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8.8
NYC

Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria

PHOTOS: Noah Devereaux

You know what makes me angry? The fact that right now, at this very minute, someone, somewhere (probably in Britain) is buying tickets to see Queen with Adam Lambert. I'm sorry, but I'll just never understand why anyone would pay money to see a live desecration of "I Want To Break Free" sung by someone not named Freddie Mercury - especially when that someone came from American Idol. That's not Queen. That's Queen karaoke.

Now, before word makes it to the "Glamberts" that I've slandered their king, and before the virtual pitchforks come out, let me make myself clear. I absolutely do think that Adam Lambert sucks. But I am making that point here in this restaurant review for a reason. You see, in most situations, be it music, sports, or television, you cannot have a significant core lineup change and simply carry on as though everything remains the same. It didn't work for whatever that first Dumb and Dumber sequel was, it didn't work on Two And A Half Men after Charlie Sheen got awesome, and I don't care what you say, it didn't work for Van Halen either. David Lee Roth forever.

Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria recently had a pretty significant lineup change of its own, when their longtime chef left to open a new establishment with Stephen Starr, the restaurant industry's Simon Cowell. Being that this place has been in our regular rotation ever since we first reviewed it back in 2011, this was a concerning development. We generally dislike change, especially when it relates to whether or not short rib sandwiches will be available to us for lunch. As a result, we've been back to Il Buco AV several (seven) times over the last few months to see what's changed with a new lead singer at the helm, sure to be bummed out by a bunch of Adam Lambert interpretations of their greatest hits.

But here's the thing. That's not what happened at all. Believe it or not, Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria has somehow gotten better with the new lineup. The key classics are all there - short rib sandwiches and excellent pasta included. But there are also some new dishes that impressed us in a way that nothing on the previous menu ever did - like roasted quail in a white chocolate sauce or a simple but incredible Little Gem salad. It almost feels as though there's some California influence on this menu now, or maybe that's just what eating fresh greens instead of brussels sprouts tells me. Either way, I like it.

Even with the new improvements, Il Buco is not a perfect restaurant - it's always packed to the gills during dinner, and the communal seating situation will likely make your meal a social engagement with the strangers around you, whether you're into that sort of thing or not. Regardless, this is still one of the best restaurants in this city, and it's perfectly reasonable to hit it for brunch or lunch if you can't get in for dinner. As a matter of fact, it really doesn't matter what time you go. Just go before they change their lineup again. Good things aren't meant to last forever. Now someone please pass that message along to Brian May.

Food Rundown

Lattuga Salad
Il Buco Lattuga SaladThis salad made up of Little Gem lettuce, pickled onions, and radish might be my favorite salad ever. It's a perfect example of how good a plate of greens can be if they're seasoned right, and by seasoned right, I mean dusted in tarragon and something they refer to as "anchovy powder." A must order.

Bucatini Cacio e Pepe
Il Buco Cacio e Pepe BucatiniI love this, but don't get it if you can't handle some seriously al dente pasta. For whatever reason, that's how they do this dish here. No matter - it's simple and delicious in my book.

Busiate Pasta
Il Buco Alimentari BusiateA "squiggly" pasta (I'm told that word is Italian) served in a pesto made from almonds, anchovy, and capers. It's hearty, salty, and has some texture to it. We love it.

Roasted Quail in White Chocolate Sauce
I don't know what the deal is with this special - it doesn't seem to be a permanent fixture on the menu. That needs to get dealt with, because those delicate little pieces of bird in a barely sweet white chocolate sauce are a few of the best tiny bites I've had all year.

Grilled Octopus with Chick Peas
This octopus always comes cooked perfectly, and it's delicious. Just know that it's not the super charred variety that you might be used to. Here it's all about that real octopus flavor. Mmmm, arms.

Roasted Gnocchi
Usually served with some sort of mushroom, and often some artichokes, this is going to be something you want to eat.

Branzino
Il Buco Alimentary BranzinoOne of the better whole fish situations we've had in recent memory. We had this on our first of the recent dinner visits we made, and ordered it every time thereafter. The fish is light and flavorful. Pro tip: ask them to filet it for you.

Spit-Roasted Short Ribs
I'm not sure what kind of animals have "short" ribs that are this big, but I am pretty sure I used to draw them when I was four. This huge, bone-in shorty is spit roasted, which makes for a black, chewy bark on the outside that's very similar to what you find on really good BBQ. It's delicious but not what you might think of when you think of short ribs that are usually braised. Also know that they put this on a sandwich during lunch, which should dictate your lunch plans for tomorrow.

Lunch Pizza
There are a lot of things to eat on the lunch menu that you can't get during dinner, panini and sandwiches included. That said don't sleep on whatever pizza they've got going. Chances are it's pretty excellent.

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