Best New Restaurants 2015: #1, Buca Yorkville
I’ve been daydreaming about Rob Gentile. I’m in love with his ricotta gnocchi, which he rolls out by hand at Buca Yorkville, his grand new restaurant on the ground floor of the Four Seasons condo tower. He dresses the airy pillows with a foam of creamy robiola cheese, fried sage leaves, crumbled roasted chestnuts and shavings of Molisan white truffle. That’s his signature: a rustic Italian recipe made luxe, like Nonna dolled up in Gucci. The dish rings in at $80, by far the priciest pasta per bite in town.
The original Buca on King West, a favourite of Jamie Oliver and everyone else, is still one of the city’s best restaurants, and Bar Buca, Gentile’s laid-back location a short walk away, has become my favourite stop for a late-night porchetta sandwich and a glass of barolo. At the Yorkville Buca he serves his famous nodini and thin-crust pizzas (gilded with more truffle), but the focus is on top-notch fish and seafood. He installed a special seafood dry-curing unit in the kitchen to make “salami” of octopus, scallop, swordfish or tuna blood combined with pork fat. They’re like fine headcheese, though nowhere near as popular as deep-fried exotica like Atlantic cod tongue or puffed dumplings dyed a deep black with squid ink. I love how the servers wheel over a brass and walnut cart laden with your selection of the day’s catch (perhaps baked branzino), cover the fish with a cloth and crack open a carapace of salt, then present the deboned fillets to the table with the seriousness of a devotional offering. Everything is perfect, including a dessert of zeppole—an Italian doughnut—dusted with powdered sugar and stuffed with a rich pistachio-mascarpone cream.
I could have named the new Buca this year’s number one restaurant based solely on Gentile’s gnocchi. Everything else—the pages of fantastic Italian wines, the elegant Carrara marble bar that doubles as a breakfast pastry counter for hotel guests, the handsome servers in their bespoke caramel leather aprons and the care that went into designing the acoustics so that even when the room is full of excited diners, your friends are never drowned out in a roar—is icing.