, and this one I can vouch for, at least foodwise. This seafood pasta is anything but bland. It's loaded with garlic, pepper flakes, and tangy lemon slices, and I've always found the seafood fresh and delicious, and I am real picky about seafood.

                                                          4. re: Mr. Taster

                                                            Mr. Taster, I'm still trying to appreciate your point of view. Is there something about Buca di Beppo that is particularly Sicilian? I took a fresh look at the menu, and it's Neopolitan this and Positano that. Apart from "Sicilian" pork chops, I don't see anything that says "traditional immigrant Sicilian cooking." This is Disneyland reality. Or Taco Bell Mexican. As long as we all understand that this is neither traditional nor Sicilian, I could care less if people just love it. It's the sloppy or mis- information that bothers me.

                                                            1. re: JeffB

                                                              Perhaps I've gotten hung up on the Sicilian part. What I am really talking about is the non-pretentious immigrant southern Italian food, the kind that appears on every single street corner in New York (and in most of New Jersey), and as Mr. Grub said is rather difficult to find out here.

                                                              My perspective is based on the fact that this cuisine has not been "dumbed down" for American palates the way that Chinese and Mexican has, mostly because Italians are a rather traditional lot (to say the least!) and like their food the same as at home, no matter where they are in the world. (In traveling to Italy, I made a couple of Italian friends who have educated me on this.) That's why Italians (and their Italian-American descendents) in New York make pizza very similar to what you find in Italy. As an interesting side note, Chinese restaurants in Italy have "adapted" for the Italian palate by being served in courses, just like an Italian meal. For example, the pasta course in Italian meals is replaced with rice. They eat all the rice before moving on to the secondi course, the meat/vegetables, etc.(!)

                                                              A traditional southern Italian dish is very simple, and actually pretty hard to "dumb down". As long as the pasta is "al dente" and there's olive oil, tomatoes (I'm anti-processed food, but even canned tomatoes are accepted by Italians for a quick pasta meal), garlic and basil, it's hard to screw up (which baffles me that places like Olive Garden still manage to do it). The pasta at Buca in my experience is always al dente, and the tomato sauce is simple but robust and flavorful and not watered-down.

                                                              So that's my 87cents worth...! :-)

                                                              Mr. Taster

                                                              1. re: Mr. Taster

                                                                Mr. Taster, your problem is that you are so optimistic and enthusiastic, that you almost want to make me agree with you. I still think that Buca Di Beppo is not very good, and it still does not remind me, personally, of good food I've had in either S. Italy or at home, or in other paisano homes in the old neighborhoods of Philly, Youngstown, Chicago, or even Tampa (which has a sizeable Sicilian population). Those are my points of reference. But, Buca is trying for that vibe in a cartoonish way, IMO. Maybe I haven't gone to the right Buca yet. Since you are interested in this stuff, you might want to trudge through the linked string, which has to do with "Italian American" as it is served in Chicago versus other places further East.

                                                                Also, your point about popular Italian being more "authentic" than popular Chinese or Mexican, I think, has more to do with customers than cooks. In a city like LA or Chicago (the second largest Mexican population in the US by a good bit; not SF or anyplace in TX, AZ, etc.) with a million Mexican Americans, there is no need to "dumb down" in order to make money. Chinese food in the US at large is really dumbed down, and especially so because the food travelled with tiny groups of entrepid business people to the godforsaken corners of a growing America. Italian, on the other hand, travelled with fairly large groups of Italians. Also, probably millions of Americans from everywhere ate Italian in Italy during WWII. That's why pizza only became popular in the US after that time. But, to get back to your point about Italian keeping truer to its roots, you are probably right.

                                                                Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                                                            2. re: Mr. Taster

                                                              If I see one more post about the linguine cartoccio I'm going to hit someone.

                                                            3. Hmmm... I must add my two cents!

                                                              I just had lunch today at the Redondo Beach Buca di Beppo with my parents. We had a small linguine frutti di mare (NOT cartoccio!!), a small pizza margherita, and a tiramisu.

                                                              We were really surprised at how flavorful and fresh the frutti di mare was! Really amazing. I mean, not like expensive-Italian-restaurant amazing, but clearly amazing for a chainy It-Amer restaurant. It wasn't too salty, wasn't too greasy, wasn't too garlicky. The linguine wasn't too soft. That alone is something of an accomplishment, and I mean that in all sincerity. And there was a lot of seafood, not just a stingy piece here and there.

