La Buca (Revisited): Game & Wild Mushroom Festival 2011.
Having caught wind of the return of the Game & Wild Mushroom Festival at La Buca, one of my favourite spots in the city, I couldn’t help but accept an invitation to dinner there with friends. This was their sixth annual event, so if you haven’t had a chance to give it a try, there is a high likelihood it will come again in a year or so.
The premise behind the Game & Wild Mushroom Festival is simple: offer a unique and tasty line up of dishes that feature mushrooms and wild game. It’s always nice to see restaurants shake things up a bit and offer something different and from my experience the chefs at La Buca are not bashful when it comes to utilizing seasonal ingredients.
My previous blog post for La Buca (which can be found HERE) was penned at a time prior to my love of photography and so on this return visit I took the opportunity to fill in the gaps. As previously mentioned, La Buca definitely qualifies as a hole in the wall as the inconspicuous signage is easily missed even whilst walking bay and the space is actually quite small.
Small as it may be on the interior, the area is utilized quite well. The only somewhat cramped quarters only add to the rustic Italian atmosphere, which is also delicately reflected in the food. It’s a wonder that the kitchen staff can pump out fare with that much proficiency as the kitchen is also a tight squeeze. Even the bathroom is really no more than a closet offshoot of the cooking area.
Seated in good time, the seasoned floor staff run a tight ship and are quite confident in their ability to do so. Between the two gentlemen diners were being attended to, food and drink were being served and groups were being shuffled in and out very efficiently. To top it all off there was no air of rushing about that one might encounter with an overly busy waiter/waitress.
Complimentary bread sticks made an appearance at our table and refreshments were ordered. It was at this crossroads where we learned that menu choices for the fixed price festival dishes (three courses of your choice for $48 or four courses for $58) could be ordered in any combination! One could order four appetizers or one appetizer and three pastas. Our server must have seen the excitement in my expression as he added with a grin that: “additional dishes can be ordered a la carte”. Between the four of us, it was game on!
Tortellini in a wild mushroom brodo arrived first. Brodo is an Italian word for clear broth and as you can see from the photo, this one was infused quite thoroughly with mushrooms. Tasting quiet robustly of earthy mushrooms, those who tried this dish felt that it was slightly under seasoned, but besides that, the soup accomplished its job which was to act as a tasty vehicle for the tortellini. I have always admired how the pastas that leaves the kitchen at La Buca are always cooked perfectly al dente. Cooking pasta with that type of consistency borders on the unfathomable. The tortellini themselves were stuffed with a leaner protein, probably pork, that was perhaps either just a bit over blended or over cooked to be called perfect as the filling was on the tougher side. But again, this was only a minor after thought and not enough of a bother to detract from the meal.
Tagliolini, which is reminiscent of narrower fettuccine, with pine mushrooms and truffle shavings arrived with the aforementioned tortellini brodo. This particular dish was enjoyed all around. A generous smattering of truffle shavings only hinted at the decadence of this pasta dish. Unfortunately the pine mushrooms were not very readily apparent, but the light cream sauce and the delicately shaved cheese adorning the dish like a crown more than accounted for the seemingly missing ingredient.
The next dish to make its was to our table was the house cured bison bresaola served under olive oil dressed arugula and parmesan. We initially thought the additional garnish was capers but it turns out that they were instead fried cracked peppercorns. The dressing was quite nice with a slight acidity and the peppercorns were mild and had lost most of their bite. The bison itself was like a more intense beef and tasted great when wrapped around the arugula and parmesan.
The wild mushroom risotto was the customarily smallish portion, but what it lacked in volume it made up with intense and rich flavours. A veritable plethora of wild mushroom varieties greeted the palate as the ever so slightly undercooked rice mingled with the cream, butter and melted parmesean. This dish was enjoyed all around with gusto.
Wild boar sausage, garlic, green chilies and tomatoes all went into this ziti dish. Garnished liberally with finely grated parmesan and what seemed like panko, this dish was another favourite of the evening. Although there wasn’t a great deal of it, the wild boar was spicy and ramped up the flavours of everything else with a slow mouth burn. The pasta was once again perfectly cooked and everything was seasoned quite well.
The first game meat centered dish was the veal with sage and chanterelle mushrooms. Wonderfully tender and mildly flavoured, I was only fortunate enough to snag a politely tiny nibble, but the dish definitely made for a solid dinner choice.
Butterflied and char-grilled squab made for a unique game dish choice. The flesh of the bird was tender and crisp on the skin side. Cooked until just pink on the inside, the squab tasted vaguely reminiscent of beef. Served over a white bean cassoulet, the starchy legume portion of the dish was rich, savoury and cooked soft.
Brown butter trout with crisped guanciale (Italian for unsmoked bacon) on top was an indulgent experience. The thin filet of trout was nicely seared, moist and ultra buttery. I can still remember quite vividly how intense the butter flavour was from the bite I was able to snag from this dish.
Zeppolini, which tasted just like freshly fried mini donuts, were served over a caramel dipping sauce. The cup in the background of the photo contained an additional chocolate sauce and there was thickly whipped cream on the side just to ramp up the decadency of the entire dessert. Who could resist a fresh, warm and soft sugar coated confection?
An upside down marscapone cheesecake was served with mascerated apple slices and some brown suger crumbled over top. Cool and richly flavoured, the marscapone made the cheesecake just that much more creamy and smooth.
One of my favourite desserts to order from any Italian restaurant (if available) is the panacotta. This particular panacotta was served with “sour” cherries. When eaten strategically, there was enough of the only slightly tart cherries and mildly sweet syrup to go with each bite of the gelatinized cream. The panacotta itself was firm and set quite nicely in the deep glass cup.
La Buca is a bit on the pricy side, but I try to take myself back at least once a year if only to satisfy my enjoyment of their food and atmosphere. A minor indulgence that is so well worth it.
4025 Macdonald Street