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Jan 11, 2010 10:47 AM

Buca or Scaramouche?

Planning my father's birthday dinner in early February. He isn't the most adventurous diner, but enjoys well executed bistro fare and italian. We've had great success at Scaramouche but I was thinking of 'mixing it up' so to speak and trying something different - perhaps Buca. The few reviews of Buca on the board seem generally positive. Has anyone tried both Scaramouche and Buca? If, so how does the food at Buca compare to the food at Scaramouche? Thanks in advance for your help!

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  1. I have been to both and honestly wouldn't be able to choose one of them other the other foodwise, however ambience wise they are quite different.

    If you are looking for lively, Buca is your bet.

    Romantics will love Scaramouche because of the views and the lighting.

    Do mix it up and give Buca a shot. It does get a bit noisy though!

    2 Replies
    1. re: fclm

      I just had dinner at Scaramouche on Thursday and Buca on Friday, so they are both fresh in my mind....some quick thoughts:
      Scaramouche - went for Lobsterlicious and have been a couple of other times in the past two years. Sat in the dining room, great view, nice relaxed ambience with a mid-level background noise of other diners conversing. Service was polite, but not particularly attentive (e.g. nobody asked at any point how our food was), and the pacing of the service was very slow - at least a 25-30 minute delay between finishing appetizers and mains coming out. As we ordered off the special prix fixe menu, it may be a bit unfair to comment on the food as compared to an a la carte experience, but generally speaking the food was good, though not great.

      Portions of the appetizers particularly were very small, but the mains were nice, though a touch bland and perhaps overly confused with respect to tastes. Overall, a good but not great experience. Setting is great, food is quite good, service was not fantastic for a supposedly higher-end restaurant.

      Buca - first time trying it, setting - very large underground, cavernous place. Very high (20+ feet) ceilings, lots of noise - to the point of almost being distracting, and packed with people both seated and at a communal bar-type area in between the two separate seating areas. Food - mixed reviews around the table, I really liked what I had - the nodini bread was fantastic, blood orange salad, sardine pizza (great thin crust on their pizzas) and the polenta main served on a wooden chopping board with various braised beefs placed atop . I think the charcuterie etc are supposed to be excellent but we didnt try any of that. Sides were also great, particularly the sweet onions. Less glowing reviews about a couple of the other salads (dandelion) and the fishes were good but perhaps not great.

      On the downside - it is incredibly slow - there was a 45min - 1hr wait between apps and mains, an order was forgotten, and it is incredibly loud. We were there for close to 2.5 hrs and were not eating particularly slowly. However, the service while a touch absent-minded at times, was very friendly and our waiter was very good about explaining how the menu (which is somewhat confusing, with about 6 different sections) works, and he also came around to ask how everything was several times- he also apoogized profusely at the end for the long-wait. The wait was somewhat mitigaged by Geddy Lee's appearance at the next table and a discussion about who could actually name a Rush song.

      So, overall - I personally preferred the food and service at Buca, and atmosphere wise they are at opposite ends of the spectrum, so if your father is ok with a somewhat noisier place, I'd go with Buca, particularly if he's a fan of Italian food.

      1. re: georgebell11

        Thank you both for your replies. If Buca is good enough for Geddy Lee - it shall be good enough for my dad! Out of curiousity, how far in advance did you need to make a reservation?

    2. I went to Buca and loved it!
      Definitely make a reservation . We had a reserv but had to wait nearly 45 min till our table became available. This is because people linger.....while we wait, patiently. They were good about it, the staff sent us an app in the bar.
      BUT be warned, it is VERY noisy there! Much too loud for my dad.
      It is very lively there. If your father is cool with that type of atmosphere then Buon Appetito !

      1. As much as I hate to say it, you cant even put these 2 restaurants in the same sentence in terms of equality.

        Scaramouche, though I would argue has gone downhill in the past 2-3 years, is still one of the city's top 5 restaurants.

        Buca on the other hand....not so much.

        Their food is decent, but not in the league of Scaramouche.

        10 Replies
        1. re: Sadistick

          I can't speak for Buca, having never been there, but if it's better than Scaramouche, it has got to be very, very, very good. And if Scaramouche has gone downhill the past two-three years, as Sadistick has suggested, I haven't noticed it. To me, it's as enjoyable as the day it opened, and The Pasta Bar is where I repair to for special occasions. I propose being there next week. Flawless service, good atmosphere, solid wine list (including some real bargains), inventive menu deftly executed. And, happily, not noisy at all, though it's almost always full when I'm there.

