To celebrate a friend’s recent graduation from the French Culinary Institute, we made reservations at the Chef’s Table at Barbuto. This allows you to sit in front of the kitchen area and watch the meal being prepared. The meal is three to four courses served family style, highlighting some of the best selections off of their regular menu.
Once we sat down, I would say the courses sort of blended together. I would classify it as four courses – appetizers, pastas, main course, and dessert. We glanced over to see them throwing together the salad. It was a frisee salad, with a lemon vinagrette, shaved fennel, cucumber, radishes, and what seemed to be a smattering of apples. It was very light, but an interesting combination. It was the vinagrette and fennel which made the salad. We were also served a fantastic bruchetta, which was bread topped by fresh creamy chunks of goat cheese and butternut squash. They were mixed with walnuts, rosemary, and chives and were atop a fresh wild arugula salad. Our final appetizer was fresh foccacia with proscuitto. I was actually disappointed with this offering. The foccacia was generic as was the proscuitto… but the other two options made up for this one falling short.
I had to remind myself there was another hearty course to come as the pasta was paraded out. I’m usually indifferent to gnocchi. Like many pastas, it’s often dry, too chewy, and lacking in flavor. I would say that the gnocchi here was probably the best part of the meal. Highly unexpected. It was simplistic as well. It was gnocchi together with kale which had been sauteed in nothing more than butter. It was topped off by fresh parmesan cheese. Gnocchi here? It’s a must do. The other pasta dish was good (but it was no gnocchi…). It was a nice rigatoni a la bolognese, featuring a very light meat sauce.
They took an interesting approach for the main course, opting for one selection each of meat, poultry, and fish. They are known for their chicken dish, served with a fresh salsa verde. The chicken was very juicy and tender. The sauce was simplistic yet flavorful, comprised of parsley, oregano, tarragon, olive oil, capers, and anchovies. One more liklely to prefer chicken, I found myself most impressed by the skirt steak, which was paired with a shallot vinagrette and a light parmesean cheese sauce. The meat was thinly sliced and was cooked to a perfect level to highlight the flavor. The third option, spigola, just seemed to get lost in the mixed. A dish of fried Chilean sea bass served with leeks confit, it was just too bland to be placed on the table alongside the chicken and skirt steak. The effort at a diverse mixture though was appreciated.
With the main course, we were served a side of beets and ricotta salata. The vegetables were a nice accent to the meats, save the fish (again, that poor fish). We also had a side of fresh polenta. A fan of poltenta, I found theirs particularly fresh and well-done, nice and moist with just the right additional accent of herbs.
For dessert, we received a very simple coffee cup filled with chocolate pudding and served with a small square of lemon pound cake. It was very good. I’ll own up to having been quite full by this point in the meal, so I really didn’t need more. However seeing as I am such a dessert afficionado, I was disappointed that this was the only course that did not have multiple offerings. My sweet tooth? It felt highly neglected.
The most interesting thing though about dining at Barbuto was getting to watch the dance that was the meal preparation. Unlike most kitchens where if you walk by you will likely hear many voices as the coordinate the preparation, this kitchen was one of silence – broken only by sizzling food or whisks in motion. There were typically three different people working on the food preparation at any given time and they were working together on each given piece. But they didn’t talk. One would be mixing ingredients with another whisking away in their corner and somehow like magic, they would meet in the middle at the exact same point in time to throw in their contributions to pull together the one dish. It was perfectly choreographed. No orders called out. Only small slips of paper with writing set down gently upon the countertop. Seeing that alone to me was worth the $60 per person pricetag (no drink included). And what a tasty dance it was.
Barbuto -775 Washington Street (at West 12th Street) – 212.924.9700 – Reservations Recommended