Jonathan Waxman's Barbuto: A Revisit
Named after a beloved dog, whose image appears in line drawing on the shirts of the waiters, Barbuto was a project of chef Jonathan Waxman that occurred in a somewhat fallow period of his career. When it opened in 2004, it was decidedly off the beaten path, a canteen in a West Village photo studio with a wonderful location on bucolic Washington Street, open to the summer breezes off the Hudson a block distant. Early on, the diners were models, photographers, and ad people; eventually the place developed an avid neighborhood clientele.
Waxman had been a seminal character in the introduction of California cuisine to NYC, after being chef at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, his home town, and later at Michael's in Santa Monica. But it was Jams, opening on East 79th Street in 1984, where he had his greatest influence on the cooking of the city and the nation. There were other chefdoms and consultancies along the way, but Barbuto felt like a sort of retirement for the chef. In the early years, he was often to be seen cooking in the kitchen; not so much now, as he's become more of a TV personality.
I went with a friend on the evening of the Pride parade, and the colorful tumult on the streets made the open-air premises of the restaurant seem more serene. The place is comfortable--like sitting in a friend's rather large garage--but the volume level can be deafening. The staff, however--both front of the house and back--is one of the industry's most efficient. This is a well-run place.
We sampled Waxman's signature dish, half of a chicken with a nicely browned skin, roasted in the wood-burning oven and gobbed with an Italian salsa verde, which in this case had a touch of lavender in it, not unwelcome. The bird was every bit as good as I remembered it.