Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Two meals in one day at Bugatti, a new Italian café

(Bugatti's exquisitely light ricotta cheesecake with raspberry coulis & vanilla white mocha sauce)

Bugatti Café (31-05 34th St., Astoria)
(718) 626-1115
Dinner daily, brunch on weekends

Blink, and you just might stroll right on past Bugatti.  Sharing a city block with panini powerhouse Il Bambino, and just around the corner from the blue ribbon beef patties of Bare Burger, this unassuming new kid on the block doesn't sport a yellow awning or exterior like the two aforementioned neighborhood favorites, but if you will peek just a little around the corner from 31st ave on 34th street,  you will find the slight detour extremely worth the extra couple of strides.

Inside, an eclectic mix of rock, pop, and folk dances through the air, and we spend much of brunch "shazamming" tunes by Don Henley, the Indigo Girls, or Owl City.  The main wall is covered with a painting like a vintage poster for Bugatti, the restaurant's namesake... the European company responsible for producing some of the most exclusive sports cars in the world.  Considering the fact that owner Mike Adovic also owns a car dealership on Northern Boulevard, the historical automotive nod should come as little surprise.  And just as Bugatti cars are works of art as much as they are mechanical creations, it could easily be said that the culinary concoctions at Bugatti Café are similarly crafted with meticulous creativity.  As a matter of fact, we fell so much in love with the delicious dishes at brunch yesterday, that we called five other friends to return with us for dinner that very same day.

Wonderfully fresh, powdery loaves of sourdough are accompanied by a rather unique, small dish of glistening sauteed zucchini which has been tossed in olive oil and garlic, the perfect simple crowning flavor for the delicious bread.

The Bugatti salad is an entree sized portion, with crisp, bitter leaflets of arugula and spears of endive, tart and tangy roasted red peppers, earthy mushrooms, and buttery and nutty shaved parmigiano.

Chef Camillo takes simple, unadulterated ingredients and harmonizes them to delicious effect.  A playfully crunchy endive salad rests atop a cobblestone plate of thick red beets, all drizzled with a surprisingly creamy red beet dressing, and a thin disc of goat cheese, its smooth richness wonderfully balancing the tang and acidity.

The roasted veal and spinach ravioli are made fresh in-house, and are quite simply perfection at brunchtime. The glowing sage tomato sauce is dotted with little bits of dried porcini, in which the generously sized pasta pillows are lightly tossed--just enough to coat, but not too much to altogether hide the veal and spinach filling.

An excellent, traditional pancake plate is topped with seasonal fresh blueberries and mandarin orange wedges.  And brunch at Bugatti is one of the best deals around.  $14.95 will get you an entree, mimosa, and a dessert.

Have you ever seen a more beautiful sunny side up egg than the one here accompanying a ribbon of sliced sirloin and hand cut fries the size of chubby fingers?  Simple, but expertly executed, it would be a hard breakfast dish to beat.

Though the brunch menu showcases breakfast plates and panini absent on the dinner menu, along with the ravioli, a few other pasta dishes appear on both menus.  Our unanimous favorite was the tricolor fusilli tossed in a light cream sauce with caramelized onions and salty tiny julienned slivers of speck.  We enjoyed it so much, in fact, it was ordered again when we came for dinner.

The tiramisu is the most delicious I have ever enjoyed, and I have tried several variations.  At Bugatti, a stemless martini glass is layered with sweet Italian custard that overflows and drips from the rim, espresso-soaked ladyfingers, and a slight kiss of amaretto, sprinkled with a confetti of chocolate shavings and a tiny button of an almond biscuit cookie dusted with confectioners sugar.  Spoons clinked against one another in a gluttonous fencing match as we battled for the last few dollops.

The dessert that accompanies the $14.95 brunch prix fixe is a duet of paper thin crespelles wrapped around a ribbon of Nutella and crushed walnuts, all drizzled with buttery ribbons of caramel and fresh blackberries.

The check arrived with a complimentary plate of seasonal fresh fruit also dusted with confectioners sugar, a sweet and healthy ending to a superb brunch that would send us skipping back for more in just a few hours.

