Buku - Raleigh
Just curious, when does Buku open? Any word on the status? I read that it would open in late January, but it doesn't appear to have done so yet. I'm anxious to give it a try, and I like the concept.
(If you haven't heard, it's taking the place of Fins. Same chef, same location. New concept - world street food.)
The menu looks interesting but what about the word "global?" Looks to me like nearly all the food, with one or two exceptions, is Near Eastern to Far Eastern. There are a lot of possible political comments I could make on that phrasing but I'll stick to food.
Get some currywurst on there!
On the entrees, I make the assumption that some diners might not be comfortable making a meal of small plates. I think the entrees are there for safety.
30 second review of our meal at Buku: extremely good with only a few minor quibbles. Service and food were spot on. We were prepared to cut the place a decent amount of slack, but none was needed. Granted we arrived before 6 pm for dinner, so it wasn't busy at all.
The menu in the restaurant seems more global than what was posted on the website. There was a mix of Mexican, Middle Eastern, Indian, Chinese, German, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean, (and probably a few others) items.
We were there later in the evening than Tom from Raleigh and the service was still good, but the pacing from the kitchen was a little out of whack - which is to be expected on day number 3 and in no way should be counted against them this early. We enjoyed sushi, a terrific octopus salad, and some pork tacos. I was less enthused about a few other items, although I thought they were fine. Mrs. enjoyed them though. But again, it's way to early to poo poo anything yet and the hits were promising.
I was initially skeptical of their ability to pull off such wildly divergent flavors - usually this is a big red flag at places. But, they might be able to do it. Overall, I look forward to return trips. I think it can mature into a terrific small plates and drinks spot as they iron out the menu and the concept. There was a big crowd there and a band in the bar area. It had a nice buzz to it.
They appear to be open continually from late morning to late in the evenings each day, so this has the makings of a great lunch spot and a great mid afternoon I really need a snack spot. Yeah, the more I think about it, the more excited I am about it.
We went tonight before the symphony. The restaurant interior has not really changed from Fins decor. They turned up the lights a bit and added some pictures on the wall of international street scenes. Other than that, the tables, booths, placemats, and silverware were just used part and parcel from Fins' setup. The music is a touch louder and includes everything from Asian drumming to Peggy Lee singing "Fever."
Service was friendly and prompt throughout the evening. Waiters help each other with bringing food and filling water, so you never have to wait long for attention. Our server (Terry) was smiling and happy to help with suggestions.
The menu, as mentioned in other reviews, covers India, Vietnam, Philippines, Japan, and Korea, with a few other countries thrown in for good measure. We went for a collection of small plate items, bypassing the larger and more expensive entrees.
There is no way to guess how much food might come on one of those small plates. We started with "Barbeque pork buns (bao) - $6". I put that in quotes so you could see the plural they use on the menu. What showed up was one solitary pork bun. I've been eating char siu bao for the past 37 years and this was one of the worst I have come across. The dough was dense, chewy, and flavorless. The meat had more of a Western barbeque flavor than the traditional red sweet Chinese flavor. And $6 for a ninety-cent food cart item strikes me as unreasonable in the extreme.
Fortunately things got better after that. The Viet crepe was properly crispy and filled with very fresh bean sprouts, mushroom slivers, shrimp, and other goodies. Korean barbequed beef was not overcooked and came with a very good kimchee and some sesame oil sauteed spinach. It was just a little flavorless, and the dipping sauce did not add enough zing to offset that. I didn't like the Viet cucumber salad, which was just some marinated cucumber slices in a slightly sour vinegar-based sauce. My girlfriend liked it though, so different foods for different tastes...
A bowl of basmati rice came as a "root vegetable biryani." In a trivial misstep, this was missing a serving implement and the bowl was too hot to pick up easily and shovel stuff out of. The vegetables were nice, but the rice was very bland.
One never knows what one will get when you order lumpia in a new place. This version turned out to be two extremely narrow diameter "cigars" with a little tube of minced pork in the middle. The wrapper was a lovely crisp golden brown and gets big points. But the filling was... wait for it... bland!
We tried the Meyer lemon creme puffs for dessert. This was one of the larger items brought to the table. The lemon curd topping was good and tart, but I felt the pastry needed a bit more sweetness to offset it.
Overall I liked the concept better than the execution. The majority of the dishes are exactly as advertised... "Street food" that is served cheaply and ubiquitously in their native lands. When you end up paying more for formal servings in a sit down restaurant, you expect the food to be a notch above. Instead, I felt it was toned down for those mythical American tastebuds that can't deal with authentic spices and flavorings. I know people exist who can't deal with this kind of food, but they are unlikely to be repeat customers at a restaurant with this theme. So why cater to their tastes? If you are the kind of person who wants to enjoy exotic dishes you can't get at your local Denny's, won't you want the full experience? And while "small plates" are fine as a way to try various items, the inconsistency on number of portions makes it difficult to figure out the right amount to order if you want to satisfy your entire party. Make sure to ask your waiter whether you need a single, double, or quadruple order!
By the way, the restaurant was offering free valet parking on Saturday night. Much appreciated, especially as Raleigh converts more street parking to paid meters.
We had the same reaction to the pork buns. I love pork buns, but my reaction was that Buku's was that it was just a bun. And, just one bun to boot! And, I don't think I've ever spent more than $2 for one before.
Speaking of - since you seem to be a bun connoisseur - where can I get some really good ones in the area?
Grand Asia would be the best I've had around here but I'd love to know of more options. The steamed buns are about 88 cents or the like and are available up front. The baked version is available in the self-serve bakery cases. If you can speak Chinese or get an English-speaking cashier you can ask for any of the steamed buns unsteamed. You can then microwave or steam them at home. We put the unsteamed quail egg buns in the Offspring's lunch box and she nukes them at school.
We went Saturday night around 6. The outdoor patio is a nice option but is not charming in any way. In fact, that's how we felt about the whole experience. It's too corporate, and the food doesn't quite overcome this fact.
We shared the Columbian arepas, the pierogies, the Viet crispy crepe, and the beef tataki. We were told the dishes would come out as they were ready, which was fine with me, but actually they all came out at the same time, very shortly after we ordered. I would rather have had them spaced out a little, as there was not much room on our table. The arepas was not more than the sum of its ingredients - just a big disk of moist, dense cornbread, with some queso fresco on top and a little green salsa. The portion size was large, and the flavor fine, but unremarkable. The pierogies were puffed in brown butter, which I love, but the chicken filling was bland. The crispy crepe was delicious - perfectly crunchy shell with sprouts, excellent shimp, and mushrooms. The beef tataki was also very good, piled high with greens and tossed in yummy soy dressing. All of the portion sizes were good, and 4 "tapas" was just about right for two hungry people. Of course, we saved room for dessert and ordered sorbet (choice of 3). We chose raspberry, pineapple, and coconut. The coconut was very milky, the pineapple excellent, and the raspberry just average. I think we paid $42 total (including tip), but we only had water to drink.
The service was fine but overall I just had the feeling of being in a hotel that was trying really hard to be fancy. Everything felt a little slick and there was no warmth, from the decor to the flatware and silverware, and even to the food, which, while well prepared, didn't really satisfy me completely. I'm not positive that I would go back. If I'm in Raleigh, I'd rather go to Poole's every time.
110 E Davie St, Raleigh, NC 27601
Went to Buku Wednesday evening with a large group, we shared five small plates. The highlight of the evening was my watermelon margarita. First stop on my next visit to Raleigh.