STREET sent two brave singles on a romantic Restaurant Week blind date at Barbuzzo. The Mediterranean tapas restaurant is the newest endeavor from Valerie Safran and Marcie Turney, owners of 13th Street strongholds Lolita and Bindi.
Alex Zimmer, a sophomore in the College, from Chicago. He’s an Elmo bro, Club Baseball player and PennQuest leader with a serious interest in all things culinary. Alex is looking for an exotic, crazy, cute and hard-to-get young thang. He met up with Kendall Haupt, Street‘s Design Editor, is a junior also in the College from New York City. She’s a self-described foodie, SDT biddie and even created her own major (yes, it’s possible). She calls herself an “equal opportunity dater” and is looking for a funny, smart young man with subtle notes of hipster — scrubs need not apply. We asked them to give us the lowdown on the scene, the food and, of course, the date.
Kendall Haupt: I was glad he was a good sport about my being ten minutes late (thank you clueless cab driver and broken smartphone). That’s as far as I got in terms of first impressions — I don’t like to make judgments about people before getting to know them first (I’m sooo open-minded). He also grows his own wheatgrass, which is kind of really cool. Zimmer is the perfect combination of manliness and sensitivity. He’s the kind of guy who can wrestle a black bear in the woods but isn’t afraid to have a good cry watching Love Actually. I might remember him saying that he’s done both at the same time while writing a poem about his experience.
Alex Zimmer: My first impressions were based mainly on lateness. I showed up, heart pounding, expecting to meet my date. But she wasn’t there. When she did show up, she was tall and elegant but wanted to hide her New York (Dalton School grad) swag.
K.H.: Barbuzzo attracts a less rowdy crowd. There were middle-aged couples and groups of friends. The mood lighting was definitely first-date appropriate, as was the high decibel level of the place — good to cover up any potential awkward pauses in the conversation.
A.Z.: Close quarters, certainly. We could have balanced our wine between our table and the table next to ours. But it wasn’t intrusive; it was pleasant. The decor was somewhat of a hip, barn style. I wasn’t sure that it really fit with the Mediterranean tapas theme of the restaurant.
K.H.: We decided to order the Restaurant Week prix-fixe menu, consisting of four courses for $35. There were many “boards” and small plates to share, which ended up being good for having a bigger meal on a smaller budget. The food was marketed as Mediterranean, but those coming to Barbuzzo looking for hummus and pita will instead find more original and upscale dishes packing rich flavor that won’t weigh you down.
A.Z.: The food was good, not great. It lacked the flavor and zest you expect from a tapas and Mediterranean place. We started with a crostini duo. Both were good, but neither was worth going back for. What they lacked in flavor, they did make up for in texture; both spreads worked well with their crackers and were genuinely fun to eat, but didn’t leave you with a particularly fantastic memory.
K.H.: One of the best dishes of the meal was a pan-seared gnocchi with smoked corn, baby tomatoes and roasted mushrooms ($14 a la carte). The rich gnocchi was made even more decadent with a hint of homemade truffle butter. A lighter second course was the sheep’s milk ricotta cheese served with fresh figs and bread ($8). My third course — a thin-crust pizza with fennel sausage and olives — lacked richness and flavor.
A.Z.: My main course was a grilled branzino and it was competely fine, but no more than fine. It tasted like it had never been through a kitchen, like nothing was added to it as far as spices.
K.H.:The waitstaff was friendly and helpful, but definitely gave us our space, which I appreciated. I don’t really want anyone getting up in my grill when I’m trying to mack on my hot date. Zimmer and I also talked about the quality of our waiter’s beard, which we agreed was pretty awesome. I’d definitely say this waitstaff was pro-beard.
A.Z.: Not too pressing, but nice, friendly and relaxed — they made it a comfortable place to eat.
K.H.: Conversation was stellar. There might have been a 4-5 second pause after the third hour of the meal, but besides that, time flew by … because we were having fun?
A.Z.:When we began talking, food was all too easy to connect on and from there our four-hour conversation just flowed.
K.H.: We shared the salted caramel budino and the meyer lemon tiramisu (each $8 on the normal menu), which were served in short, clear jars that exposed the layers in both dishes. Topped with fine shavings of dark chocolate, a spoonful of the creamy caramel custard in the budino was like eating an entire creme brulee — crust included — in one bite. The surprising salted topping added an exciting layer to the dish and was a beautiful counterpart to the super-sweet caramel. The tiramisu was more like a parfait, refreshing yet definitely not as memorable as the budino.
A.Z.: Dessert was a pleasant surprise. The tiramisu was flavorful, but it was more like lemon tart. On the other hand, the best dish of the night was our other dessert, the budino. It was the one dish I would return for. It felt like it coated my entire mouth in sweetness.
K.H.: Definitely. The non-BYO status lends Barbuzzo more to a date like this one, a dinner with parents or a nice meal with a few friends. But the quality food and an intimate yet fun atmosphere definitely warrant a second trip.
A.Z.: If I were ever to return to Barbuzzo, I would order a bottle of Rosé and the budino and call it a night.
WE MEANT THE DATE …
K.H.: Totally, but only if we can have homemade wheatgrass shots afterwards.
A.Z.: Absolutely, but only if she takes me to a Dalton School semi after.