There are few restaurants in New York that pass the test of time and remain as popular and enjoyable as they did in their honeymoon days. Il Buco and its offshoot, Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria, are two go-to’s for the discerning diners of Manhattan. Each has much of the competition beat in regards to decor and ambience. The story started in 1994, when owner Donna Leon and her Italian boyfriend Alberto Avalle, opened an antique store on cobblestoned, not yet ‘hip’ Bond St, specializing in crafts and culture cultivated through their travels. Friends, shoppers, and neighbors lingered for Donna and Alberto’s pranzo, prepared in their tiny back kitchen. What began as an exchange of goods between the old world and the new became an exchange of Italian food and culture, set against the couple’s expertly curated collection.
It is no wonder, then, that Il Buco is renowned for its rustic decor; the mezzalunas on the wall, the antique copper pots, the stacks of vintage bowls and watering pots, the mismatched chairs and worn wooden tables. It exudes the warmth and charm of a rustic European home. Alberto scours the hills of Umbria for artisan products, some for the restaurant and some for the couple’s Artisan product line: Il Buco Alimentare. Bond Street morphed around them, now a trendy destination, but Il Buco retains its originality. The menu is an eclectic mix of Italian and some Spanish flavors, made with local, seasonal ingredients that Chef Joel Hough approaches with respect, grace, and subtle creativity. The menu, mostly small plates, changes daily with a few ever popular favorites. Parties of five or more are hard-pressed not to run the gamut and order one of everything. The service is always exceptional; Italian hospitality makes the space even more inviting and convivial, and the waiters are unfaltering in their knowledge about each plate and ingredient.
As a New Yorker, I feel as though I will never work my way through my never-ending ‘list’ of restaurants to try. I find, however, that Il Buco and the Alimentari are two of the few Manhattan spots worthy of uncountable repeat visits. These two restaurants are also my go-to when offering a restaurant recommendation; for a date, for a lunch, for a celebratory dinner, a family gathering, a casual dinner for one. Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria is one of my favorite spots to dine sola. I can sit at the bar, have a more than pleasant conversation with one or two of the waiters, and know that I am treating myself to a classic yet inventive, gratifying meal. The bar is also a congenial spot for a casual lunch. The decor at the Alimentari begins in the front of the establishment: the restaurant was actually an after thought. The Alimentari, filled with Italian cheeses, a beautiful cappuccino bar, gelato, breads, jams, and olive oils, is both everyday Italian market and the perfect place to purchase a hostess gift. Raised tables allow walk-ins a spot for an aperitif and a quick bite. The concept was so successful that Donna and Alberto knew that they had to expand; thus the restaurant in the second half of the space. At the opposite end, an open kitchen adds to the relaxed, friendly, Roman atmosphere. Diners are effortlessly chic, the food authentically Roman with hints of Chef Justin Smillie’s inventive, bold flavors, and the menu rotating with the seasons and market availability.
Both restaurants excel at all important characteristics on a discerning diner’s checklist, and to return again offers a feeling nothing short of going home.
Categories: Restaurant Review