Strictly speaking, the mash-up of restaurant and retail food shop makes sense. You pop in to browse, and you stick around for a meal. But in New York, the combination has been an awkward fit. At spots like Jeffrey’s Grocery and Market Table, the shopping components, squeezed in tight near the door, seemed more decorative than practical—and were quickly abandoned to make room for more tables. Even at Eataly, the city’s ultimate hybrid, it can be an uncomfortable mix, the serious diners there jostled by carts and eating under bright neon lights.
Il Buco’s new casual offshoot—one part winecentric restaurant (Vineria), one part gourmet food pantry (Alimentari)—pulls off the combo more elegantly. The two halves of the former warehouse space share a single uncluttered aesthetic. The retail portion is artfully curated like a miniature Dean & DeLuca, with dangling hams and bespoke hunks of cheese, high-end sauces and condiments arrayed on antique shelves like interior-design baubles.
Though the fancy provisions are separated from the dining room by a wall of Modena vinegar barrels, the open kitchen’s wood-burning aromas still consume every inch of the place. In the evenings, when votives flicker and classic jazz serenades on the stereo, there are plenty of inducements to abandon shopping for dinner at a big wooden table or the marble-topped bar.
The fat loaves of house-baked bread stacked along one wall are great crusty vehicles for the grassy green olive oil you might want to pick up on your way out the door. But the golden porchetta resting on the kitchen counter—a staple of the original Il Buco, and delicious as ever in a sandwich or platter—is best consumed on site, while its cratered fat still bubbles from the rotisserie spit.
The menu here is a bit of a throwback to the simple country cooking from the early days of the original restaurant, which has inhabited a former antique store on Bond Street since 1994. Before Ignacio Mattos (now at Isa) put his eccentric stamp on the place, the restaurant was well-known for its convivial mix of rustic Spanish and Italian fare. Young chef Justin Smillie (Barbuto, Standard Grill) does a convincing job conjuring the ghosts of Il Buco’s humble past.
You might be distracted from browsing the shop up front by a few cicchetti nibbles and a glass of prosecco to wash them down. One minute you’re tackling greaseless fish sticks of fried baccalà (house-cured salt cod) with lemony mayo, and falling-off-the-bone lamb ribs with a sweet caramel sheen and a dollop of nutty romesco, and the next thing you know, you’ve moved from barstool to table, called friends to join you, and settled in for a feast.
The chef’s gutsy food fits the spontaneous spirit of the place, and the family-style bounty you’d expect to find there. The simple pastas highlight ingredients from the pantry up front. Busiate curls are wrapped around top-shelf anchovies with cauliflower and mint. Bucatini strands alla gricia are a porky spin on a classic cacio e pepe, with sharp romano, coarse-ground black pepper and translucent sheets of house-cured pancetta. Served in small primi portions, these dishes are fine by themselves as a light solo supper, but better yet as shared warm-ups to a large-format protein or two.
The entrées, served on big wooden boards, tend to be huge—and heavy on fire-roasted flavors. A whole salt-crusted branzino, a very big fish cooked in the wood-fired oven, is redolent of pink pepper, seared lemon and thyme; its meaty flesh almost impossibly moist. Short ribs too come in caveman portions, blackened beef barely clinging to gargantuan bone, with a thick coat of crushed pepper around the edges. Shaved horseradish and Italian fish sauce (colatura di’alici) finish this complex, funky dish, along with a heaped salad of walnuts, celery and fruity green olives.
Desserts are of the traditionally understated Italian variety, with savory elements that balance the sweet—eggy pistachio cake with salted nuts and a lemony finish, and a chocolate terrine with crunchy sea salt and bitter orange rind. That both of these would make fine takeout treats, ordered to go from the glass case up front, speaks to why the second coming of Il Buco may be the rare place of its kind to thrive: The restaurant and food shop here are genuine complements to each other, neither one getting in the other’s way.—Jay Cheshes
Eat this: Fried baccalà, lamb ribs, bucatini alla gricia, salt-crusted branzino, porchetta, spit-roasted short ribs
Drink this: The wine list makes for educational reading, highlighting a rotating handful of quirky producers—with miniature bios of each. You might start with a glass of crisp Frozza prosecco ($11), from a small family-run winery in the Valdobbiadene, before looking to France for a bottle of red. Winemaker-chemist Eric Texier, written up here like a rock star, makes a great earthy Côtes du Rhône ($38) that’s an exceptional fit for the restaurant’s fire-roasted meats.
Sit here: Il Buco’s new offshoot inhabits the former home of Great Jones Lumber Supply, a warehouse space that was completely gutted. A few historic elements remain from the longtime supplier of construction lumber, including brick walls marked with leftover graffiti. The giant sculptural lamp that hangs above the dining room is by artist Warren Muller, whose studio used to be in the Il Buco space around the corner on Bond Street.