Cari Taylor-Carlson

Buckley’s Is a “10”

Lovely food, lovely service, in upscale yet casual ambience.

By - May 27th, 2016 01:42 pm
Buckley's Restaurant & Bar

Buckley’s Restaurant & Bar

In the 20 years I’ve written about restaurants and more recently reviewed them, I’ve never encountered a perfect “10.” That was until recently when I ate at Buckley’s twice and left in awe of the extraordinary quality of our meals. Not only was the food delicious, but each time I visit I’m reminded that this is a special place where I should wear clean jeans and use my best company manners. It’s classy without being presumptuous or snobby. Come twice and someone behind the bar or one of the servers will remember you.

Following a Spaces and Traces tour of Lower East Side mansions, we chose Buckley’s because the Cass St. restaurant fit in with the ambiance of those elegant homes. The use of black-and-white accents against teal-colored walls, the carved wooden bar, the crown moldings, and the high ceiling painted black combine to create an upscale-yet-casual neighborhood restaurant. It’s small with a few bistro-style tables that line two walls, while seats at the bar accommodate a few more customers. Several outdoor tables face Wells and Cass Streets and are shaded by — of course — black-and-white umbrellas. When the weather warms, all the tables indoors and out will be occupied. Reservations are strongly recommended.

As soon as we sat down, my friend Kelly took one look at our server Max and said, “Your eyes match the color of the walls.” He was patient with our spirited group.

I ordered the Banh Mi. Contrary to my prior assumption, I learned from my friend that the name of the sandwich refers to the bread, not the filling. It comes from the baguette introduced by the French during their colonial period in Vietnam. My Banh Mi had the classic Vietnamese ingredients, shredded pickled carrots and daikon radish along with a handful of cilantro. Chili Sambal sauce, a tomato-based hot sauce, added heat to the already hot spicy carrots and radish. I chose the daily special Banh Mi, with haddock instead of pork, and found just enough spice, but not so much that it overpowered the delicate fish. The addition of cilantro helped cool it down.

Here is an odd little issue that arose when I ate the accompanying fries. The ketchup served in a little glass dish tasted superior to ketchup squirted out of the usual plastic container. We debated whether or not Buckley’s was house-made because it tasted so good. Sometimes it’s all in the presentation.

Cajun-Spiced Blackened Salmon served in a burger bun topped with lettuce, tomato, pesto aioli, and slices of thick-sliced bacon was equally delicious. The menu says it’s a BLT, but it was really all about that slab of perfectly cooked salmon. Chef Thi Cao has just the right touch with heat, enough to liven the dish, but not so much that it scares off people who are heat-averse.

Caccio e Pepe, or pasta with pecorino, pepper, and “raw butter” sounded ordinary. It wasn’t. The addition of buttery shrimp led my companion to comment, “The shrimp melted in my mouth like a big hunk of butter.” With this pasta Chef Cao created a dish that’s rich and buttery, yet delicate, definitely not heavy. I went online to learn about “raw butter” and here’s what I found. It is unprocessed, unheated, unpasteurized, and unhomogenized butter fat which comes from cream. Okay, just like the butter our grandparents ate.

When we gushed to server Max, “Our lunch is fabulous,” he came back with, “I heard fabulous so many times today.”

Remains of the carrot cake. Photo by Cari Taylor-Carlson.

Remains of the carrot cake. Photo by Cari Taylor-Carlson.

Three of us polished off this trio of delicious items, followed by a slice, more like a hunk of Carrot Cake. We shared and ate the whole thing, every moist crumb and every bite of the excessively thick rich cream cheese frosting.

After that five-star lunch, brunch the next day was almost anticlimactic, except it wasn’t, especially the Chicken Pot Pie. As the most understated menu item, it’s listed as simply “chicken with stewed vegetables and peas topped with a pastry crust.” That all. Turns out it’s tender chunks of chicken, veggies that still have life, i.e. crunch, in a buttery cream sauce that could be addictive. Topped with a flaky crust similar to puff pastry with body, it raised the bar forever on the formerly nondescript concept of chicken pot pie.

Classic Eggs Benedict starred poached eggs as perfectly round as golf balls, topped with plentiful hollandaise. Can I use the word “buttery” again? That’s the best way to describe the hollandaise I could have eaten in a dish with a spoon.

Only corned beef and the beloved meatloaf sandwich which I have enjoyed many times over the years were missing from the menu. Server Max explained, “We serve meatloaf every Monday. If there’s any left over, we offer meatloaf sandwiches on Tuesday until it’s gone. We were there on a Saturday. That’s a good reason to visit on Monday because he added, “We always run out on Tuesday.”

As for my inquiry about the corned beef he said, “We just changed the menu. We may bring it back in the fall.”

Not to sound redundant, but fabulous and buttery are the words I took home after two recent meals at Buckley’s. I’m sure I’ll be returning.

On the Menu

Buckley’s Restaurant & Bar

The Rundown

One thought on “Dining: Buckley’s Is a “10””

  1. Christina Zawadiwsky says:

    I’ve always enjoyed Buckley’s, and the atmosphere there is particularly pleasant, too!

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