Il Buco

My last vacation to New York was a few months before I ended up moving here. I have so many crystal clear memories of that trip. It was around the weekend of Canadian Thanksgiving/Columbus Day. I got out of the airport cab, stepped on to Clinton Street in Cobble Hill, and felt like I was where I was supposed to be. That first night, my friends and I had bubbles and turkey leg sandwiches at Henry Public and all was perfect. That week I had my first ladies lunch at ABC Kitchen, I took a shopping break and shared a Balthazar chocolate chip cookie on the steps of the Prince Street Equinox, I vowed to forever smell of Le Labo, and I experienced a pizza epiphany with my first visit to Roberta’s.

But what was most memorable about the trip was that I returned home for the first time with the resolve to finally sleuth around to see if I actually could move to New York.  Since my first visit seven years earlier, I had many laments about wanting, wishing, hoping to move. I thought it completely impossible for me as a Canadian; a Canadian who was not a doctor, scientist, lawyer, or insert highly-specialized-and-sought-after-job-of-your-choice here. But at dinner one night, my friend A pointedly responded to my “I wish I lived here” sighing with the question, “Well, why can’t you?” His tone and eye contact meant that it was not a question that allowed for the typical wishy-washy response of immigration hassle and qualification woes. He wanted a real answer, and I didn’t have one. That is why I love him. He doesn’t trifle with conversation niceties, but instead he is always thoughtful and direct. I had never actually done any research into how a person with a job like mine could move to the U.S. His question sat uneasily with me because I usually always have an answer. It was an itch that would have to be scratched when I returned to Canada so that I could properly Google and prove that it was impossible for me to move.

Yadda yadda yadda, five months later I was on a one-way flight to LaGuardia.

Another strong memory I have of that vacation was a dinner at Il Buco. At that time, sister restaurant Il Buco Alimentari was still under construction, so reservations at the original were a must. Part of why we had chosen Il Buco was because it was a longtime favourite of A’s, a place that considered him a regular. Therefore, it was a special part of NYC to a friend instead of just a “must try.” It also ended up being a memorable night because a new-to-me dinner companion is now someone I consider a friend. And the food. Well, I don’t remember much of that first meal (there may have been a lot of wine), but I know that it was a wonderful one. I do know that their panna cotta with aged balsamic, which I tried that night, is definitely the best version of that jiggly Italian pudding that I have ever had.

The atmosphere is not easy to forget. Lots of wood and warm lighting makes me think I’m in some Italian countryside cottage, though the prices lean more toward villa. Its rustic charm is what called to me on the first really cold night this fall, a night that indicated that it was more like winter. It was a Tuesday, and uncharacteristically, I didn’t want to go home for tea and TV. I wanted someone else to make me a comforting dinner and pour my wine. I wanted to push back against the cold wind and show it that I was not yet ready to give in and hibernate. I wanted Il Buco. It’s always busy and heavily reserved, but I figured the weather might give me a fighting chance for a seat at the bar, to channel A. It did, but just barely.

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Fava bean soup with spigarello

A rich red, a hearty soup, and a simple pasta carried me through a few New Yorker articles. The simple, housemade seedy bread belied its creation in the hands of a skilled baker. It was the cozy factor that removed the finer dining aspect that Il Buco can have—the Alimentari is the casual, cool younger sister—that I might not have wanted for a Tuesday alone at the bar. The soup and pasta warmed my bones and filled me up just as I wanted them to. The soup was thick, but not rich, and the spigarello (in the broccoli family, Google tells me) was the bitter needed to balance the smooth and mellow of the soup’s base. I loved the seasoning of the sausage against the sweetness of the squash in the perfectly al dente pasta. It was not a heavy dish, but there was enough butter to make it one for the cold weather. It being a Tuesday, I decided against the indulgence of the panna cotta and settled on having the buzz of the wine be my treat for the night.

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Rigatoni with kabocha squash, sausage, and pecorino

My three companions of that first visit were all New Yorkers when we’d dined and being closer to them was part of my desire to be here. But, now they are all Angelenos. Doh! This makes it much better for texting than when I was in Canada, which in one way has made us closer. Although another dinner altogether at Il Buco is unlikely anytime soon, I can now go there, not on vacation, and type to them, “Heading to Il Buco tonight. Thinking of you. Xo”

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