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Buca - Review

We were 5 at Buca on Friday night.

Service was great (and beautiful too). All around, the staff were very friendly and attentive.

The food was good, but too small. I love the idea of "Cucina Rustica della Nonna"; it's so nice to see a restaurant serving this type of Italian food. This type of food (in Italy and Nonna's kitchen) can be characterized with one word: "generous". It is truly food of love. And the portions should be ample. Such ampleness is inherent to the cuisine itself.

We started with a bunch of salumi. It was good; not better than the platter at Nota Bene, mind you, but good. We cut up a prosciutto pizza, which was well done. Very nice, thin, but crispy, and not overtopped. Funghi fritti were very good, but the portion was laughably small. For Pietro's sakes, it's mushroom! Be generous with it! Warm olives and Nodini (little fresh-baked breadknots) were very yummy, but overpriced.

My main was polenta with lamb neck and beef shortribs. Very nice, and served on a wooden platter. Good pieces of meat, not too fatty. Quite good. Someone had a spaghetti carbonara which was really tasty, although, to me, it's something one makes at home (for less than $18). But, Buca does their carbonara by the book and it's great; maybe even a surprise for many people who think of it as an Alfredo-style dish. Little balsamic-braised onions were absolutely scrumptious.

I like Buca. It's interesting to see this type of food served to pretty young urban people. And maybe that explains the inappropriately downsized portions: they have adapted this rustic style of food to King-west clientele. And, to Buca, that requires shrinking the food. Now, I know that my whole little review here is themed around portion size: but, again, it's that generosity that, to me, characterizes this type of food. All in all, however, I am happy to see this type of Italian food being served in our city. I think that regional Italian cuisine has yet to be properly explored by our city's chefs and I look forward to more.

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Nota Bene
180 Queen Street West, Toronto, ON M5V 2A1, CA

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

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  1. Buca - the good and the bad.

    I've tried Buca twice. I enjoy the place and will be back, but I can't say I was as impressed the second time. Not everything on their menu is stellar. The Bad:
    As many have pointed out, it is pricey. This is especially evident on the wine list. I realize their rent must be high, but most wines seem to be marked up at least 3 times and some 4 to 5 times. When the LCBO carried a Lambrusco it sold for around $10, the one on their list is at $60.
    The bread for the cheese plate is ordered seperately at $1.50 pp. It may not seem like much and it is nice bread, but a table of four has now added $6 to the cheese plate.
    The gnocchi is a putty as heavy as lead. I realize this is peasant food which is made to fuel you through the day, but I thought the goal of fine dining was to elevate simple ingredients into something etheral, risotto is a good example of taking simple rice and making it something special. The sauce with this dish, on the other hand, was a wonderfully delicate fresh tomato sauce.
    The polenta and sausages sells for $32, granted there are morels on the dish, but it still seems steep. I wouldn't mind as much if the polenta was something special. It was the same as the polenta I whip up at home in a few minutes. There is a method of making polenta which requires constant stirring for several hours, they claim it changes into something truly magical. I've never bothered making it like this, but it seems like neither did Buca. I like gamey flavours, but I found the sausages unpleasantly gamey. I'll put this down to personal preference. Also,not that it ruins my experience, but why plate this on a wooden cutting board? Is it traditional to put soft polenta and sausages on a cutting board? I don't get the connection.
    Finally for the bad, the doughnuts were tough, maybe a product of being in the fryer too long, or over worked dough.
    The Good:
    Service has been good. Watching a young server describe the cheeses, one could see the pride with which she presented them.
    The stuffed and fried zucchini blossoms, the radicchio and rare beef heart salad, the lamb skewers, and the prosciutto wrapped lamb brains are all fantastic. It's worth going back just for these.
    The lardo, the pizza, the fried pig ears and the fried olives are all decent.
    For dessert the tiramisu, which lacked booze, was rich and tasty. The olive oil cake was moist and well paired with berries.
    They make a decent espresso which comes with a biscotti.

