Re-Inventing the “Neighborhood Italian Ristorante”
WE ARE SORRY TO REPORT THAT THIS RESTAURANT HAS CLOSED.
Ah yes, Buon Amici. It means “good friends” in Italian. I met this restaurant of a “friend” about 6 years ago and I have yet to try a dish there that I haven’t liked. Whether it’s soup, pasta, pizza, sandwiches or a main dish, EVERY time they have delivered.
Last year Buon Amici underwent a makeover and the transformation looks great. They have moved away from the casual pizza café feel and transitioned into a full sit down restaurant with a bar. I really like the combination of colors and textures they used in the design. It’s very romantic, classy and cozy.
This review was totally different from any other review we have done in the past. Instead of full servings off their regular menu, the chef prepared small portions from some of their specialty dishes. Everything we tasted had won some sort of award. The food I describe below may or may not be on the menu at the time you come, but know that they always have a great special to offer you and chances are you’ll like it!
It may seem trite to talk about garlic knots, but I was actually impressed with the ones at Buon Amici’s. I wouldn’t mind having a basket of those in front of me right now. One of the “intros” to the main meal was this incredible Spicy Grilled Caesar Salad. I loved the unique way it was prepared. The lettuce was charred a little and there was this huge bacon-like crisp that worked so well with it. But I don’t want to get too carried away here because this was my favorite thing and I’ll expound upon it more below. Wild mushroom ravioli was next for us to taste. The ravioli was super tasty, but my favorite part was actually the little “garnish” of asparagus and mushrooms on the side. I expected them to taste like garnish tastes – completely tasteless. But it was actually really flavorful. The chef also prepared for us crab stuffed sole, rigatoni with ricotta and butternut squash. I totally underestimated the butternut squash. It looked like a pile of corn to me, but when I tasted it, I was really impressed. It had delicious flavor and texture. There was also this little rosemary and lemon lardo placed on the platter. I guess I hadn’t learned my lesson yet because this too surprised me at how tasty it was. Who knew a little slab of pig fat could taste so good! I really appreciate how the chef puts such attention to detail into every side dish even if it’s a small garnish. That makes such a difference. I really enjoyed this review because we were able to take a “tour” of the chef’s best dishes. I’m pretty confident you will enjoy your next visit to Buon Amici as well. And remember, ask for their specials!
My Favorite Thing: Grilled Caesar Salad – This is certainly no ordinary Caesar salad. You have huge pieces of lettuce slightly charred with a crouton “disc”, cream cheese-like dressing, and a crispy strip of meat (similar to bacon). I’m not one to gawk over salads, but this one was amazing. By far the best and most creative Caesar salad I’ve ever eaten.
What I would like to try next time: Dark Chocolate Raspberry Shake – “Chef Brian’s decadent chocolate ganache blended into a creamy milkshake topped with imported raspberry sorbet “. Raspberry and chocolate…um…yes please!
As Mindy said, that’s what Buon Amici means in Italian. And that’s who you’ll be wanting to take here – good friends. I mean, you could take your “bad friends” here if you want, or if that’s the only kind of friends you have, but for me, I like to reward my friends with food comparative to where they fall on my “Friend Ranking Scale”*. You don’t want to know where I take my bad friends.
Buon Amici is a multiple award-winning Italian Ristorante located in New Town off of Center St. You have to spell and pronounce it “Ristorante”. If you don’t, watch out**. It’s won numerous awards, including “Best Italian Restaurant and Best Pizza” by the Virginia Gazette for 2 years running, Hampton Roads Magazine Platinum Plate Award Winner for 2009 – 2011, as well as a Triple Award Winner in their Online Readers Choice Best Of Contest for 2011. It has an upscale and classy feel and decor, yet the prices are fairy reasonable. Almost half of the restaurant used to be a café/take-out area, but they renovated about a year ago, eliminating the café and creating one unified atmosphere. They have live music on Wednesday and Thursday nights and a nice patio outside. Take advantage of their specials throughout the week, including their fantastic Two Course Prix Fixe Lunch special and their new Sunday Brunch from 10:30am – 3pm.
We arrived around 2pm during a weekday. Which was nice, because it was very slow (they’re usually pretty busy). It was also nice because we were able to try dishes that are not normally on the menu. And we were delighted to hear that they were dishes that they’ve won awards for! Fear not though, they said that they have special dishes like this available all the time. You simply need to ask.
Our first award-winning dish was their Pasta Fagioli. A warm and comforting tomato based soup with vegetables, pasta and a magnificently crusted bread. I wanted to pace myself for the rest of the review, but caved in and ate the whole thing. Man, was it good. After removing my empty bowl, the waitress brought forth one of the most beautifully presented salads I have ever seen – their Spiced Grilled Caesar Salad. I’ve never seen a Caesar Salad like this before. One solid, slightly charred piece of Romaine lettuce sprinkled with shavings of Parmesan Cheese set to one side of the plate. Next to it sat a glorious tower consisting of a sliced tomato holding up a crouton and a thin slice of some cured meat held there by a dollop of a delicious cheese mixture. The cured meat “crisp” looked like one of those sea fans found in the…uh…sea. Except this sea fan was salty, crunchy, tasty and delicious. The flavors were tangy and exciting. This took the traditional Caesar Salad to another level. Note: this is not the Caesar Salad on their menu. This is a special dish. The Wild Mushroom Ravioli was brought out next with a nice array of mushrooms sitting in a tasty truffle cream sauce. The ravioli was generously stuffed with some sort of mushroom mixture that was very good. After this came the Crab Stuffed Sole. This was a slice of Sole Fish wrapped around a mash of crab meat. It was pretty much ALL meat except for a few peas in there. I love when they don’t add unnecessary filler. It came with two small, but extremely flavorful side items of a Butternut Squash and Rigatoni with Ricotta cheese. Again, these were small, but packed a lot of flavor. A Braised Short Ribs with Yellow Squash Zucchini followed after. If you’re hungry, order this. A thick and flavorful mound of risotto soaked in it’s incredible juices held up a piece of perfectly cooked braised short rib. The flavors were strong, bold and very good. Our last dish was their Caramel Gelato with Cinnamon Sugar Zeppole and Spicy Apples with Pancetta. They have other flavors of gelato as well such as Blood Orange, Pistachio, Basil, Mango and Passion Fruit. Some are not always available though. Zeppole is an Italian pastry of fried dough similar to a doughnut. These warm and sugary little guys combined with the cool gelato and the salty/sweet apple with pancetta mixture provided a nice ending to our meal. So nice that I think I might have to come back very soon. “Good friends”, be ready.
My Favorite Thing: No contest for me. It was the Spiced Grilled Caesar Salad. I’m an artsy kind of guy, and the presentation combined with those amazing tangy flavors slammed this home.
What I would like to try next time: I’ve had their pizza before, so I feel like I shouldn’t say pizza, but their pizza is just SOOOOOOO good. And I haven’t had every single one of their pizzas, right? So I’ll say their Gorgonzola & Caramelized Onion Artisan Pizza – “Gorgonzola, caramelized onion, walnuts & fresh parsley”. Seriously, you need to try at least one of their pizzas.
* I’m just kidding. I don’t have a Friend Ranking Scale. Although I should.
** Again, just kidding. Or am I?