Our server, the same from lunch, greeted us by name when we entered for dinner.  While he immediately apologized for a partial liquor license, several delicious wines were actually available by the glass, and all for just $5.  With a table of eight diners, and an appetizer menu featuring six dishes and two soups, we naturally ordered one of each.  One of my personal favorites was the dollop of imported creamy burrata on a pedestal of roasted winter vegetable caponata and toasted pine nuts.

Another standout is the mixed grilled seafood, a simple arugula salad surrounded by golden-seared diver sea scallops, calamari, and sweet prawns.  The seafood was outrageously tender, with crispy grilled bits that brought out the intense sweetness and brine.

Grilled young Portuguese octopus gently sliced away like butter under a warm knife, its sweetness counteracted by a red wine vinegar emulsion.  Sitting on a yellow potato crust, it is best enjoyed by tearing away bits of the golden crust to wrap around the seafood.

Heightening a classic dish of fresh buffalo mozzarella and ruby tomato wedges, this version is zigzagged with a deliciously intense basil olive oil, almost more of a pesto drizzle.

The bowl of lightly fred zucchini, shrimp, and artichokes was filled to a heaping abundance.  Served with a side cup of creamy tomato aurora sauce, this was one of the most delicious, delicately fried dishes I have enjoyed, putting to shame most tempura plates and certainly any other fried veggie starters.

The cutting board was generously loaded with cured meats and a spectrum of cheeses both soft and firm, sharp and mild.  Served with grapes and sliced apples, the real special touch on this platter is the cup of chestnut honey, a sweet, earthy dipping pool for everything on this spread of antipasti.

The cream of asparagus soup was smooth as velvet, and literally tasted like gently seasoned pureed asparagus and cream.  Garnished with three generously-sized grilled shrimp, I loved how these little shellfish left an expanding ring of butter on the surface of the soup.  After cutting the shrimp into smaller bits, this made a light-as-air marriage of land and sea and the perfect winter soup.

Pork tenderloin is stuffed with asparagus, red bell peppers, and teleggio cheese, before being draped with a madeira wine reduction.

The fusilli at dinner was described around the table as a "perfect pasta" dish, and we loved it every bit as much as we had earlier in the day.  The taglierini with grilled shrimp and pesto, however, did not quite shine as brightly.  The pasta was fresh, the shrimp grilled to perfection.  The pesto, itself, however, was excessively salty... and trust me, it takes a lot of salt for us to find something too salty.  So much so, in fact, that I want to return and try it again to see if it was just an oversight this one night, because the basil was delicious, and with less salt, could have been glorious.  This was one of the only dishes on the table that was not practically licked clean.

The center cut filet of salmon was beautifully pan seared, a light pink on the outside, falling apart in gorgeous grapefruit colored tender slivers at the prodding of a fork.  The white wine lemon caper sauce was savory and tart, but if you aren't a fan of rather generously sauced seafood (and meat, for that matter) I might recommend the sauce on the side, because the fish and steaks at Bugatti are prepared so beautifully they almost need no additional flavors.

The herb-marinated sirloin was excellently seasoned and grilled, and then sliced into perfectly medium rare medallions arranged in a crescent moon and again, blanketed in red wine reduction (though here, I could have happily sipped the sauce directly from the plate).  Accompanied by a lightly buttery and fluffy potato tart, it was a standout entree of the evening.  Sirloin as tender and flavorsome as filet mignon is rarely presented with such finesse.

The table, of course, devoured tiramisu, nutella crespelles, and the ricotta cheesecake (pictured at the heading--note, one diner requested it without chocolate, apparently used as one of the regular garnishes), but after such a delightfully filling meal where eight friends tasted almost everything on the table, I fell in love with my dish of hazelnut gelato and raspberry sorbet (you can choose two scoops from an array of flavors, including blood orange, mango, vanilla, and chocolate).  As we sipped our coffee, Sandy (Mike's wife, and co-owner) stopped by to see how we had enjoyed our meal, and had us immediately feeling as invited guests in her home.

Only open since autumn, I have a feeling Bugatti is going to be around for quite a long time.  With enormous front window panels that swing open in the summer, and al fresco seating at high tables along the sidewalk, pretty soon it will be nearly impossible to walk by without taking notice.

Bugatti Cafe on Urbanspoon

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