                                                              The pizza crust was thin, crispy, and light, the basil so fresh you could smell it, the tomato sauce zingy, all well-balanced. Oh yeah, and the mozzarella was obviously fresh. My mom couldn't stop remarking how tasty the cheese was, how its flavor really came through, and didn't just serve as texture.

                                                              I am not saying this is haute cuisine. And I hate Macaroni Grill and Olive Garden. But I also think that since these are all chains, the food experience often depends on which particular restaurant you enter.

                                                              Incidentally, I have been to Italy, I speak the language fluently, I even have "snobby" Italian friends who disdain nearly everything they've eaten in the U.S... so I do have the ability and experience to discern subtleties in food.

                                                              Plus, our waiter was really nice. Non-invasive, funny without being lame, very gracious. But that's beside the point.


                                                              P.S. Oh yeah -- the tiramisu was yummy. I have less experience with desserts, so I have little to compare against, but the least I can say is the tiramisu was rummy, creamy, and chilled. It put a satisfying touch to the end of a great lunch.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: buttermarblepopcorn

                                                                BMP, the tiramisu is the only thing I DON'T like at Buca. . .way too boozy. I felt tipsy walking out!

                                                                I agree with a poster below that the food tends to be a bit heavy on the salt and the garlic. . .moreso than your traditional family red-sauce place. But it's fine for a family meal, kid friendly, the inlaws like it, etc. etc. Usually too crowded here in Daytona Beach, though. Ah well!

                                                              2. S.O. and I met friends at the Pasadena Buca for Dec 31 New Year's dinner - 9 eaters, 1 sangria (me), salad, garlic bread, pizza, 3 different pasta dishes and dessert. We sat outside and had a great time. Food was perfect for our purposes. Can't be beat when large parties get together and there's children and adults involved. :)KQ

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: Kitchen Queen

                                                                  I agree. We had my daughter's pre-bat-mitzvah (friday night) dinner there for out of town family and friends. There were 17 of us, a mix of ages from 6 to 76. The pope room fit us perfectly, and made for some ironic humor considering the occasion. Was it the best Italian food we have ever eaten? Hardly. But it really was quite good. And with the wide variety on the menu there was enough food for everyone to enjoy. Even the vegetarian. And with the portions we could feed everyone without spending too much, since it was already an expensive weekend. We would have had a difficult time finding a local mom and pop red sauce Italian place that could handle a group as big and noisy as ours, so BDB was perfect on that occasion.

                                                                2. Buca VS Maggianos?

                                                                  I've been to Maggianos and enjoyed it (twice, different states) was generally impressed and would go back...never been to Bucas....opinions please....

                                                                  1. Buca is great for what it is... decent Italian food as interpreted by us Yanks, and you get enough food to feed legions. The atmosphere is light and fun, and no one goes away hungry. If you want serious Italian, you can go to Valentino's, but I can't put out the $$ on a regular basis for that... I can do Buca though...

                                                                    1. One word to describe my feelings about this place..."SALT"

                                                                      and I love salt, but this place REALLY overdoes it

                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                      1. re: mellycooks

                                                                        Your post is well-taken. As I mentioned in at least one other thread, when eating out, one has a multidemensional mine field to negotiate... Salt, MSG, too much hidden fat, transfat, and too much sugar... All of these things are no-brainers for kitchens to amp up their dishes... I think probably the biggest culprits in amping up food tastes MSG and salt. I find salt to be an issue in alot of Italian restaurants. As I am guessing you've experienced at home, pastas and sauces suck up salt like nobody's business... I tend to eat alot of bread with my Italian food - like eating rice with alot of Chinese and Japanese dishes that are purposefully salted heavily - to help mute down the salt issue, as the flavor in alot of Italian dishes go a long way...

                                                                      2. This probably needs to be moved to the Chains board, but for what it's worth....

                                                                        I'm firmly in the "Hate BdB" crowd. And I grew up in Pittsburgh, so I have more than casual exposure to southern Italian cuisine (specifically, Calabrese and Sicilian). Not that my "strada cred" matters. How can you defend a place that would serve BURNT marinara sauce on everything, making all plates inedible? And even when the sauce isn't burnt, it's just salty and blah?

                                                                        The Redondo Beach branch may have a few prodigies in the kitchen; all the defenders of this chain atrocity seem to focus on that outpost as serving more-than-edible BdB dishes. Bully for them. But I've eaten at several branches throughout the country, each worse than the last. I would sooner fast than suffer through another Buca di Beppo meal.

                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                        1. re: rjw_lgb_ca

                                                                          Woah... never had that experience.. even at the Uni City Walk... Sorry...