          1. re: juno

            It is nowhere near Scaramouche, downhill or not.

            The reason why I comment it has gone downhill, is because after going there for over 10 years, the last 3 or 4 visits have had some serious flaws (Artichoke pieces in the Goat Cheese App having thorns and un-edible parts on the plate - pieces of plastic on the cheese - their hand made porcini pasta without an ounce of sauce on the plate, etc) - but none the less, they have some stellar dishes - their Lamb is amazing!

            Either way, completely different beasts.

          2. re: Sadistick

            I was thinking exactly the same thing! It's like Mercedes E-Class or Ford Taurus? How about Van Halen or Rush? No offense to the Ford Taurus, Rush or Buca; all successful and solid I'm sure... but, please... not in the same league.

            1. re: syoung

              I totally agree and have to say that I've not noticed any such decline in Scaramouche. With all due respect sadistick, if you had pieces of plastic in your food it must have been a one off. We are always 100% satisfied with our visits to Scaramouche. Our food and service has always been top notch. It's our favourite spot in the city.

              1. re: millygirl

                I would hope it was a one off!

                Either way, the handled the situation perfectly and removed it from our bill with offers to replace.

                The decline I mention is due to slip ups in the kitchen over multiple visits, which I had never seen in years previous.

                Their food is still fantastic, in fact, I believe we are eating there in the next few weeks - I suppose I will jut have to be more cautious with what I order (perhaps ordering a hand made pasta at Scaramouche wasn't the wisest choice, but the allure of all those wild mushrooms got the better of me).

                1. re: Sadistick

                  At Scaramouche you should need not worry about what you order. Not sure your point regarding the hand made pasta?

                  1. re: millygirl

                    Let me put it this way.

                    I would go to Il Mulino (under previous ownership) for pasta - I would not go to Scaramouche for Pasta - clearly not their strength and I should have known better. But when I see Chantrelle's and Porcini's and Morelle mushrooms, I just can't help myself!

                    1. re: Sadistick

                      So do you think only Italian restaurants can make decent pasta? Or certain ones?
                      Or are you just saying Scaramouche does not make great pasta?
                      Just asking.

                      1. re: froglegs

                        I've had some fabulous pasta dishes at Scaramouche. If you didn't care for your dish that's one thing. But to say that ordering pasta at Scaramouche is a bad decision is just plain silly. Not only because it's called THE PASTA BAR but because they are considered one of the top restos in Toronto. They know how to make pasta.

                        1. re: froglegs

                          There is a difference between not caring for a dish, and being served a bowl of pasta that has no sauce whatsoever.

                          Not to mention thick 'Porcini' noodles with barely any flavour to be found.

                          The mushrooms were great and quickly consumed.

            2. I've been to Scaramouche many times over the years but not for about a year. I've been to Buca a couple of times and it's probably my favourite new spot at the moment. It really depends on your dad - Buca is the new kid on the block, smart room, buzzy atmosphere, super friendly young service and some outstanding dishes. Their funghi pizza, served on a wooden board with wild mushrooms, gorgonzola and mascarpone is one of the most scrumptious dishes in the city at the moment (says me). Dessert was so-so. If you go for one of the later reservations (eg. 8:30), be prepared to wait - both times, I've been there, we waited 30-40 minutes for our table. Scaramouche is the elegant queen, often overlooked because it's been so good for so long, quieter, more mature, more refined, older, etc. I've never had a bad meal there but I find it a less exciting venue. I imagine you'll have a great meal at both so I'd perhaps make your decision based on the atmosphere you think that you and your dad would prefer. Enjoy!!

              1. So - we did end up at Buca for my dad's birthday. I loved the space and the vibe. Food was excellent - although we also experienced long waits between appetizers and main courses (about 45 minutes). We kept ordering more nodini to curb our hunger - by the time our mains arrived, we were all pretty stuffed! Our server was very energetic and helpful. Myself and siblings (all late 20's to mid 30's) definitely prefered Buca to Scaramouche - perhaps the food at Scaramouche has an edge (but I would agree with other posters - hard to directly compare) but Buca is just so lively and fun- how could we not love it? My parents on the other hand (mid 60's), prefer the more refined environment at Scaramouche. I'm already planning my next trip to Buca!

