Two nights ago, I headed to Nolita with my co-workers for an Italian feast. From the moment we walked inside Il Buco, we were transported to a small home in the Italian countryside. This place has charm. Each corner is its own nook. No two lighting fixtures are the same and instead of paintings, the walls are covered with collections of plates and cutting boards. So authentic was the decor, that by the end of dinner I was convinced the owners had actually gone to Italy, saw a quaint home they liked, picked it up in one piece, and flew it to New York City. Since that idea seemed a tad far fetched, I headed to the website to uncover the true story behind the decor. There I learned that when owner and independent filmmaker Donna Lennard opened the restaurant in 1994 with her Italian boy toy, it was actually a modern day trading post – a craft/antique exchange. The store had a tiny kitchen in the back and patrons were often treated to a snackypoo. The kitchen soon took over, which suits me perfectly because I have no antiques to trade.
The chef prepared a menu for us and the sommelier paired each course with wine. We started with a slew of appetizers including skate, cured meats, prawns, and grapefruit with nuts. The star of this course was easily the polenta. Those Italians know what they’re doing because that was the best bowl of cheese grits I’ve ever eaten. We had a choice for each of the next two courses, but I loved my picks so much that I can’t even remember the other options. For the pasta course I ate the pillow-y soft gnocci with pork sausage and kale and for my entrée I devoured the wreckfish with faro, pickled onions, and golden beets. The dessert plate featured biscotti, an apple quince tart, flourless chocolate cake, panna cotta topped with aged balsamic (the house specialty), and chocolate chip ice cream. Normally I would say to leave out the ice cream, but there was a surprising hint of salt that woke up my taste buds.
The restaurant was a hit with everyone at the table, but then again I think wine pairing is always successful. If I was impossibly rich, I would have someone pair wine with my dinner every night. I would also hire a personal back scratcher to go everwhere with me, but that’s probably beside the point.