Is it … logical to fall for a restaurant because of sliced bread in a basket? It was remarkable stuff, with the gradually unfolding nuances of taste that are achieved only through a slow and patient fermentation of dough with wild yeast.
In my own review, I was respectful but far less excited:
The bread service is pretty good, but not quite deserving of critic Wells’s near-orgasmic description. It’s made in in-house and a tad fresher than you’ll get most places, but hardly anything to change your life.
This led to an email from Kamel Saci, the head bread baker at Il Buco A&V. From the photo in my review, he inferred I’d been served the ciabatta, a “very good” but “simple” example of his work, and asked if I’d revisit the restaurant for a “bread tasting.”
Mr. Saci works from 3:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., so we agreed I would drop in on a Saturday at about noon, near the end of his shift.
I little reckoned what I was in for. After I arrived, Mr. Saci emerged from the restaurant’s basement with a huge box, about twenty inches square, and led me to the second-floor dining room (which is unused during the day). The box contained about a dozen loaves of bread, all in different flavors and styles.
Over the next half-hour or so, Mr. Saci patiently cut a half-slice of bread from each loaf, delivering a mini-lecture on how it is made. My favorites were the parmigiana reggiano, black & green olive, and walnut & raisin breads, but this is without disparagement to the others, nearly all of which were very good. (There were one or two not to my liking, but it would be silly to complain when there are a dozen to choose from.)
Mr. Saci says that nowhere in town, outside of wholesale bakeries, makes so many different kinds of bread in house. I have no reason to doubt this. Even at restaurants reknowned for their bread service (Bouley, for example), I’ve never seen more than five or six choices at any given time.
But most of the breads I tried are not offered to the dinner guest. This is the drawback of a restaurant that doubles as a grocery, and wasn’t prepared to be quite as popular as it has become. By dinner time, the more interesting breads are gone. I had a fascinating lesson in the science of bread-baking, but most people couldn’t duplicate my experience.
After our tasting was over, Mr. Saci took me down two flights of stairs into the sub-basement, where there is a prep kitchen (above left) and the bread ovens (above right). The dough at Il Buco A&V is house-made and fermented with a natural leaven (not yeast), a process that takes 24 to 36 hours. He would prefer 48 hours, but I gather the cooler where the bread cures overnight (below left) doesn’t have enough space for that.
A circuitous route brought Mr. Saci, a French native, to Il Buco A&V. After several years on the ultimate fighting circuit, he took up baking in 1999. After training in Bordeaux, he eventually moved to London, where he supplied the breads for Pierre Gagnaire and Joël Robuchon. He then moved to Barcelona to open “the best bakery in Spain,” and in 2009 to a wholesale bakery in Miami, before coming to New York in 2011 to open Il Buco A&V.
After our tasting was over, Mr. Saci sent me home with about 10 pounds of bread, which we enjoyed over the next several days. Needless to say, we could not finish all of it. Several loaves are now in the freezer, which would probably make Mr. Saci cringe.
So, there are very good things, great things, going on in Il Buco A&V’s subterranean bakery. But it’s a pity that so little is left by dinner time.
Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria (53 Great Jones Street west of Bowery, NoHo)