Restaurant review: Barbuto by Jonathan Waxman

When chef Jonathan Waxman opened Barbuto in 2004, the bookmakers of the food scene put all the odds on his side for his survival. Ever...


When chef Jonathan Waxman opened Barbuto in 2004, the bookmakers of the food scene put all the odds on his side for his survival. Ever since Jams became one of New York’s main feeding grounds of the 1980s, then losing it and two other restaurants by the end of the decade, Mr. Waxman had become something of a drifting shooter for hire, leaving from one consulting job to another. A seasoned reviewer confidently told me, when I said this new place looked promising, “He’ll be gone in a year.”

In fact, Mr. Waxman was still there to deliver his idea of ​​Italian cuisine 15 years later, when a new owner who had bought Barbuto’s building just south of the meatpacking district chose to let the lease expire. By then, Barbuto had survived dozens of nearby restaurants that were greeted with delirium when they appeared, only to sink without a ripple some time later. Barbuto never changed chefs or adopted a tasting menu or went Nordic or eliminated meat or introduced an elaborate main course for 12 that had to be ordered weeks in advance or did anything wrong. ‘other who made the news, although correct on all food publication in the city taken his tower admiring the roast half-chicken under a shaggy salsa verde.

Until his last month, May 2019, when he posted a staff video singing a theatrical farewell to the tune of “One Day More” from “Wretched“, Barbuto attracted very little notice. He went about his business with the cold and steady assurance that if he kept doing things, people who knew the difference between heat and light would notice him. Many people did, and they found it impossible, or at least unpleasant, to imagine downtown Manhattan without Barbuto.

Mr. Waxman clearly agreed, as his response to the expulsion was to build a second Barbuto about 500 feet from the first. After an unfortunate short run in February and March 2020, the restaurant returned in October. Again, it is on a northeast corner, at the intersection of West and Horatio streets. Again, the exterior walls are largely glass, although on the new site they do not roll up, which made the original space so attractive on warm nights. Again, the kitchen is organized around the flames of a gas grill combined with a pizza oven in full view of the dining area, which is filled with many of the same square tables, chairs, plates and the same servers.

The bar is much longer now, making it easier to slip in without a reservation and call in for a cocktail – perhaps a soft-edged Negroni, or a mai tai with a pool of dark rum that you smell before take the first sip, or a JW margarita, which may not be revolutionary enough to warrant the monogram, but is smoother and more polished than most.

Standard operating procedure at this point is to order a dish of green, brown, and purple olives dripping with citrus-scented oil. There’s no reason to deviate from it, but the spiced roasted nuts, new since the move, go extremely well with margaritas and other lime-based cocktails.

Custom also dictates that at least one bowl of kale salad must appear at the table. Although this pile of fodder looks like it should only be eaten for medicinal purposes, the greens have lost their fierce raw quality after being thoroughly tossed with a Caesar-like dressing. Basil is almost invisible, but essential. It’s the One True Kale Salad, next to which all the others are contenders.

But before you follow the custom, shredded Brussels sprouts salad is brighter and sunnier, and gives its main ingredient an equally remarkable makeover.

Also worth mentioning is the salad which combines warmed radicchio, crispy calamari rings and a spicy red pepper aioli that has a similar effect to Buffalo-wing sauce.

If none of this sounds particularly new to you, it’s because the style Mr. Waxman helped invent in California in the 1970s, In Panisse in Berkeley and Michael’s in Santa Monica, then transported to New York at Jams in the 80s, became something like the default mode for seasonal Italian cuisine in America in the 90s. Today, chefs who do not seek to faithfully reproduce the traditions of Italy pass through the doors opened by Mr. Waxman and a few others. On the other side of that door were mesquite grills, wilted salads, weird pizza toppings.

Barbuto has smoked salmon and avocado pizza, an edible museum piece. Even the most traditional pie, a number topped with Fontina and stracciatella called the Hannah, doesn’t use plain tomatoes but a long-cooked tomato stew. Well why not?

Still, there’s a deeper flavor to the wild boar stew Mr. Waxman has been swirling chestnut fettuccine with lately. In fact, Barbuto’s pizza is usually eclipsed by fresh pasta, especially if your definition of pasta includes the splendid potato gnocchi – albeit not boiled, but pan-fried in butter and oil. olive, then scattered like cushions. on a plate with sautéed Romanesco or another seasonal vegetable. Again, why not?

As for main courses, there are several options but only one important choice: will you have chicken or something that is not chicken? Other meats and fish tend to be loaded with veggies that not only complement but compliment them — seared cod with fatty jumbo beans, as creamy as cake icing; the steep breaded pork cutlet with a crispy, bitter green salad that’s as invigorating as a snowball fight.

The chicken comes on its own, aside from a dollop of rough, rustic Italian salsa verde; arugula, parsley and other herbs are not so much chopped as cut. Stains of it are scattered around the golden, pepper-speckled skin.

If you find rotisserie chicken too simple to eat in restaurants, Barbuto’s probably won’t change your mind. But if simplicity is a big part of what you love about roast chicken, you might feel like you’ve reached a pinnacle of simplicity, a roast whose natural flavor is the point, cooked in a method that leaves every part of the bird almost as juicy. And if you eat that with a side of JW Potatoes, roasted to a crispy flake that almost no other cuisine seems able to match, you have one of the best meals the city has to offer.

Heather Miller, the pastry chef, moved to the new site with the other Barbuto luminaries. Her chocolate pudding, gelati, cheesecakes and so on have a taste of constant tinkering and improvement, but seem to have come together on their own. It’s close to the philosophy of the restaurant, which she must have had in her back pocket when she showed up on Horatio Street.

What do the stars mean Due to the pandemic, restaurants are not rated by stars.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Restaurant review: Barbuto by Jonathan Waxman
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