    I recommend the place, just ask around about what to order. Expect to pay around $100 pp.

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

    18 Replies
    1. re: dubchild

      I haven't been to Buca yet but am eager to try it, based on the highlights of the first two posts. I just want to reply to dubchild's question about polenta served on a wooden board. This is a very traditional and authentic way to serve polenta, whether plain or topped with sausages or hearty stewed or braised meats. I imagine that typically the polenta would be portioned and scooped onto plates or in bowls for individual eating. If you received a single portion served on the board, I guess it is more for effect. Were you expected to eat it right off the board? That sounds kind of fun and whimsical.

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

        1. re: 1sweetpea

          Table 17 serves their polenta this way as well.

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          Table 17
          782 Queen St. East, Toronto, ON M4M 1H4, CA

        2. re: dubchild

          I went there for a late lunch a couple weeks ago! My friends were a tad later than expected, and the waiter was really patient. Ended up ordering the funghi pizza, olives stuffed with sausages, arugula salad, and duck egg & ragu pasta. All were really good, I would return for the pizza and I want to try their crispy pig ears.
          I didn't try their dessert, but I am curious about their olive oil cake as I've never tried it before!!

          1. re: ekim256

            pig ears were good, interesting texture, salted just about right

            1. re: shekamoo

              hmm! Maybe I'll pop by sometime just to try them out with a friend. Sounds like a good snack. Thanks!

            2. re: ekim256

              pig's ears are perfection for me, though i've heard some not crisp enough reports come back.

              i would avoid their desserts. they were either ok or absolutely awful. much better to do another round of pig's ears.

              1. re: pinstripeprincess

                Agreed about the desserts -- ordered the donuts/beignets last time based on the description (freshly made to order!). Gag -- cold, greasy, dense mess filled with cold apple pie filling or a sweetened mascarpone (better than the apple, but not enough to redeem the nasty donut).

                1. re: TorontoJo

                  The milk and honey gelato is amazing. Go for that if you have room left for dessert.

                  1. re: Tara9000

                    i found it texturally grainy and flavoured like powdered rather than fresh milk.

            3. re: dubchild

              I was about to make reservations, as we have a good friend coming to TO. We changed out minds after reading your review. Charging you for bread? Are you supposed to eat cheese with a fork and a knife? They should take a trip to Italy...

              1. re: lamaranthe

                In Italy, I've always had to pay a cover charge (coperta) to eat in any sitdown establishment whether it's a bar, trattoria, osteria, or restaurant. The cover charge is usually charged per person, which is in addition to the service charge (sometimes an additional % charge based on the sub-total), and in addition to the small tip/mancia that is left for the server at the end of the meal. It is this cover charge that covers the cost of the bread, so in effect, you are being charged for your bread when you dine out in Italy.

                In other European countries, such as Portugal and Spain, it is common practice to pay for the exact amount of bread/rolls that you eat. The cheese that is served does not automatically come with bread.

                I don't mind paying extra for bread, especially if it's good bread. For some restaurants, it could help lower overhead and cut down on wasted food. And for a CH like me, I'm less likely to eat the bread if it isn't complimentary, which would help me in my attempts to dine out in moderation.

                1. re: phoenikia

                  You are completely correct about the extra charge for bread in Italian restaurants - in ITALY- but Buca is in Toronto, and, as they say, "When in Rome...."

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

                  1. re: KitchenVoodoo

                    Are you suggesting, when in Toronto, do as the Torontonians do? In addition to not charging for bread, maybe Buca should stop serving polenta on a wooden board, start serving Caesar salad, and start topping their pizzas with pineapple, since that's what we're accustomed to in Italian restaurants located in Toronto? ;-)

                    It's not unheard of for restaurants in Toronto to charge for their bread. The Hoof and Caren's Wine Bar (if you want their high quality walnut bread - a few thin slices of supermarket quality baguette automatically arrive with the cheese platters) also charge for bread. I'm not sure whether The Wine Bar now comps bread under its new ownership, but when it was JKWB, customers had to pay for their bread, which used to irritate some posters on this Board.

