I happen to be a huge fan of Rob Gentile, the critically acclaimed chef. He has built a reputable small empire. Everything he touches seems to turn to gold. But this is not just because of good luck, it is because of skill, talent, hard work and creativity. He is the king of Italian food in Toronto. I am writing about his third restaurant, in the Buca chain (I hate to use that term because it is nothing like a chain restaurant at all) and most upscale of the bunch, Buca Yorkville, located at 53 Yorkville, tucked away beside the East tower of the Four Seasons Residence. This is one of two restaurants at the Four Seasons, the other being Café Boulud, plus his DB bar. Buca beats the pants off of Boulud for many reasons, the most important being superior quality of food, presentation and service.
Buca Yorkville is a seafood-focused restaurant rooted in Italian tradition, also serving pizza, pasta, fish and meat.
The restaurant has a sophisticated, contemporary atmosphere. The room is narrow, but because of the large windows in the front and back, it brings in lots of natural light. The ceilings are high, there is grey exposed brick, marble counters, black leather benches, wooden tables (no tablecloths), a bar in the front of the restaurant with a few chairs, and in the back an open kitchen with seats for 6 lucky people who can partake in a “tasting” meal. There is also a semi-private room in the back that holds up to 12 people. The restaurant has a slick city, fashionable feel to it.
From the day the place opened it has been jammed packed and is a hot ticket if you can get a reservation here. In 2015, Buca Yorkville was awarded “the number one restaurant in Canada”. This year it slipped to number two. Number one now being Toque in Montreal, that I have previously reviewed. Rob Gentile is the Chef Director and Ryan Campbell the Chef de Cuisine. Together they are a dream team. The food is inventive, artisanal fare. They use the best and freshest ingredients. Yes, the prices are high, but you get what you are paying for. If the food is not made in house, it is sourced locally or comes directly from Italy.
Some people complain the menu seems too weird for them, and is hard to navigate, or there is nothing for them to eat. But Rob wants to open our minds to eat things that we normally wouldn’t try. He tries to use the whole animal, so you may see things like tuna blood, or cod tongue, or swordfish marrow. Don’t be put off or scared, the food tastes brilliant.
The menu is divided into salumi di mare (cured fishes), piatti freddi (cold plates), crudi (raw), fritti (crisp), assagini (small bites), pasta, meat, fish and pizzas. He has so many show stopper dishes, it is difficult to choose. I suggest ordering some homemade warm bread knots to start. One of the standout dishes is the Branzino Crudo, precisely carved tableside, dressed with Sicilian olive oil and sea salt. This dish is a showstopper and can easily be shared with a few people. The octopus dish is so tender with a mix of clams and a pasta similar to an Israeli couscous. The pastas are all fabulous and change seasonally. He is doing a gnocchi now with fresh truffles that is glorious. I have to say that Buca Yorkville probably makes my favourite pizza in Toronto. I love how they serve it on a long wooden board accompanied with scissors. It is a tossup between the light and airy burrata pizza and the pizza biande, which comes with gorgonzola, wilted spinach, baby artichokes and chanterelle mushrooms.
For foodies, I recommend sitting at the kitchen counter and try the 7 or 16-course tasting menu. Rob also brings in international celebrity chefs on occasion and they collaborate on wonderful dinners together.
Buca is open from early morning until late at night and is open for brunch on the weekends. You can grab a pastry and an espresso before rushing off to work. The place is also jammed at lunch as well. I think they offer one of Toronto’s top brunches. Whether it is the farm eggs with stracciatella cheese and black truffles, or my favourite, Genovese chickpea crepe with peperonata, tealeggio cheese and hen’s eggs, or pancakes, pizza or pasta, you cannot go wrong.
The food is never boring – it’s truly unforgettable. When people ask me, what is my favourite restaurant in Toronto, Buca Yorkville is always on the top of my list. I am seriously impressed with the level of food, the knowledgeable and friendly staff, the high-end crowd and the remarkable creativity of the menu. Rob’s food is a modern approach to dining without being gimmicky. Long live the king.
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