Remember when Osteria La Buca felt like it was your little discovery, scrappily toiling away with a real-life Italian mama hand-making her gnocchi? Now the six-year-old, star-attracting restaurant is again expanding, this time with a James Beard-winner in its kitchen. Jason Neroni, the former Spago cook who jumped all around New York (Le Cirque, Essex House, Tabla, Porchetta, 71 Clinton Fresh Food), took heat for his James Beard solicitations, and had a run-in with NYPD before joining 10 Downing Food and Wine, has been hired as La Buca's executive chef. Last we'd heard, the chef was headed our way and a press release from La Buca tells us he came back to his native So Cal after the birth of his son. So what's he doing at La Buca?
The restaurant is releasing an entirely new menu from Neroni to coincide with a complete remodel that finds it bigger and glossier, both to be exposed on April 6th. The menu, we're being assured, will not go too fussy, but stick to a streamlined approach that highlights fresh produce and simple preparations of Italian cooking. The hand-made pastas will still be a main component, while Neroni will also make salumi, pizza, sputini, and specials like porchetta. New dishes will be dropped over the next week through the restaurant's Twitter page. When the new menu drops, so do the restaurant's attempt at making contemporary cocktails, to be replaced by a selection of Cali and Italian wines.
The new look of the place, while seriously upgraded, adheres to the rustic approach as well, with new rose walnut tables in the dining room, reclaimed wood walls, and a bar made from barn doors and topped with zinc. A loft has also been added next to the second floor dining room, with space for eating at night and watching the pasta get rolled during the day.
Given Neroni's meandering path through so many different kitchens, it's hard to imagine that La Buca, as much as we love it, will be the last stop for this talented, and at times controversial, chef. His coming on-board as exec chef is likely to draw a serious amount of new interest in the old favorite. Either way, La Buca has definitely undergone a big metamorphosis lately, from neighborhood gem to taking a swing at the big leagues.
Earlier: Neroni Signed His Own Checks and Is Back on the Street for Now, Source Claims [Grub Street]
Ozersky to Neroni: Pipe Down! [Grub Street]