                    There are plenty of Italian and non-Italian restaurants in Toronto for CHs who are looking for bottomless baskets of bread.

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

                    1. re: phoenikia

                      Agree. Its always worth paying for superlative bread! If it sucks, well, that's another story...

                      And can we get some great butters served in Toronto? Please???

                      1. re: Splendid Wine Snob

                        Ohh, that should be a separate thread SWS. The butter at Pastis is the best. I can't stop eating it.

                      2. re: phoenikia

                        Torito (which is one of my fav little spots) also charges for bread. I wish more places did b/c I really hate to see all the waste when it comes to free bread. If ppl have to pay for it they tend to be more respectful and waste much less.

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                        Torito
                        276 Augusta Ave, Toronto, ON M5T2L9, CA

                2. re: dubchild

                  It is the custom where my family is from in Italy to eat polenta from a wooden board. In fact, we had a board that covered the dining room table at my Nonna's house that was reserved only for this purpose. The polenta is poured out into the middle of the board and then divided among the people at the table and eaten off the board.

                  I imagine that`s the rationale behind the board. Although, I think that it would make me a bit wistful so I`ll avoid it on my planned visit.

                3. I guess I am just unlucky. they served me a burnt and bland fungi pizza. everyting else was good though, including the cheese course

                  1. I have had 3 perfect dinners at Buca. We ordered different dishes each time. Every dish is better than the next. Top notch. Veal for 2 - mouthwatering. Pasta dishes - creative and delicious (2 thumbs up for the Carbonara). Carpaccio dishes are delightful. The more than attentive waiter suggested a fabulous bottle of wine. Service was so good that the (more than attentive waiter) remembered us when we visited a second and third time. I asked the waiter to choose 2 dishes for us (as a surprise) - wonderful choices. Nicely balanced with our other dishes. All in all, a great experience. What I love most? Buca never ceases to amaze. Go out of your comfort zone and try dishes you wouldn't normally order. You'll be pleasantly pleased.

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

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Sooo Goood

                      I agree, the carpaccio at Buca is delicious. The veal carpaccio was one of the best carpaccios I've tasted.

                      But I found their version of carbonara quite ordinary. Have enjoyed their pizzes much more than the 5 or 6 pastas I've tasted.

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

                    2. I know its an old post, but Fwagra, would you recommend any other restaurant of this type that is either more affordable, or has more generous portions? I'd love to try Buca but it is a bit out of my price range.

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

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: szw

                        Capocaccia has pastas, salads, and pizza that are a bit more affordable for the quantity that you get. I've only had their pastas, but I've enjoyed them and I heard that their pizzas are quite tasty. Terroni too, for pizza and pasta. Neither are cheapie places, but more affordable than Buca. Both are for pizza & pasta - so perhaps not as diverse.

                        Perhaps if you still want to try Buca, you can just pop in for a pig-ear appetizer? Sometimes when I want to try a place that I can't afford, I'll stop in for a appetizer/dessert before/after dinner. It makes saving up for that place a little easier :P

                        I mentioned my $$ experience at Buca to a friend, and she suggested "The Nose" - Gio rana really really nice restaurant. I haven't made my way out there, so I can't speak from personal experience. But I feel your pains so I thought I'd share her advice!

                        Erin
                        http://www.cookiesandtomatoes.com/

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                        Capocaccia Cafe
                        1366 Yonge St, Toronto, ON M4T3A7, CA

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

                        1. re: ekim256

                          I had a tasty Agnolotti filled with butternut squash there. Found the picture =)

                           
                          1. re: ekim256

                            I haven't had it in quite some time but Gio's makes a wonderful butternut squash crespelle. Having said that, while I enjoy Gio's, I don't think the experience would be similar to Buca's, in either food or atmosphere.

