Bar Buca has finally arrived at King and Portland. Wondering what took so long? The 14-month delay was mostly due to the red tape of acquiring a liquor license. And the license was essential. The entire menu here has been designed with a drink-first focus.
Inside, the cozy 38-seater feels like a modern hangout in Italy thanks to the stand-up marble bar and unfussy industrial-chic design. They have four sommeliers and more than 30 wines on offer but we start with an impeccably made Ciociora ($11, Bombay Sapphire, grenadine, tonic, lemon, fennel tincture).
The menu mostly consists of shared plates you can eat with your hands. We try the Insalata Siciliana ($7), which is a mixture of fennel, red onion, garum (fish sauce) and puffed veal tendon. I'm not a huge fennel fan but I still enjoyed this dish since it's the furthest thing from bitter.
There's no better drinking partner than a plate of something fried. The Gran Fritto Misto ($22) features young smelts topped with fennel salt, baby artichokes with a bergamot zabaglione, rock shrimp, fried rabbit leg and possibly the best arancino I've had in the city thanks to its intensely creamy texture.
Most porchetta in the city is dry and has to be disguised with loads of sauce. The Porchetta Schiacciata ($11) here, on the other hand, is beyond moist and rests between a delicious housemade foccaccia and is finished (not buried) with mascarpone, apple mostarda and agliata.
Up next is the Polpetta Di Capra ($14), a goat and ricotta meatball that blows me away. The sprinkled pine nuts are a nice (and expensive) touch, which goes to show these guys aren't holding back when it comes to quality ingredients.
We then dig into the Frico ($10), a straightforward Fruilani dish that consists of fried Montasio cheese, potato and buffalo yogurt. Like many pizzas, it's one of those simple dishes that's divine. It's the perfect bar snack made for indulging with your hands.
The Amazzafegato ($14) is probably the heaviest dish on the menu but also a standout. It's a Tuscan offal sausage (organ meats) accompanied by kale and porcini farro. And just to make it more indulgent, the chef tops it with a poached hen's egg. Bold, charred and rustic, it's a peasant dish elevated to the highest standards. It's also served at weekend brunch and is a serious contender for best hangover plate.
As for dessert, I actually overheard the guy next to me say the cannoli is life changing. The shell is surprisingly soft and when I closed my eyes while tasting the fresh ricotta filling I could have sworn I was transported to Palermo.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the coffee. Sourcing the right coffee was crucial because Bar Buca is open in the mornings and a big part of their business will be takeout coffee. Besides having a creative list of specialty coffees, they allow you to upgrade your cappuccino to buffalo milk and their normal milk is a creamy, organic version from Quebec.
If there's one thing I've learned from this place it's that you get the sense the owners aren't doing this for the money. It's as if it's just a group of guys who take pride in feeding you what they like to eat. And what they like to eat just happens to be extraordinary.
Bar Buca is open 7 nights a week from 7am - 2am and doesn't accept reservations.
Photos by Jesse Milns