Rob Gentile’s Buca is like heaven to me, an Italian heaven that is, a heaven where there is incredible food, wonderful wine, and superb service.
Heaven was certainly on our minds last week as four friends gathered at Buca for a Thursday evening catch up dinner. Listed at number 17 on Canada’s Best 100 Restaurants, we are greeted by a handsome front of house staff: all smiling, all attractive in a heavenly Italian kind of way, who gather our last-of-winter coats and usher us through the bustling, beautiful main dining room with soaring high ceilings, past exposed raw brick, and iron beams to our waiting table, nestled and tucked into the corner beside the hustling open kitchen.
When in Italian heaven it is our practice to start our celebrations with a bottle of prosecco and tonight is no different. A slightly chilled bottle of Desiderio Jeio Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore Brut from the Veneto (more Italian heaven) is ordered, and we cheer the elegant citrus, pear, and light herb notes.
Our handsome, superlative and leather-aproned server walks us through our menu with ease and a heaven-sent charm that seems to be evident with the entire staff at Buca. Knowledgeable, crisp, unintimidating, unobtrusive, the way service should be. We start with some Formaggi: Ricotta di Bufala, Piave, bites of Pecorino Toscano and a richly veined Gorgonzola, fragrant, soft and oozing on the wooden board. And of course, some beautiful Nodini: heavenly warm knuckles of bread knots, swimming in a bath of olive oil, salt, rosemary, and garlic.
I start with a ‘wishing for summer’ favorite: Vitello Tonnato. Beautifully slow poached veal, shaved razor thin and nestled beside a savoury albacore tuna mousse and topped with a dollop of Sicilian harissa(!) and garnished with some softly sauteed capers. More heaven. Our guests share the Barbabietola e Bacche: local Cookstown beets, whipped Bufala Ricotta, Elderflower vinegar, Terre di San Mauro olive oil and topped with some luscious summer berries.
I once worked with a woman whose mother was in love with me. Being first generation Italian/Canadian, she would regularly gift me with her homemade gnocchi, ‘just as Nonna made’, were her words. I pretty much figured I had won the gnocchi lottery: light as a feather pasta made with plenty of love and motherly attention from the old country. But sorry Mrs. Gardine, Gentile’s gnocchi gets my vote. Hand rolled perfect ricotta pillows of gnocchi with Toma di Capra, Radicchio di Treviso, Pregiato truffle and smoked brown butter. Gnocchi heaven. Our guests indulge in a perfectly al dente bowl of Bigoli: Torchio-cranked duck egg pasta, duck offal ragu, Venetian spices, mascarpone and slivers of peppery basil. As is the practice at Buca, many of the plates of pasta arrive and are gently massaged and tossed at table, releasing their inner flavours and heat at just the right time.
Desert and coffee are offered of course, but we decline. There is no need for additional indulgences when you have already spent three-plus wonderful hours in Italian heaven.
And one can never have too much Buca Italian heaven on one’s mind, can one?
Buca-well, my friends