When a restaurant tries to be all things to all people, it usually fails. Miraculously, Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria does not. Where else do you find an Italian restaurant that's also a great little market, a full-service bakery, a neat wine bar, and a first-rate sausage store? Oh, and did I mention they make great gelato to-go as well?
But all good things come at a price, and for Il Buco, that means potential for long waits at dinner. Where should when the restaurant is too busy? The neighborhood is full of Italian alternatives.
The Closest Call
Il Buco's ingredient-driven Italian cooking shows evidence of American influences; so too does the menu at L'Apicio, Gabe Thompson's East Village flagship, where polenta comes spread on charcuterie boards and beautifully charred octopus is garnished with nubs of pepperoni. You'll also find Il Buco-like pleasures in the wines, selected by Thompson's partner Joe Campanale, and the desserts, made by pastry chef Katherine Thompson.
Does L'Apicio have a wait of its own? Here are three more spins on Italian for you. Prima hews modern with a focus on seafood: octopus, oysters, and fish of all kinds. For something more casual, Bianca may do you right—it's the neighborhood Italian restaurant every neighborhood should have, and its cooking rises above its humble surroundings.
Or say to hell with subtlety and hit up Rubirosa, where full-on retro red sauce is embraced with just the right note of irony. The thin-crust pizza, mountains of pasta, and endless vistas of chicken parm don't disappoint.
If you're looking to avoid a wait at Il Buco, your best bet is to visit for lunch, where the menu is largely the same but the room is way quieter. But perhaps you can't commit to the cost or time of a full lunch meal, or there's a surprise crowd in the way between you and a table. Mile End Sandwich won't carry the same monster short rib sandwich that Il Buco's known for, but it will treat you right. So can The Smile and its to-go annex, where you can pick up smart salads and well-constructed sandwiches on the run.
Drinks While You Wait
If you've decided to wait out your meal with a drink, Il Buco's little wine counter is as good a place to start as any. But it fills up quickly, so be prepared to look elsewhere in the East Village.
Here's two options to start: for cocktails, try Madam Geneva, an East and Southeast Asian-inspired cocktail bar with a focus on gin drinks of all kinds. Or you can save your money for dinner and hit low-key at neighborhood bar The Scratcher, where you'll find a nice happy hour through 8 p.m. and a solid beer-and-a-shot deal for good measure. Remember: just because you're visiting a fancy restaurant doesn't mean your night has to start that way.
What are your favorite standby bars and restaurants in the area? Let us know in the comments.