Friday, November 20, 2009

Bussaco: a pleasing pairing of good food and fine wines

By Marshall Slater

To pass Bussaco Restaurant/Bar, one might think that, should you wish to enter, you should be wearing a tie and jacket. It’s an elegant look with its huge flag proclaiming the restaurant hanging over the front of the entire brownstone structure, and its wide glass façade allowing you to view the raging fire in the open kitchen and a glimpse of the elegant dining room.

But rest assured, while the place certainly has an air of sophistication, the mood is welcoming, easy, and quite non-pretentious (especially after you are made aware the owner is a master sommelier who takes his wines very seriously…but in a most agreeable down-to-earth way), has a soft spot for kids, but would also make quite an impression on that special companion you wish to wow. And there are plenty of tee-shirts and jeans at the tables, so come as you are…whatever that means to you; you’ll be treated the same way at Bussaco: very warmly.

And in stark contrast, too, to the surroundings, are the very reasonable prices, especially for the scope of the talent in the kitchen and the innovation and care, which is quite evident in the food and the presentation.

The long, open dining room has a very high ceiling and is done up in a most beautiful and elegant black and white theme; black tables, very comfy benches & banquettes, and chairs; even the wood floors are darkly stained…this is in tasteful contrast with the beautifully folded starched white linens and the weathered brick walls, which are painted white. The glassware literally sparkles in the gold and red hues of the candles.

But the one aspect that hits you immediately is the generous space the tables are accorded. If airlines and Broadway theater seats are designed for skinny children who love being on top of one another, Bussaco — to its inestimable credit and, in no small way, as a hit to its bottom line — foregoes adding another 10 or 12 tables (which could easily be done) and, instead, indulges its patrons with space…space at your table, space around the table and common space in the dining room.

As you peruse the place your eye immediately hits the interior entranceway, a gapping conical structure which, as you come to realize, is actually in the shape of a wine bottom and covered in a thin layer of cork…very clever, very lovely and an homage by owner and oenophile Scott Carney.

And speaking of enjoying the wine — and drafts, for that matter — there is a long bar, which dominates one side of the room, and a common table in the middle of the dining room space made from the white oak of fallen trees from Prospect Park. There are 13 wines by the glass, delivered through a special system, which maintains the proper temperature and integrity of each sampling. There are drafts and brews running the geographic scope from Brooklyn to the Czech Republic and a host of sakes from the other side of the world.

There is a long list of one-of-a-kind Bussaco (named for the Portuguese palace, incidentally, where the owner spent his honeymoon; his wife’s — Melanie Kozol [yes, she is related to the author] — excellent oils adorn the walls) cocktails and an equal rendering of non-alcoholic refreshments, such as Ceylon iced tea and Ting grapefruit soda from Jamaica, to a house watermelon and mint soda. The wine list is actually its own many paged book with 13 sparkling wines and an obviously well thought out array of reds and whites, which emphasize the nuances of the French countryside but certainly do not ignore the vineyards of its European neighbors. If you are as uncomfortable as I about choosing the right wine, no problem, let Scott do it…he won’t steer you wrong. All you have to do is clink the glasses and drink.

The menu — in the hands of the very skilled chef du cuisine Kevin Adey — is in a constant state of flux, changing at least monthly to maintain its innovation and its lure. This visit brought appetizers like oysters with a pickled green onion mignonette; Squid ala Plancha with Spanish sausage, arugula and a sweet wasabi mayo and a charcuterie plate. The Hen of the Wood mushroom starter was quite a delightful surprise. The mushrooms are gently roasted and, in nature, hang from the sides of the trees, light and layered so they flutter with the breeze. As prepared here they are just plain delicious…quite unlike any other mushroom you have sampled, and quite superior to any of them. They are served with freshly shaved Pecorino cheese and crushed hazelnuts with an herb salad. Exceptionally refreshing and satisfying…particularly for someone like me who rarely eats a salad; I’ll make sure to repeat this one, though.

The same praise can be heaped upon the Bussaco Caesar Salad, made with dandelion greens, endive and romaine with superb warm herbal croutons. The greens are crisp and fresh, not the least bit limp as is so often the case in restaurants; they are served slightly chilled and everything is ethereally coated in a delightful Caesar dressing, which accents and complements — not masks — the flavors of the ingredients due to its gentle nature. The homemade croutons are infused with virgin olive oil and herbs.

Pasta dishes continue the trend toward singularity with a sweet potato tortellini served with broccoli de rabe and a deceptively simple sounding Spaghetti with garlic and oil. What is remarkable is that they melt anchovies into a liquid essence, which imparts a totally unique and intoxicatingly addictive flavor to every strand of pasta; you will adore it, even if you abhor anchovies. Olives and hot peppers conclude the dish.

As for the main event, this month’s bill of fare tempted with braised pork, Anson Mills grits and Napa cabbage; Maigret Duck Breast, which is grilled duck breast (no easy thing to grill this, quite unlike chicken) done with turnips and served with a potato hash with Brussels sprouts and Moules Frites (mussels with fries for those of you without the French to English dictionary) served in a spicy mussel broth.

The kitchen accommodates burgers (grass fed) with aged cheddar and hand cut fries and Steak Bavette; the latter term refers to a steak, which is quickly pan seared). At Bussaco it is served with mashed potatoes, crispy leeks and a horseradish demi-glaze. Seafood aficionados will relish the sea scallops served with crispy risotto and wilted spinach in a celeriac purée (a sort of turnip rooted celery veggie) or the seared wild New York Striped Bass with a fennel purée and a shellfish cioppino (mixed fish stew) broth.

There is also an incredibly indulgent dry aged New York Strip steak covered with the sweetest crushed fresh garlic, beautifully seared and charred this evening, accompanied with a side of Thai influenced coconut creamed spinach (truly awesome). The garlic is pan seared to a light crunch with butter, coriander and a mix of other spices into which the steak is placed and then flipped over and over again in the pan. The dish is served with a potato, garlic and Spanish bleu cheese creation layered Napoleon style.

Of equal gushing praise is the roast chicken, so moist and tender it is near quintessential. It is plated with dried figs all in a honey and cider vinegar slightly sweet sauce finished with shaved almonds picata, which sees the nuts toasted in hot pepper, oil, garlic, parsley and lemon zest, and combined with shards of torn bread.

Additional optional accompaniments to any main dish include roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon, pomegranate and shallots and the pickled seasonal vegetable plate.

For dessert, ask for the quince tart with the corn meal crust and caramel sauce, with a dollop of sour cream in the center; or the excellent blackberry sorbet with its welcomed muted sweetness making it all the more refreshing.

Bussaco has made quite a name for itself in the less than year and a half it has been opened, garnering compliments and comment from everyone from The New York Times and The Post to Time Out and New York magazines.

Note, too, that Bussaco serves brunch on Saturdays and Sundays, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. (check it out online) and has regular wine tasting and pairing dinners.

Bussaco Restaurant/Bar833 Union Street, just off Seventh Avenue

Hours: Tuesday – Thursday, 5-11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday until 11 p.m. and Sunday, 5-9 p.m. for dinner. Lunch will be added soon.

There is a happy hour at the bar with half price specials on all the tap beers.Private parties in the main room for up to 80; there is a separate private party room downstairs for up to 30.

Most major credit cards are accepted.Live music featured; call to see when they will next be hosting.

Wine dinners are featured regularly and are priced at $45, which includes a three course meal paired with multiples of wines. There is also a nightly Joy of Pairing Fixed Price three course meal at $23 without wines and $39 with.


Copyright © 2009 All rights reserved

  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by 2008

Back to TOP