                            Buca's agnolotti looks good, but for some reason, I find the use of colored pasta off putting. To me, you rarely taste any differences and it just seems cheesy. I know I'm probably alone in this opinion.

                            1. re: millygirl

                              whoops! I really shouldn't be looking at boards at 4AM. The Agnolotti is from Capocaccia Cafe, not Buca. At Buca, I had this: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7256...
                              The taste wasn't really affected but I can see what you mean by cheesy...I like colours though! Cheesy but not tacky. Maybe I'm alone in this opinion :P I'm not a classy eater!

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                              Capocaccia Cafe
                              1366 Yonge St, Toronto, ON M4T3A7, CA

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

                      2. Went to Buca last night before hitting up the new Second City show.
                        First of all, I love the room. It's a huge, open space, that feels intimate and cozy despite the wide open surroundings. By about 7 pm, the place was nearly full. Service was excellent, there wasn't a moment when my water glass was less than half-full, and our server was very knowledgable and personable.
                        We started with a selection of three cured meats, with preserves ($27).
                        I was a bit disappointed that the bread was not included ($1.50 per piece), as this is an Italian restaurant. But the fennel and rosemary rolls were just so warm and crusty out of the oven, they were totally worth it. The Salumi were nice, but not the best we have had... the preserves (pickled eggplant, leeks and I think baby cucumbers) added a really nice complementary crunch and acid, but for the additional $10, I would have expected a bit more then a teaspoon of each. Next time I would probably start with one of the delicious looking salads I saw at a table next to us.
                        As mains we ordered the buffalo mozzarella pizza, served with his own pair of scissors for tearing through the crisp crust. Unlike the Salumi which I felt was a bit overpriced for the size (and the lack of bread!), this pizza was the length of the table, and was generously adorned with fresh mozzarella.
                        I did the duck egg pasta with duck and mascarpone. Garnished with a sprig of fresh basil, and cooked to a PERFECT al dente, this was one of the best pasta dishes I have had in a very long time. It was perfectly salty, and creamy with just the right amount of rich duck meat. And another good serving size, in my opinion, for a main pasta course.
                        For dessert, we tried the light and aromatic apple sorbet. Unlike most apple sorbets that are super tart, this one was more like a smooth apple sauce, more cinnamony, then sour.
                        I did the Ricotta Cheesecake with rhubarb compote. A very rich and dense cheesecake, that was very delicately sweetened, perfect if you don't like anything too cloyingly sweet after eating a lot of cheese, cured meet and carbs. Im not sure that I would have used rhubarb in March though because it really didn't contribute anything other than a bit of crunch.
                        Our server also brought us a sweet little amaretto cookie which I enjoyed a little later after the show. So for $120 after tax, before tip, we shared a salumi board with bread, had two mains and two desserts, a bottle of sparkling water, a beer and an espresso to finish. I thought it was a great casual meal at a pretty reasonable price, perfect for a casual date night out. The menu is huge, so I am sure I could go quite frequently without getting bored. I would definitely recommend it to others.

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

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: hungryabbey

                          The lamb brains are awesome. One of the best things I've eaten this year. Alongside the Fried Pork Intestines at Guu and the BBQ Pork Ribs at Hoof Cafe (R.I.P.)

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                          Guu
                          398 Church Street, Toronto, ON M5B 2A2, CA

                        2. It started off badly. All of the tables along the west side of the restaurant needed to use their cellphones to read the menu. Lighting problem..ya think?
                          The arty glass panels may look great but they reflect sound. It was so noisy that we had to shout at each other to be heard.
                          The wine menu...over priced. The food isn't not bad but certainly not memorable. There were five of us and the meal with tip was $550.00. I can tell you it was not worth the price.
                          That said the service was good but that doesn't make a good restaurant. Not worth a return trip.

                          1. Jamie Oliver was on Twitter last night, calling Buca his favourite meal of the year. Pretty great.

                            https://twitter.com/#!/jamieoliver/st...

                            1 Reply