Buca Osteria & Bar (or, Buca Yorkville) is the third location of the Buca empire, located in the trendy Yorkville area and showcasing a seafood-focused menu. Brought to you by the same guys behind the other award-winning and list-topping restaurants, this location has combined the quality dishes and high-end atmosphere found at the King Street spot (review here) with the light and bright feel and smaller breakfast plates found at Bar Buca (review here). That’s not to say it’s the place with a different headline – Buca Yorkville has its own fresh décor, an almost completely different menu, and its own set of challenges that it swiftly, and deliciously, overcomes. Buca Yorkville is just another testament that everything Rob Gentile touches turns to gold.
Buca Yorkville by Insert Magazine
The King Street Food Company was founded in 2006 by Peter Tsebelis, Gus Giazitzidis, and Chef Rob Gentile, quickly becoming one of the most prolific and well-known restaurant groups in Canada. Gentile, who formerly worked under Canadian celebrity chef Mark McEwan for 10 years at North 44, has established a name for himself for single-handedly changing the restaurant landscape in Toronto, showing us what Italian food can taste like without leaving the city, and setting the bar for a classy restaurant with its own unique personality. Who else has three restaurants on nearly every Top Restaurant list in the country? Buca Yorkville, Buca King, and Bar Buca are each an individual concept and style with a common thread of quality and beauty that says: "this is a Gentile restaurant".
Buca Yorkville interior. Photo by Buca Yorkville
The group’s latest venture is Jamie’s Italian in Yorkdale mall, the first Canadian outlet brought to us by Jamie Oliver. What started as a tweet saying that his meal at Buca was his favourite of the year, Jamie Oliver turned into a partnership for his first Canadian venture: "For a while now, I've been on the lookout for the perfect partner to open a restaurant with. So, when I tasted the menu at Buca, and found that we had the exact same ideas in mind, I knew I had found the right guys to kick start this exciting project with. It’s going to be epic!" Jamie’s Italian opened successfully and can be found at #11 on Toronto Life’s list of Best New Restaurants of 2016.
Guess what was #1 on that list in 2015?
Food & Drink
Executive Chef Rob Gentile and Chef de Cuisine Ryan Campbell are in charge of the kitchen, which serves seasonal dishes that are seafood-centric. The menu is divided by salumi di mare (cured fish), piatti freddi (cold plates), crudi (raw), fritti (crisp), assaggini (small bites), pasta, meat, fish, and pizzas.
To start, there is scallop and lobster sausage sourced from Nova Scotia’s Bay of Fundy with lemon and Cervia salt, hot-smoked Quebec herring, preserved in oil from the Magdalen Islands, and dry-cured and smoked rainbow trout from Kolapore Springs, Ontario ($19 for your choice of three starters). As an aside, crisp olives stuffed with veal sausage ($9) and the now famous nodini – toasted knots of bread served with olive oil, rosemary, and garlic ($6). For the main event, one of the celebrated pasta dishes: strips of hand-cut, sheeted polenta, legumes, and Alaskan king crab ($35). With two meat dishes on the menu right now, carnivores shouldn’t be weary either: kunan farms milk-poached veal tenderloin ($36) and grilled Quebec rack of venison ($45) are showstoppers.
Different than the Buca location on King Street, but similar to the Bar Buca theme of offering all-day eats, the Yorkville restaurant serves brunch on weekends. The menu is always changing but some threads stay the same: warm and fluffy cups of espresso macchiato buzzing from the bar, sweet pastries made daily, and a selection of pizzas or small bites for those who lean towards the lunch in brunch. When I visited, the pastuccia abruzzese ($29) was stunning: stone-milled creamy polenta, roasted pork sausage, crisp guanciale, and a poached duck egg to crack open with sprinkled raisins and shredded cheese. Second I tried tacchino alla Milanese ($21) consisting of Milanese-style turkey flattened with a layer of prosciutto san daniele, smoked mozzarella, and topped with a hen’s egg and seasonal salad. The prosciutto was unfortunately difficult to find, overwhelmed by other flavours, but I appreciated the shredded lemon zest to brighten up the dish.
For dessert, because why can’t I have dessert at breakfast, was the pera cotta ($14), a warm, spiced pear, poached with chianti and covered in mascarpone cheese and tonka crema. The delicate pear could be sliced with a spoon and melted in my mouth with its sweet cream, and the texture of hazelnut crumble.
The drink menu includes an extensive wine list, cocktails, and Italian spirits. For brunch they have the favourites from Bar Buca like espresso, lattes, and café miele (espresso with milk and honey), or special cocktails like bellinis, mimosas, or the barabuca of beet-infused vodka, carpano classico, apricot, raspberry, lemon, and olive oil ($16).
Décor & Atmosphere
Located at the base of the Four Seasons hotel condo tower, contemporary finishes and clean lines create the décor at Buca Yorkville. Some might call it cold, others call it minimalist: silver and metallic are spread throughout the room, with shades of brown and black for the seating. It’s a long room with grey exposed brick, bright windows at either end, and a massive chandelier of long, hanging tubes at the entrance. It says classy without tablecloths and indicates upscale with their embroidered cloth napkins and exposed bar showing their wine selection. The servers, some who switch between the King Street location and this one, all wear black with brown leather aprons. Service is prompt and helpful throughout brunch, starting with the coat check at the door and continuing with a constantly filled glass of water.
Buca Yorkville open kitchen by Insert Magazine
It’s evident that the Buca empire is showing no signs of slowing down and is creating a new standard for what Italian food can look like in Canada.
Recently Buca has partnered with UberEats, the app that delivers food across the downtown core from restaurants you wouldn’t expect to offer the service. In 2015 Buca was having porchetta schiacciata sandwiches, pomodoro salads, and cannoli siciliana delivered within 10 minutes of ordering through the Uber app.
I’m not alone in saying that I’ll be waiting excitedly for what Gentile, the King Street Food Co., and Buca will be cooking up next.