                18 Replies
                1. re: amy_whino

                  We're going there next weekend amy_whino. Any recommendations re: mains, etc.?

                  1. re: millygirl

                    Apparently the menu changes frequently so I'm not sure if the offerings will be the same next week. We really enjoyed the two pizza's we ordered (one funghi and the other prosciutto). Thin crust, quality ingredients. We loved the duck pasta, but weren't as fond of the gorgonzola gnocchi. The fish (I can't recall if it was sea bass or sea bream) was well cooked, but it wasn't outstanding. The hit of the night was the polenta/braised meats main - the polenta was so creamy. Orange and beet, and bread salads were also very good. Of course, you have to try the nodini - but as a warning - they're super addictive, and probably super high in calories! Enjoy your dinner!

                    1. re: amy_whino

                      Oh yeah, I meant to ask, what is nodini? Sounds good, I love a good polenta. Thanks amy_whino!

                      1. re: millygirl

                        They're little bread knots seasoned with olive oil, rosemary, garlic, and salt.

                          1. re: millygirl

                            Please allow me to underscore/highlight/BOLD CAPS the recommendation for the funghi pizza - it's one of my entries for best dishes in the city at the moment. It's a beautiful thing.

                            We also really liked the polenta, duck egg pasta and the orange and beet salad. I wasn't as wowed by their take on the panzarella - too vinegary for me. And the selection of cured meats with chutneys was also a bit underwhelming. LOVED our waiter/waitress both times.

                            1. re: peppermint pate

                              i've only been once and while it was a bit iffy in some ways the food has totally won me over. i don't believe the pizza's change very frequently as what was available to me seems to match what others have reported. i do need to try the funghi (first time i've seen anything about hedgehog mushrooms) but i absolutely ADORE the bottarga and quails egg pizza. the textures, the richness, the saltiness... just wow. i think about it every few days.

                              huge fan of the gnocchi, the lightest most smoothly textured i've had in the city this far (though my experience isn't extensive) and ours was topped with a suckling pig and... something combo. and agree with peppermint pate on the charcuterie. our selections focused on what they had made in house and there was nothing interesting or memorable about any of them.

                              1. re: peppermint pate

                                Hey peppermint pate - I just wanted to say 'grazie' for the recommendation on the funghi pizza. Made it to Buca late one evening last month, and shared a funghi pizza and something else (not memorable) with a friend. Loved it! Also loved the room. Service (hostess, busboys) was professional with the exception of our server who seemed frazzled by the crowd. Susur was dining with family and friends nearby. It does seem like the place to be.

                                604 King St. West, Toronto, ON M5V 1M6, CA

                                1. re: Yum2MyTum

                                  Prego yum2mytum - with pleasure! Thanks for the feedback and glad you loved it. Yeah, that pizza is crazy good. And something about cutting it with the scissors too - I just love it. Sorry to hear you had a frazzled server - I've probably been to Buca 5 times now and service has always been friendly and polished. I truly love everything about that restaurant.

                                  150 Bloor St. West, Toronto, ON M5S 2X9, CA

                                  604 King St. West, Toronto, ON M5V 1M6, CA

                              2. re: millygirl

                                Had a great meal at Buca last night. Really cool spot and the food was fab. We loved our evening. I had read some negative stuff about the service and wait times but our waiter was really great. No complaints whatsoever.
                                Food was spaced out quite nicely.

                                Nice wine list too, but laid out rather odd. Rather than region, it's in price order.

                                All the raves about the duck egg pasta, funghi pizza, polenta, and nodini were spot on. Esp. the pasta! Between 4 of us we shared a lot of food but that pasta....OMG I wanted the entire dish for myself.

                                We also had the chartcuterie - very nice proscutto. Stuffed olives - okay but not my favorite. Sweetbreads - again okay. But the pasta and pizza stole the show.

                                I loved the vibe. What a great looking room, and loved the wine cellar area. Can't wait to go back.

