Wednesday, August 31, 2011

These Are Not My Friends

Pollo al Forno -- Barbuto

Like all great book club meetings, ours begins with a debacle.

As previously mentioned, we created our own book club last year, which we entitled Booze Before Books (by now, you should be aware of where our priorities lie).  By some miracle, we manage to read a book each month by such literary titans as Julie Klausner, Sloane Crosley, Bethenny Frankel, and for this particular meeting, Betty White.  But mostly, we do a lot of dining out.
We Can Only Befriend Excessive Eaters
And when we can manipulate the situation to our preferences, we dine out at Best Thing I Ever Ate locations.
Tah Dah
This scenario is how the Booze Before Books members end up at Barbuto to try Tyler Florence's chosen BETTER THAN MINE dish, the pollo al forno, and to discuss the life and times of our favorite Golden Girl.
Unfortunately Sans Cheesecake
True to form, Vodka arrives first and attempts to check in for our reservation.  Giving her first name, she is escorted by one of the hostesses to a table.  Mildly shocked that anyone has arrived before her, Vodka follows the hostess obediently.  At least, she's obedient until they arrive at a half-full table and the hostess pulls out a chair for Vodka to sit.

Vodka takes one glance at these diners, and instead of the slightly tipsy faces of the Booze Before Books members, she finds three strangers.

"I don't know these people," she whisper-yells to the hostess.

The hostess, insistent that Vodka must be experiencing amnesia, confirms again that she has the same name as this foreign reservation and looks at her expectantly.

"These are not my friends," Vodka assures her.  We retreat to the hostess stand, where it is revealed (by Vodka not-so-patiently whipping out the OpenTable app on her phone) that the hostesses have checked these interlopers in under our reservation.  Of course, the other Booze Before Books members begin to arrive at just this time, and smirk in appreciation of the shenanigan under way.

All's well that ends well, and we are eventually seated at our own table, but not before Vodka decides that, even though her real first name is not particularly common, she's just going to have to start going by Vodka at all times in order to cut down on the confusion.
And She's Going to Have to Start Drinking, Stat
Anyway, we assemble at our table and immediately feel as elderly as Betty White herself.  Barbuto is SO LOUD that we have to lean within inches of each other in order to make some sort of conversation.

"Why are we the only ones having trouble hearing?" Ginger asks.  "No one else seems to be having an issue."  But looking at the surrounding tables, we discover the reason no one else is in need of hearing aids: they're not even attempting to speak to each other.

Apparently, Barbuto is the place to go if you don't want to talk to your friends.  In fact, as we have also learned, Barbuto is the place to go if you do not even want to be seated with your friends in the first place.

Acquiring our wine, we sip it at a much slower pace than usual because not only have we been told that our chicken dishes (which we have all ordered.  When in Rome...) will take 35 minutes, we have nothing on which to nosh save for a few sad-looking olives.  Would it kill Jonathan Waxman to serve his guests a bread basket, for goodness sake?  Demerit.
This Lull Causes Ginger to Ramble About Her Irrational Hatred of Teardrop-Shaped Water Glasses
Now, our waitress does tell us that our entrees will take over a half hour to appear, but she does so in the not-so-subtle way of trying to force us into ordering appetizers.  In fact, she tries to push an appetizer on each and every one of us as we order, which is a case of overselling if there ever was one.  Demerit.

Luckily, in our wait for our chicken, we have more than enough time to hear Ginger prattle on about her anxieties concerning her upcoming trip to El Salvador, up to and including such gems as "If you look at the malaria map, as I have many times...."  When our dinners finally arrive, it is all she can do not to stash half of her chicken in her handbag to save as rations for her trek across Central America.
Do We Think This Would Make It Through Customs?
Onto the pollo al forno (which, let's be clear, is glorified roast chicken).  Each plate arrives with four massive pieces of chicken parts assembled around a bright green helping of salsa verde.  Featuring crispy skin on the outside and unbelievably tender and succulent meat on the inside, the pollo al forno is indeed quite good.  For chicken.

And this "for chicken" distinction turns out to be our main problem: roast chicken is one of those dishes we would never, ever order at a restaurant, if for no other reason than it is boring.  It is also one of the things we are capable of making at home.  Is Barbuto's version better than ours, and presumably better than Tyler Florence's?  Sure.  But in the end, pollo al forno is still just a roast chicken with a fancy name.  And roast chicken is simply not very interesting.
Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road? Cause He Was Bored to Death
Truth to tell, Vodka believes this chicken meat needs some salt (of course), and Ginger is much more taken with the sides of crispy potatoes and sweet corn she has ordered than with the chicken itself.
Obviously Not Created During the Potato Famine
Corn That Tastes Like It Was Glazed with Pure Honey
We don't even think we would order the chicken again if we came to Barbuto, and due to the noise factor, we won't be rushing back to begin with (plus, as we're sitting directly under one of the raised garage doors that serve as Barbuto's external walls, we spend most of our meal in fear of being crushed by a faulty spring (Ginger: "How ironic would it be if I died of a garage door attack in New York before I even got to El Salvador?")).

Needless to say, our next Booze Before Books meeting will be taking place at an establishment that serves bread baskets, invests in noise insulators, and knows Vodka by name.
Barbuto's Pollo al Forno: 3 stars


  1. hello

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  2. Ha poor Vodka.
    Man I thought something from "the best thing I ever ate" should be at least decent. Darn. Looking forward to more reviews though!

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  4. love this blog! this is one of my favorite shows, so glad to see someone is visiting all the nyc places featured on it! Can't wait to read your thoughts on four and twenty blackbirds - i went for the salted caramel apple pie last week after seeing it on the show. :) good luck!

    btw: give barbuto another shot .. great pastas (but good to know the chicken isnt all that exciting)!

  5. Thank you, Mayberry! Can't wait to visit your blog as well!