Just opened: Buca

Just opened: Buca

Rob Gentile hangs with his meats (Photo by Karon Liu) 

The brains behind Brassaii, Jacobs and Co. and soon-to-be-opened The Saint are adding yet another restaurant to their empire, this one tucked away in the alley beside Cheval on the ritzy King Street strip. The week-old Buca is serving Italian fare by executive chef Rob Gentile, a former sous-chef at One, Bymark and North 44°.

“The kind of food we do here is what you’ll eat at the family table in Italy. It’s the food I grew up with,” he says, sitting in Buca’s dimly lit back room, which will open to diners next week (Penelope Cruz enjoyed a private dinner when she was here for TIFF last month). He’s flanked by hanging meats that he cures himself. Every Thursday, an entire animal is brought in, and every part of it is used; even the pork fat is used to make shells for cannoli.

The industrial-chic interior of Buca (Photo by Karon Liu) 

Daily menus are printed and date stamped each morning. Prices are in the standard King Street range of $15 to $25, and the dishes fall into the usual categories: antipasti, pizza, pasta, meat, fish, small plates, raw. On the day we visited, dishes included an Ontario heirloom tomato salad ($12) with Gentile’s 30-year-old vinegar; duck egg tagliatelle with duck ragù ($18); and funghi pizza ($18) with lobster, mushrooms and mascarpone. Vegetarians need not be intimidated by the giant leg of prosciutto near the entrance; there are plenty of veggie options on the menus.

The space in which all of this is served used to be a boiler room. Co-owner Peter Tsebelis says he netted the place in November 2006 but had to delay the opening due to a moratorium on liquor licences in the area (it’s not just Ossington that’s too hip for the city). It’s easy to imagine that this was a 19th-century utility space; the old brick walls remain, set off by dark woods and bare light bulbs—the kind more commonly seen in a mine shaft. Though the restaurant looks effortlessly put together, the before picture is quite tragic: there was no floor, just sand and a giant boiler that had to be taken out in pieces. “The architecture of the place is very simple and clean,” says Tsebelis. “Much like the food.”

Buca, 602 King St. W., 416-865-1600.