Barbuto didn’t quite live up to the hype we were hoping it would. Located in the West Village, it has an undeniably fantastic ambiance. You’ve got to go there in good weather as the entire restaurant opens into a large half indoor/half outdoor space. The restaurant is very airy and roomy. It’s particularly fantastic if you get to sit in the perimeter of the restaurant, on the sidewalk, and people-watch as you dine.
Food and service wise, though, it was nothing spectacular and I expected more from Jonathan Waxman. He is known for being a pioneer of California cuisine and coastal dining, which places a huge emphasis on fresh produce, meats, and seafood and takes a more balanced, lighter approach with its dishes. I expected to love Barbuto, which combines Italian cuisine with Californian techniques, but I just didn’t.
In case you’re wondering, the name “Barbuto” means bearded in Italian. Uncoincidentally, both Waxman and his partner Fabrizio Ferri have beards. Fabrizio is a fashion photographer who strongly encouraged Waxman to open up the restaurant over a decade ago.
In particular, we’d been hearing about the “pollo al forno” for years, touted to be one of the best roasted chicken entrees in the city, so we decided to give it a go. We also ordered the gnocchi stagionale as we wanted another entrée to complement the chicken.
The pollo al forno is bone-in, skin-on chicken with pieces of breast, leg, and thigh meat. They baste the chicken every 10 minutes while roasting, so a lot of care goes into the dish, and it’s served with a salsa verde consisting of capers, anchovies, garlic, and herbs. I expected the chicken to be more moist and flavorful than it was. It seemed like something that any restaurant or skilled home cook could make. I just didn’t understand the hype over it. It wasn’t bad, but I would not seek this out at a restaurant.
The gnocchi stagionale came with confit tomato, pearl onions, corn & parmesan. This was the better dish, getting higher marks on both uniqueness and flavor. The gnocchi had a texture unlike any other gnocchi. It was soft and pillowy on the inside, but it seemed fried and crispy on the outside. I asked about it and our server told us that as a result of a happy accident, they discovered a different way of cooking gnocchi.
Apparently, they used to cook their gnocchi normally, which is to say after hand-making it fresh that day, they would take the room temperature gnocchi and cook it in the pan. But one day, they ran out of that day’s fresh gnocchi, so they took a back-up batch from the freezer. Having no time to let it thaw to room temperature, they threw it into the pan to cook in its still frozen state. They preferred the resulting texture, so they’ve since made the switch to cooking directly from the frozen state. It’s an interesting technique and it does create the effect of lightly frying the outside while sealing in a lot of moisture with the fried shell it creates.
The flavors were also very interesting and highly unusual for a gnocchi. The taste was so familiar to both of us, but we couldn’t put our finger on it. I would love for someone to tell me what it reminds them of. It’s something very distinct, so please tell me if you figure it out!
And they do bring bread to start, but it is nothing to write home about. When I asked if they made it in-house, they said that they got it from a local bakery, which can be a bit of a red flag at a restaurant of this caliber. If something can be made in-house, it should be made in-house, especially in NYC where many top restaurants make their own butter, ketchup, pickles, ice cream, etc.
Anyway, I wouldn’t return to Barbuto of my own accord, but I wouldn’t put up a fight about going back either. The ambiance is a huge seller and I’d love to sit in that dining room again. I would just be selective about what I ordered.