                                                                          1. re: rjw_lgb_ca

                                                                            I've been to the Redondo beach branch...pretty bad....only been to that one and the one in Encinitas, CA....the encinitas one was waaay better....

                                                                            at the RB local, the calimari was overbreaded and not very crisp (also didn't get a lot for the 7.95 or whatever it cost)...the spicy marinara was good though....the pizza was thin, soggy and GREASY...also VERY SALTY.....the spaghetti and meatball wasn't actually too bad.....hard to screw that up......overpriced for what it was....

                                                                            I won't go back voluntarily.

                                                                          2. I've never eaten at this place (never even seen one), but I came across thier cookbook in Barnes and Noble yesterday. Out of curiosity, I leafed through it. The recipes looked fine -- good ingredients, straight-forward preparations. If they follow these recipes in their restaurants, the food should be good, if not highly imaginative.

                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                            1. re: pikawicca

                                                                              You should run back to Barnes & Noble and buy that cookbook. I assume they have only published one, and it is out of print. It is called "Into the Sauce: from our cucina to your kitchen." The lowest price on amazon.com & half.com for a used copy is $178.95. How bizarre! Check it out.

                                                                              I have only eaten there once. I was traveling alone and found one near my hotel. I was showing dogs at the time and wanted something to take back to my room since we had all had a long traveling day. My husband was flying in later in the evening so I also wanted something to put in the refrigerator since he was coming in late and might be hungry. The portions were huge, but I thought they were priced well for what you got. I ordered the veal marasala, which was wonderful. I thought it was a bit different from most veal marsala that I have eaten, but no matter, it was very good. I also ordered a caprese salad and a tiramisu. Both were wonderful and the tiramisu was the size of a pie plate, literally.

                                                                              I will admit that I returned the next evening with a friend and my husband and we tried several other items on the menu. None compared to my first meal, but they were all fairly decent. I suspect that location and what you order really matters.

                                                                            2. I have seen Buca di Bepo in Illinois while visiting so i decided recently when it was a friends birthday to treat him to lunch there. We went to the one in Wellington, Florida. It was rather dingy looking but we went in anyway. We were both caught a bit off guard at the mention if them having a POPE ROOM? Ok so we weren't buying real estate. He ordered spaghetti with meatballs and i eggplant parmagiana. As i started eating i realized that the sauce had to be the worst i have ever eaten in my life and started to get a gag reflex with it. I didnt say anything. I have also eaten spaghetti the way i make it and it is much softer and i also know what al dente is and usually enjoy that when out. Theirs was al RAW. My friend whose birthday it was asked at one point if i would feel offended if he didnt finish his meal as he felt it had to be the worst he had ever eaten also. When i returned home i went to the company web site and expressed my experience to them. Very nicely, a day or so later i did receive an email telling me that a manger from the specific restaurant would be contacting me shortly. Well shortly must mean a few months because it has now been over a month and i have yet to hear from anyone. I wouldnt send my worst enemy to this place. Funny, because it is rare for me to have such an intense dislike for a restaurant.

                                                                              1. I've been to BdB two times, and I really, really disliked it, for 2 reasons. One, the noise level was ear-shattering- this alone made me and my husband want to get up and leave. Our jobs working in casinos here in Las Vegas comes with enough noise, so when we eat out, we want peace and quiet, so we can talk and relax. Could -never- get that at BdB!!
                                                                                Second, both times we went, we felt that they over-salted their sauce to the point of being inedible.

                                                                                Another slight issue, but not the worst for me was the Pope room. Being born and raised Catholic, it seemed a bit too sacreligous for me to be comfortable. I -could not- eat in that room, looking at that bust of the Pope! FREAKY. My mother would have heart-attack just seeing that!

                                                                                So, no BdB for me. MG is okay, but here in Vegas, we have good, local-owned Italian restos so I really don't have to eat at a crummy place unless it's out of our control!

                                                                                1. I've had two horrible experiences with Buca, and friends of mine have as well. The first time I went, I was served gooey, cold, gray, raw shrimp, under a cover of red sauce and cheese. The second time, there was a spider in my caesar salad. Friends of ours took Buca takeout to another couple's house, and found a piece of glass in their pasta - not a shard, but a *piece* of glass. How does that even happen?

                                                                                  1. I love Buca di Beppo! I always thought it was fun getting family size portions for the whole table, but I hear they have smaller portions now which is exciting!

                                                                                    My favorite dish of theirs...Chicken Cacciatore! Delicious!