There’s nothing new about food being an addictively mood-altering drug. But less obviously the entire dining experience can also heavily influence your frame of mind. So no matter how hard you are trying to be a witty contributor to the conversation, by practicing those well-rehearsed one-liners on new ears, when your focus is distracted by a brusque waiter with sub-zero peripheral vision who seems to be the only one in the entire state who cannot see your wildly flailing arms in search of a replacement fork, or when one of your guests’ appetizers seems to be coming from Cairo on the back of a camel, even the best food won’t do much to bring back your mojo. So when a decade-old, all-time local favorite like Jonathan Waxman’s rustic Italian Barbuto ceaselessly delivers sensational evenings to remember, you can’t help but do your happy dance.
With the large garage doors open on two sides, Barbuto spills out onto the West Village sidewalks like a prime corner on an alleyway in Rome. The open kitchen feels fresh and approachable – but you wouldn’t dare get in the way of the furious activity that delivers hit after hit to table after table, night after night, year after year.
While there is an abundance of seasonality to the menu, it is also a multi-year collection of some of New York’s favorite dishes, so much so that the first items (below the drawing of a bearded mutt) are Waxman’s two published cookbooks “A Great American Cook” and “Italian my way”. The service is both fun and flawless. Rapport is obviously encouraged and our waitress instantly became our fifth guest at the table.
This week’s Bruschetta hosted a generous helping of Burrata and a dribble of Balsamic and two highly unlikely but utterly delectable companions: strawberries and pistachios. The Risotto Frutti di Mare with succulent shrimp and scallops couldn’t have possibly been any creamier. The Colorado Lamb with Bell pepper and onions had a thrilling but subtle spike of heat along with a luxurious au jus, while the recipe for the pork/veal/beef Bolognaise served with Gemelli pasta deserves to be immortalized behind glass, right there next to the Declaration of Independence.
The blisteringly crispy Patate (potatoes cooked with garlic, hand-smashed and then deep-fried before being sprinkled with Pecorino and rosemary) are so ridiculously devourable – little wonder they were able to stage their own disappearing act.
But the dish that will (hopefully) never vanish from the menu is Waxman’s illustrious “JW” Pollo al Forno with salsa verde. The pan roasted half-chicken couldn’t be more simply prepared with a little olive oil, lemon, sea salt and pepper, but the countless interruptions for basting make this flightless bird soar higher than any other. Topped with a mouthwateringly flavorful green mix of fresh herbs including tarragon, oregano, sage and mint with anchovy and garlic – you have the recipe for sold-out tables well into the next decade.
Desserts include many local favorites too, like the thick, creamy and indulgent Chocolate Budino served in a Capuccino cup with two biscotti or the Chocolate Coconut Cake, which is what happens when Tiramisu, Coconuts and Almonds are left alone to make a baby.
Barbuto might mean “bearded” in Italian, but for most of us it means “Be back!”