i first went to il buco over 10 years ago, when it was still just an antique store-cum-wine bar. i loved it, thought it was really cute, and after moving to NYC a few years later spent some time trying to find it again (never could, as we'd just stumbled on it first time). anyway, fast forward many years and it has become the popular mediterranean restaurant that it is today, and i realized that "that cute little wine" bar is il buco.
myself and my girlfriend had been wanting to go for some time, and dropped in a couple of times on spec to see if we could get a table (we couldn't, of course). a friend from LA who visits NYC a few times a year, and who we always dine out with, had heard about it, and mentioned it as a possibility for one of our evenings out. so, we called up and got a table for 4 on the same evening - lucky us, we thought.
i buco is certainly a beautiful spot, in that old, coppery, worn wood, low-light way. i would even call it quite romantic looking. we were brought into the back room, by the semi-open kitchen, which would generally upset me enough to say something, but we knew we'd gotten the table at short notice, so i decided it was no biggie. plus, the room did have some charm of its own - different to the front room - being somewhat cellar-like with wine racks lining the walls. in fact, i believe it was this room that was in one of woody allen's recent movies ("melinda and melinda"?). it did prove to be very noisy, and the kitchen door was constantly flapping, but we didn't let us bother us too much.
what did bother me, however, was the service. our server started out brusque, and became rude as the evening progressed. she later seemed to change her attitude, but it was too late, as she had already marred the evening. what was initially off putting was the "diner-like manner" in which she approached asking for orders. i know this place is NOT "fine dining", rather it is somewhat casual, but it does come at a fairly high price-point, and i'd expect a somewhat better approach by wait staff. what made things worse, however, was that she was correcting the pronunciation of several people in our party. i was the only "westerner" amongst the group, the rest of them were asian. they are all fluent in english, and can certainly hold their own with many western languages on menus etc., but the fact is, people have accents, and may mispronounce a word when it is in a language that is foreign to them, and in an alphabet that is not their native one. i can understand a waitperson wanting to ensure that they heard the order correctly, but surely they should have enough interpersonal skills and sensitivity to be able to do this without making their guests feel embarrassed? it was very very poor form.
next, as i was the only one in the party who was going to be ordering a beverage, i told the sommelier that i was going to order wines by the glass, and could he recommend one. he asked what i was having, and told me he'd be back with a recommendation. the server came by next and i asked if i could have "an americano, as an aperitif" ... a few minutes later, you guessed it, a bus boy comes by with a cup of coffee! i told him that was not the kind of americano that i ordered, so he took it away. a few minutes later, our server arrived, with some wine glasses, and asked if i was having a glass of wine. i told her about the americano mix-up and she told me. "that's the only kind of americano we have". i told her i wanted an aperitif. she said "i don't know how to make those". so, i told her how it was made, and asked if she could get me one. she told me she could (btw, the beverage menu had all the various components of an americano listed, which is why i thought they might be able to make. plus, there is a rather well-stocked bar at the front the restaurant. and since when does a waitperson mix the drinks for the patrons?!!! what a ridiculous excuse she gave me! and surely every trained bartender learns an americano out the gate?). she was acting very defensive, and kept "over-talking" me as i tried to explain what i wanted. anyway, a few minutes later, the americano arrives, very badly made. way too sweet, hardly any soda. and a lemon rind instead of orange (i could forgive that part, maybe it is just my preference).
the food itself was unremarkable. my starter WAS very nice, a nice grilled quail salad. the salumi platter was a little disappointing, the serrano ham was way too dry, like it had been cut quite some time ahead of service. the testa was ok, but not a patch on lupa's, by way of comparison. my main course was a heritage pork (can't remember which breed), from flying pigs farms (i like those guys, i buy various things from them at the greenmarket). however, it seemed like the kitchen got a bit lazy with this dish, perhaps in trying to let the meat "talk for itself", coz it was very bland. i've had various heritage pork cuts, but this just didn't thrill me at all, needed another dimension on the plate, a sauce, a relish, more seasoning, something ... i tasted a friends steak dish, it was ok, better than my pork, but not great.
we probably SHOULD have let them know about our bad service experience either through leaving a small tip, or asking for the manager. but, sometimes you just want to get out of a place, you know? so, i didn't ask for the manager. we even left a good tip, just easier really coz we were splitting the bill, and it was a round figure each. a better server was there towards the end of the meal, and a the attitude of the original server had improved during the meal (but too little too later, on her part). and the bus boys etc. worked hard enough.
i will never go back to il buco, and i'd discourage my friends from doing so, as it was one of my worst meals (considering expectations, price, etc.) in all my years in new york. too bad, they could be on to a good thing with that nice space. maybe it is a great place for regulars, i don't know. maybe, food-wise, we ordered things that aren't really their specialties. but, i can't forgive bad service. oh, and it also kinda bugged me the way they devoted so much space in their menu to flogging their olive oil (very good oil, however), the sea salt, and whatever else they are selling under their brand. that came off as pretty tacky.
anyone else have a similar experience at il buco?
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