Entries in Barbuto (4)


The Payoff: Barbuto

Yesterday, I suggested that there were two possible reasons why Frank Bruni would review Barbuto. The first is that he thinks it has improved since Eric Asimov’s review four years ago. The second is that he is bored. It turns out his reason was none of the above, in awarding one star:

The chicken is Rule No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 of eating at Barbuto. It’s Rule No. 4 as well.

Bruni was so transfixed by the chicken that he had hardly anything else to say. The rest of the food is just as uneven as Asimov originally said it was. But if you order the chicken, the pastas, and “sharp chocolate budino,” you can have a fine meal at Barbuto.

The promotion—nay, overpromotion—of chef Jonathan Waxman’s cookbook got on Bruni’s nerves, as it usually does. Memo to chefs: When Bruni’s in the house, hide the cookbook.

We lose $1 on our hypothetical bet, while Eater wins $2.

          Eater        NYJ
Bankroll $61.50   $80.67
Gain/Loss +2.00   –1.00
Total $62.50   $79.67
 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Won–Lost 27–11   28–10

Rolling the Dice: Barbuto

Every week, we take our turn with Lady Luck on the BruniBetting odds as posted by Eater. Just for kicks, we track Eater’s bet too, and see who is better at guessing what the unpredictable Bruni will do. We track our sins with an imaginary $1 bet every week.

The Line: Tomorrow, Frank Bruni returns to his favorite pastime, Italian cuisine. The victim, er, beneficiary will be Jonathan Waxman’s Meatpacking-adjacent Barbuto. The Eater oddsmakers have set the action as follows (√√ denotes the Eater bet):

Zero Stars: 4-1
One Star: 2-1 √√
Two Stars: 4-1
Three Stars: 50-1
Four Stars: 25,000-1

The Skinny: Barbuto received a mixed $25-and-under review from Eric Asimov in April 2004. Those were the days when that column regularly covered real restaurants, but even then I thought that Barbuto deserved a rated review. With entrées in the mid-twenties nowadays, Barbuto is squarely in Bruni’s price range.

Historically, most of Bruni’s promotions from $25-and-under have received two stars (Freemans being the notorious counter-example). The rationale, I suppose, is that if a restaurant is merely average—which is the current de facto meaning of one star—it makes little sense to waste space on a place that has already been reviewed.

Another Brunitrend® is that restaurants usually aren’t re-reviewed unless there is something substantially new to say. If you take Asimov’s review as the rough equivalent of one star (though Asimov never expressly said that), then two stars is a likely outcome, given that Barbuto is highly unlikely to get the goose egg.

Bruni has been extremely kind to Italian restaurants—though there are a few notable exceptions. It also seems to be his default cuisine, which he reviews when he can’t find anything else. That could mean that Barbuto is in line for a two-star bouquet, but it could also mean that Bruni is bored.

The main argument for one star, as Eater notes, is that Barbuto is notoriously uneven. It also carries one star on this blog, for whatever that’s worth.

The Bet: We don’t have a strong feeling about this one, but most of the Brunitrends® point to the higher rating, so we are betting that Frank Bruni will award two stars to Barbuto.



Barbuto is one of my old favorites (earlier report here). Although it is on the edge of the Meatpacking District, Barbuto is far more civilized than most of the area’s other restaurants, so I was happy to go back. Temperatures on Saturday evening were just nippy enough that the big garage doors were down. The restaurant was busy, but not full.

I started with roasted butternut squash ($12), followed by the excellent whole grilled black sea bass ($21), which had a nutty crunch. My friend had the salt cod cake ($10), which she loved—it was not too salty, despite the name—followed by the oven roasted chicken ($17). We added a side dish of sautéed greens and ricotta ($6). Although the food was solidly prepared, I noted that there is still no bread service, which seems to me a peculiar omission in a restaurant of such ambition.

We were irritated to find that the wine list had few reds under $50, and indeed many well over $70. It seems to me that at a restaurant with entrées in the high teens and low twenties, good bottles under $50 shouldn’t be so hard to come by. We settled on a $40 bottle that was adequate, but unimpressive.

After dinner, we headed over to Brandy Library for a brandy tasting and some gougères. We should end more evenings that way.

Barbuto (775 Washington Street at West 12th Street, West Village)

Food: *
Service: *
Ambiance: *
Overall: *



Note: Click here for a more recent visit to Barbuto.

Last Friday night, a friend and I paid a happy visit to Barbuto. The neighborhood is technically the West Village, but the phalanx of black cars and beautiful people tells you you’re “Meatpacking-adjacent.”

Like many of the clubs and restaurants in this neighborhood, the building has been repurposed from less glamorous origins. This place seems to have been a garage. On a beautiful summer evening, Barbuto slides open the doors, and it’s wide open to the nearby river breeze on two sides.

The décor is spare, with exposed brick, industrial ceilings, and an open kitchen at the back. Chairs are painted brightly, tables are polished wood, napkins are gingham plaid.

They print a new menu every day. A link on their website to “today’s menu” is, in fact, that of July 22nd, which is similar to the one we saw. We both chose the appetizer of zucchini leaves with goat cheese, a dish in which I thought the cheese lacked a suitable accompaniment.

For the entrées, my friend chose the sea bass, while I chose the grilled skirt steak with chilli sauce. I had a taste of the bass, which was moist and succulent. The steak was an ample portion, hot and spicy. The chilli sauce brought just the right level of heat to the dish, overcoming a steak that was neither tender nor thick enough to be satisfactory on its own. Both entrés were $19, which for food of this quality is a great deal in NYC.

Barbuto takes its spare surroundings a bit too seriously. Who ever heard of an Italian restaurant that doesn’t offer bread with the meal? Instead, we were given just a small plate with a few nuts and olives. We made fast work of these, and had little to occupy us while we waited for dinner to arrive — which took a bit longer than it should. On the other hand, this gave us ample time to enjoy the lovely summer evening.

Barbuto (775 Washington Street at West 12th Street, Meatpacking District)

Food: *½
Service: *
Ambiance: *
Overall: *½