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[whitespace] Justin Perez Menu at Work: Justin Perez, executive chef at Buca Restaurant, changes the menu frequently, to keep pace with the season.

Photograph by George Sakkestad

Brava Buca!

An intimate trattoria gives Campbell a Mediterranean dining destination loaded with style and finesse

By Christina Waters

EVERYBODY'S FAVORITE memories of Italy invariably include dinners spent in tiny bucas--hole-in-the-wall trattorias--where everybody feels comfortably sculpted into a convivial group, dining together. The kitchen is visible from every table and every dish is carefully designed and executed by hand. The host fusses over each table, suggests wines and makes sure nothing has been overlooked. Imagine our delight to find exactly such a place on Winchester Boulevard. Buca--formerly affiliated with La Pastaia and now a solo act--is a slice of the old country. Walls are loaded with prints and posters, desserts line the back buffet next to a lavish bouquet, and guests are personally made welcome by waiters bearing slender glasses of sparkling Prosecco and crostini. Even without all these warm touches, the menu alone would be enough to seduce most foodies on the spot. Changing frequently, the menu offers vibrant and seasonal fare. The late winter/early spring menu boasted fresh asparagus with white truffle oil and roasted beet coulis, risotto with duck sausage and butternut squash as well as Maine lobster with lobster butter risotto and julienned winter vegetables.

On the night we arrived at Buca, we wanted it all and we wanted it, well, you know. Our dinner began with generous tumblers of velvety Amarone 1998 ($9) and Chianti Classico Santedame 1997 ($7.50) and we never looked back.

A refreshing salad of perfect mixed greens--served on an azure blue plate--was laced with diced pear, flame grapes and toasted pecans in a light apple vinaigrette ($8). My sheaf of fresh grilled asparagus ($9) had been dusted with essence of white truffle and crunchy grains of sea salt, presented on pools of roasted beet coulis and ringed with chiogga beet "chips." Here was asparagus to kill for, and exactly at the top of its season. Buca's dozen or so tables filled up to the perfect ambience level by 7pm. Our entrees proved why. Jack had been unable to resist a pasta entree of housemade ricotta gnocchi slathered with a rich and rustic wild boar Bolognese sauce and dancing with ripe cherry tomatoes ($15). Heavenly, delicious gnocchi met their ideal partner in the expertly made meat sauce, a sauce so good that my fork made frequent guest appearances over at Jack's plate. My sensuous osso bucco ($21) held its own. As our excellent waitperson had promised, the moist, fork-tender veal shank was flawless. It was the sort of osso bucco that might have fortified Lucian Pavorotti before he recorded Turandot. Osso bucco to make a Tuscan godfather weep. Plush, rich and liberally garnished with a rosemary, garlic and lemon-intensive gremolada, the splendid veal was joined by a soft pyramid of saffron risotto, deep yellow and creamier than sin. So good was this classic braised veal dish that I may never need to eat another version--I can simply remember this one for the rest of my life. But, having said that, I must confess that the gnocchi and wild boar Bolognese were even better.

We decided to save room for dessert, and I must give Buca points for presenting us with the most attractive carryout packages on record. From a list of desserts capable of tempting the Pope, we chose the Cioccolata--a wedge of chocolate truffle dusted with fresh ground pistachios that I'd been staring at all evening--and the night's special, a mascarpone-filled crepe with fresh berries ($7.50 each). The cleverly named Nero e Blu was indeed filled with blackberries and blueberries amidst the barely sweetened mascarpone oozing out of its tender, thin crepe. A dusting of powdered sugar and blackberry coulis completed the effect. The truffle wedge was wonderful. The crepe was incredible. And Buca offers a sensitive listing of dessert wines and ports. What a terrific discovery--authentic Italian cuisine in Campbell. Buca is loaded with charm, an expert staff and a genuinely welcoming atmosphere. The menu is so adventurous that you could visit quite often and never get bored. Don't miss the gnocchi! And don't forget to make reservations.

Buca Restaurant
Address: 2081 S. Winchester Blvd., Campbell
Phone: 408.871.3135
Hours: Tues-Sat from 5:30pm
Cuisine: Italian
Entrees: $15-$29
Executive Chef: Justin Perez
Catering: 408.871.3131

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From the April 5-11, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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