Buca. Buca. Buca… if you haven’t been, it’s just one of those Toronto staples you must make a point of going to. It is, in my opinion, the best Italian restaurant in Toronto – and we have A LOT. That said, I have never done an official review because when I go there I would rather enjoy my meal than video or photograph it. However, last week, a Vancouver food blogger was in town eating her way through the best we have to offer, and she and I decided to have dinner at Buca.
Mijune Pak is the foodie extraordinaire and creator of Follow Me Foodie. I remember when I first launched View the Vibe admiring how quickly she was able to make a name for herself and get sponsored by Zagat. I thought “how do I do that?” Well, two years later, she and I are friends and I have realized I could never be her as she is like an Einstein of food. She breaks each dish apart with incredible attention, every bite is an analysis of what went into it and each flavour of a dish is savoured to the maximum. She has reviewed some of the best restaurants in the world – ever heard of the 3 Michelin Starred restaurant Alinea in Chicago? Only one of the top 10 restaurants in the world… And Mijune had the pleasure of enjoying a meal that I would call pure art. Here’s where you can read about it.
Last week, while she was in Toronto, we got together and enjoyed dinner at Buca. Of course, as soon as they met Mijune, everything got even better… We went from ordering off the menu to Chef Rob Gentile sending over a special menu including the items we had ordered, but also some items he wanted us try. Here’s what we had…
The meal started with a sampling of some of the signature items that Buca offers. First off, a sampling of the spelt panella with pepperoncino and lime under Caciotta sotto sale (salty cheese) – this very zesty bite was delicious and I could’ve easily had another. The textures played really well together and the contrast of the cheese and lime worked perfectly.
Next we were sent over a sampling of the Gnocco Fritto, which is fried dumplings with colonnata spiced lardo di buca. This was good but not my favourite – it’s a personal thing as I’m not crazy about fried dumplings to begin with. That said, at the same time, a server arrived with the Boulate, which are also dumplings but created differently. To be exact: Sicilian dumplings, guanciale, brussel sprouts, and pecorino cheese. OMG – I will go back for this. Loved it.
Whenever I go to Buca I always order the Parmigiana Di Melanzane. It is preserved tomato and fried eggplant layered with bufala ricotta and burrata cheese. All I can say is that this is a must-order if you have never tried it. Delicious and I always fight my boyfriend for the last bite. This time, I let Mijune have it…
A dish I have always wanted to try but my boyfriend never wants to share with me is the Anatra: thinly sliced duck breast with house-made ricotta salata, pickled orange, fennel pollen and anise-scented taggiasche finished with a salt cured duck egg. We ordered it and devoured it. First the dish is beautiful to the eye – bright colours, with a runny duck egg in the center that makes it somewhat of an art piece. The taste I loved especially because the duck really shines through and each bite is perfectly balanced. Served with crostinis, the ideal way to eat is to spread some of the duck yolk on a crostini and top with slice of duck and sauce. It’s a little bite of heaven.
We had indicated to the waiter that we wanted to try the pigs ears and the lamb brains. And so they sent over a lovely little platter of just that, plus the fried olives, the house-made Sopressata and Salsicce Ciocare (house cured pork and fennel sausage). This particular salumi was delicious – very flavourful and great texture without being too fatty. The entire platter was just a tad too salty for me so I picked at it without indulging too much – but a charcuterie lover would totally appreciate the quality in these offerings.
They also included some of their homemade burrata cheese, which was good but I personally prefer the authentic taste of it when it is brought over from Italy.
Next up they brought over two of their signature pastas. First, the Bigoli: hand-cranked duck egg pasta with duck leg, offal ragu, Venetian spices, mascarpone and basil. This pasta has been on the menu from day one and is their staple pasta dish. The spices in this dish really catch you off-guard but after a second bite, you just want more. The duck egg pasta itself is perfection. That is all.
Second was the Spaghetti Al Nero di Maiale; hand-cut pork blood pasta with n’duja, soffrito, and rapini finished with smoked burrata cheese. Very unique flavours, this was a dish I very much enjoyed. The creaminess that is created as a result of the burrata just brings all the flavours together. The pork blood pasta is cooked al dente and thicker than traditional spaghetti. I actually couldn’t decide which pasta I preferred, though I did keep going back to the Bigoli…
After this fantastic menu, we were full to say the least. But at Buca, you push your stomach to “handle it”. So we did order two desserts… the first was Sapori di Sicilia, which was a tasting of Sicilian cannoli, brioche with blood gelato and baba al’rum. The standout of the three for me was the baba al’rum – delcious and creamy and the rum taste really shined though.
We also ordered the Melanzane Al Cioccolato, a sugared eggplant, chocolate and blood orange tart finished with concerto and amaretti powder. WOW. This one stole the show and I highly recommend that if you dine at Buca and order dessert, this one may scare you because of the eggplant factor but it is outstanding so order it.
The wonderful Italian waiter who served us all night also brought over a sampling of a bitter after dinner wine called NV Montanaro Barolo Chinato. While I would never drink this wine on its own, paired with the eggplant tart it was mind-blowing. I love when a pairing is so perfect that every bite is pure joy.
Buca remains my “go-to” Toronto Italian restaurant as I live one block away and my boyfriend and I often go to enjoy the spot on, comforting and authentic menu. This tasting was a special treat and I have to say it took me outside my usual Buca order. That said, the parmigiana di melazane has always been and remains to be my favourite item on the menu.
Buca is located at 604 King Street West.