                                One funny thing... we were leaving around 11 p.m. and the place was still packed. But the bar right in front had about 8 or 9 people in a few groups and almost everyone of them were engrossed in their BB's. It was so funny to see. Nobody was talking. Yeesh, it's Friday night folks!!! Give it up! I must be getting old :)

                                1. re: millygirl

                                  Glad - and not at all surprised - you loved it! That place is firing on all cylinders for me - great room, food, vibe and price point. And consistent - I've had 3 standout meals there since they opened and I'm back there this week for dinner. Can't wait to finally try the nodini!

                                  1. re: peppermint pate

                                    can you tell me if you've noticed any changes to the food portioning and quality?

                                    it was only my second visit but portions were smaller for the gnocchi and they seriously held back on the bottarga on the pizza.

                                    but on that note, the pigs ears were the best i've had in the city but needs a bit of an acid hit to get through the gelatenous richness and for anyone interested they've got a good selection of offal at the moment.... though i wish they wouldn't wrap so much of it in salty salty proscuitto.

                                    1. re: pinstripeprincess

                                      Enjoyed yet another fantabulous meal at Buca over the week-end. I couldn't love this place more. From the charming people that greet you when you walk in, the cool room, the absolutely fantastic and lovely, friendly and professional (and may I say...handsome) waitstaff. But above all, it's the food - the funghi pizza remains ridiculously delicious. I love the balance of flavours and the contrast in textures. It was my first time trying the bottarga pizza with quail egg - at first, I wasn't sure about the combination but it kind of grew on me - it was delicious in a course combined with the roasted branzino and olive oil plus braised dandelions. Really good combination. We also had the burratta, blood orange salad, nodini (oh, the garlic nodini - finally tried them - so more-ish!) and the ravioli. The only dish that didn't wow (at all) was the carbonara - I just didn't like it. But upon telling our waiter, the response we got was: a) a visit from the manager who wanted to understand specifically what we didn't like so he could give feedback to the kitchen; b) the dish deducted off our bill; and c) comped dessert wine. What more could you ask for?

                                      Pinstripe, I hadn't had the bottarga before so I couldn't compare portion size on that one but overall, I didn't notice any diminishment for portions or quality - quite the opposite, it's been 4 dinners now and I find this place remarkably consistent.

                                      Yum2mytum - argh, meant to take a menu but didn't. I think millygirl is about right in her estimates - maybe $12-$18 for pizzas, $18-$24 for pastas and $4-$12 for the small hot and cold plates? I've been here several times now and I never feel like I've overpaid.

                                      1. re: peppermint pate

                                        the gnocchi was what seemed quite minimal... they were good enough to shave on significantly more bottarga which at that point just matched my previous experience. btw, the bottarga pizza tops the list at $21.

                                        the service is great... though it looks like you got even greater service. our poached duck egg over the sweetbreads was over cooked and mentioned to our server he said... "oh it does look like the kitchen overcooked it" and then continued pouring wine for others. that was all the notice we got on that particular matter, i don't imagine a new egg would have been that much trouble. it was surprising considering the good service ahead and after that.

                                        1. re: peppermint pate

                                          lol thanks for the thought peppermint pate. I wish that the menu was posted online but both your estimates are really appreciated!

                                    2. re: millygirl

                                      Hi millygirl - thanks for your review! do you remember the average price for (1) pizzas, (2) pastas, and (3) starters? I'd really appreciate this info as none is available online!
                                      Thanks in advance!

                                      1. re: Yum2MyTum

                                        Oh crap! I just threw out the menu the other day.

                                        The tab was picked up by the other couple so I'm not sure what the total came to but if I recall correctly the funghi pizza was somewhere around $14-16 and the duck egg pasta maybe around $23?? The starters, of which there are many, are all over the board. Some as low as $4 (nodini) to the charcoutierie and cheeses which you can ordered as much as, or as little as you like.

                                        Sorry I couldn't be of more help yum2mytum. If it wasn't so miserable out I'd go dumpster diving in to my bin to retrieve the menu for you!

                                        Keep in mind too, that the menu changes on a daily basis. Having said that, I believe some of the menu items are standard.

                                        1. re: millygirl

                                          Forgot to reply and say 'thanks' millygirl - really appreciate the thought and am glad that you didn't go dumpster diving!

                                          Sounds like prices are reasonable and pizzas are cheaper than at Terroni and pastas possibly a touch more expensive... this place is next on my list.