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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).

      JEFF

      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

                            LOL!

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