Monday, April 28, 2014

Buca Osteria & Enoteca: Rustica Cucina Italiana

Few places encapsulate Toronto’s innovative new dining culture better than Buca Osteria & Enotecca, one of the most successful restaurants that's opened in recent years. Hidden away down a long alleyway at King and Portland in a former warehouse boiler room with exposed brick walls, dramatically soaring 30-foot ceilings and glowing industrial chandeliers, Buca's subterranean dining room feels like the city’s most exquisite warehouse. At the culinary helm, Executive Chef Rob Gentile and his team prepare some of the most original Italian cuisine in the city. And Gentile trained under the best, Mark McEwan at North 44, Bymark and One — but with Buca, he's gone back to the cooking of his nonna. Dishes are based on fresh market seasonal produce and change constantly, so Buca's menus are printed daily and date-stamped each morning. Always included are their house-cured meats, such as spicy calabrese style pork sausage, Prosciuttini, Salumi and Guanciale, plus a long list of fabulous Italian cheeses. We started with a selection of Salumi e Formaggi di Buca along with an order of Deep Fried Olives stuffed with house made pork & fennel sausage and Chef Gentile's famous Nodini, warm bread knots tossed with olive oil, rosemary, garlic and sea salt. 

The subterranean dining room of Buca

Bare honey-hued industrial lightbulbs enhance Buca's mod ambiance

Most of the dishes are designed to be shared, which is exactly what we did. The house made pastas are sensational such as the Gnocchi alla Primavera and Stringozzi alla Norcina made with colonnata spiced rabbit sausage, fermented butter and garnished with scorzone truffles from Molise that was so good, we ordered it twice. The thin-crust, Roman-style pizzas are another delicious option. Served on a rectangular wood plank with a pair of scissors, we shared the Funghi Pizza with sautéed BC porcini mushrooms, mascarpone, gorgonzola and fresh marjoram, as well as a 'Pesce' and 'Carne': the Luccio Piccolo of Lake Erie Pickerel, polenta taragna, porcini mushrooms, cow's milk and polvere di soffritto, and the spectacular Rosemary Sausage Stuffed Rabbit Leg served on a wood board with soft stone-milled polenta, Taggiasche olives and topped with shaved pecorino brillo. Buca's Italian wine list has over 250 well-chosen labels, from which we selected a full bodied Il Drago e le 8 Colombe red Tuscan wine, which at $90 a bottle was as delicious as it was pricey. We indulged and finished our meal with two Dolce which we all shared, and were surprised when our server arrived with five glasses of Limoncello for our table, as a special treat. Buca isn’t the place for a quiet romantic dinner, but if you’re looking for a delicious evening with big buzz and big bucks, Buca is the place to be.

Buca's Italian-centric menu

Il Drago e le 8 Colombe, a full bodied Red Tuscan wine, with a great label!

Dark ruby red, the wine was delicious

Buca's Charcuterie and Formaggi Board with a selection of 5 salumi and 3 cheeses

Buca's famous Nodini, warm bread knots tossed with olive oil, rosemary, garlic and sea salt

Olives Ascolane: deep fried olives stuffed with house made pork & fennel sausage

Buca's oblong thin-crust Funghi Pizza with sautéed BC porcini mushrooms, mascarpone, gorgonzola and fresh marjoram, is served on a rectangular wood plank with a pair of scissors

Stringozzi alla Norcina made with fresh cut pasta, colonnata spiced rabbit sausage, 
fermented butter and scorzone truffles from Molise

Luccio Piccolo with Lake Erie pickerel, polenta taragna, porcini mushrooms, 
cow's milk and polvere di soffritto

Rosemary Sausage Stuffed Rabbit Leg on soft stone-milled polenta with Taggiasche olives and topped with shaved pecorino brillo

Gnocchi alla Primavera

Crema Fritta made with fresh bergamot, buffalo milk custard and buffalo ricotta

Dolce di Latte

A round of complimentary Limoncello for our table from our server at Buca

The open-concept kitchen at Buca

Puntarelle Salad
Serves 2
Recipe courtesy Chef Gentile, Buca Osteria + Enoteca

2 cups loosely packed basil leaves
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tbsp toasted pine nuts
1 small garlic clove
1 tbsp Parmesan cheese, finely grated
2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
Pinch of salt and pepper

3 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
Pinch of salt

1 head puntarelle or half a head chicory or escarole greens
2 duck egg yolks
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
2–3 tbsp canola oil
6 smelts or 12 white anchovies
1 tbsp all-purpose flour for dusting
Pinch of store-bought citrus salt, optional

Pulse the pesto ingredients in a food processor or blender until the pesto has a smooth but slightly textured consistency. Set aside. If you’re making the pesto ahead of time, it will keep for up to 2 days covered and refrigerated.

Pour the vinegar and lemon juice into a small bowl and whisk in oil slowly. Add salt to taste. If making ahead, dressing will keep for 1 day covered and refrigerated.

Just before serving, gently julienne the puntarelle. Toss in a medium bowl with 3 tbsp pesto and 2 tbsp pine nuts. Drizzle with 1/3 cup dressing. Toss to mix. Add more dressing to taste. Divide salad into 2 to 4 bowls. Make a small well in the top of each and top with a raw duck yolk. Garnish with leftover pine nuts.

Coat a small frying pan with oil and set over medium-high heat. Place flour in a shallow bowl. Coat the smelts or anchovies with flour. Cook for about 1 minute per side until fish is golden. Toss each salad with fish. Taste and add more pesto or dressing, if you like. Serve immediately.

Makes 30
Recipe courtesy Chef Gentile, Buca Osteria + Enoteca

At Buca, chef Rob Gentile’s signature nodini are a smash hit. “These have been in my family for as long as I can remember. My mother or aunt started making knots with leftover pizza or bread dough.” With the kitchen turning out up to a thousand each day, chef Gentile admits: “We’re kinda famous for them!” 

2 grams fresh yeast, or 1 gram dry
168 ml warm water
280 grams artisan bread flour
5 grams salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp sea salt
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp rosemary, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 450°F. Crumble the yeast in a countertop mixer, adding warm water to dissolve — if using dry yeast, dissolve in the warm water and wait a minute or two to allow the yeast to activate.

Add the flour to the mix and mix at low speed for 10 minutes, then high speed for two minutes. After the first five minutes of mixing, sprinkle the salt in evenly over the dough. Place finished dough in a sealed container and let rest on the countertop at room temperature for one hour.

Next, using a rolling pin, roll the dough out until it’s about 1 cm thick, dusting liberally with flour to prevent sticking. Cut into strips about 1 cm in width, and about 5 cm in length. It's important that these finished knots be 12 to 13 g each, for even cooking time and presentation.

Tie off each strip of dough into a simple knot. If some strips feel a little bigger than others, you can twist a little off the bottom as you tie it. 
Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and place knots evenly on it, allowing enough space between for the knots to double in size. Cover the pan loosely with clear food wrap and place somewhere warm for approximately 30 minutes or until doubled in size.

Bake until golden brown in colour. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix together olive oil, sea salt, minced garlic and finely chopped rosemary. While still hot out of the oven, toss the nodini in oil mixture and serve right away.