The dark alleys of King Street West aren't where I'd normally recommend you spend a Saturday night. But, oddly enough, that's where you'll need to go to find the city's top Italian restaurant — if you dare.
Pizza at Buca by Eater
If their goal is to create a stark contrast when you open their doors, Buca has greatly succeeded. It is the light at the end of the tunnel. Hosts are ready to greet you warmly before you even get down the stairs, taking your coat before you've even grounded yourself from the bustle of King Street West and the awkward alley. You're then accompanied by a very helpful waiter that immediately becomes your dream best friend, looking after your every need and unafraid to guide you in the right direction as you attempt to wade through the Italian menu and outstanding wine selection. They are persistent, making sure every sip and bite is to your satisfaction and filling your glass of water a quarter-cup at a time, but always making sure it's full.
High Top Communal Table by bucatoronto & Double-stuffed ravioli by Ayngelina B
The ceilings in the building are Cathedral-high, all brick, with contemporary light bulb chandeliers the only light in a dimmed open room. Dark wood square tables and sheets of black stone on the wall, with servers dressed all in black, add to the dark rustic decor. The atmosphere is inviting, warm, and luxurious nonetheless.
Sea bream at Buca by Rob Hyndman
To eat, you're offered strictly Italian fare, made with every detail accounted for. To start, we ordered a serving of nodini, small balls of bread knots served warm with sprinkles of rosemary, garlic, and sea salt, sitting in a puddle of olive oil ($6). After our server told us his regular customers immediately walk in and order two rounds to get started, I couldn't resist giving them a try. I suggest you do the same.
Buca's nodini and olives by Sandy Kemsley
The winning dish of the night, however, was double-stuffed ravioli (made fresh in-house) with braised goose and roasted squash, surrounded by a whipped parmesan fondue sauce and hazelnut crackle ($24). There was enough sauce to balance with the richness of fall squash, and I would've licked the sauce off my plate if I respectively could have. Other highlights of the menu include a selection of cheese and salumi di buca, all cured in-house, of which I enjoyed thoroughly the pecorino toscano, a sheep's milk cheese aged eight months from Toscana, Italy, and parmigiano reggiano, a firm cow's milk cheese aged three years from Emilia-Romagna, Italy. You also have meat and fish dishes to choose from, like a roasted Featherstone lamb loin ($32) or smoked and seared black cod ($32). Every dish has a partner on the wine menu too. With nearly 50 to choose from, the waiter would be happy to help you pick.
The Buca Crew at Toronto Taste 2013 by LexnGer
It also couldn't be a true Italian restaurant without a selection of thin-crust pizzas bianca al pomodoro, which they master here, including their salsicce, with tomato sauce, saffron, scallion, misto sausage, and ragusano ($19). Their expertise in combining different ingredients in dishes like that one is evident across the board. This is a flare that they seem to accomplish effortlessly and nonchalantly, like your nonna whipping together the best thing you've ever had on any given Tuesday night. Plus, they give you scissors to cut your pizza, which adds a chuckle to an otherwise formal dinner.
Salad, Buca, Toronto by Rob Hyndman
Buca holds its ground as a top restaurant amid many on King Street West. It has already expanded to Bar Buca (75 Portland Street) and now a Yorkville location (53 Scollard Street).