February 27, 2013 was the date of the second Trinidadian food blogger menu-tasting initiative. This time we were graciously hosted by Chef Christian Grini of Buzo Osteria Italiana. Opened in 2011, Buzo has consistently been ranked as the #1 restaurant in Trinidad both by locals and international review-based sites such as TripAdvisor.com. Located on Port-of-Spain’s Warner Street, in a 120-year old stone building, the décor is a stunning meld of Old World and New. Much like Chef Grini’s cuisine.
From the start of the tasting Chef Grini was extremely accommodating of my dietary restrictions, at times adapting on the fly to create a variation or entirely new dish that I would be able to enjoy. Several times I insisted that I would be perfectly content to skip a dish or two rather than cause any extra work, however Chef Grini would not hear of it, and for that I am most appreciative. One definitely gets the impression that dietary restrictions/food allergies are accommodated without fuss, as another blogger was delighted upon receiving one of her dessert dishes that her nut allergy had been remembered without additional mention beyond our initial sit-down. Equally heartening, the number of dishes which are clearly marked on Buzo’s menu as vegetarian.
Attention to detail is evident in the caliber of the service staff as well. Our server Frances was attentive to every detail, proactively providing a purse-hook for Sharon of My Chutney Garden when her handbag and effortlessly explaining the name and finish of the wine we started with (a particularly smooth Col di Sasso Cabernet Sauvignon/Sangiovese blend).
So, on to our tasting!
Focaccia Al Rosmarino – Who doesn’t love focaccia? As the opening to an Italian meal it seems almost a given. Fresh, almost wafer thin, the sprigs of rosemary added rustic flavour and an aromatic finish. The unexpected presentation also set the tone for what was going to be an unforgettable lunch of laughter and enjoyment.
Polenta Fritta con Fonduta ai Quattro Formaggi – Our second dish was an instant showstopper. Not just visually (how modernist is that presentation?), but more importantly taste-wise. A single disc of fried polenta, crunchy cornmeal crust encasing a light and still creamy center, atop a rich, earthy 4-cheese fondue with truffle oil. The vivid discs of paper-thin radish were as practical as they were aesthetic, providing just the right moments of ‘bite’ that were needed to prevent the overall experience from becoming too heavy or cloying. This dish wasn’t on Buzo’s menu at that time, but hopefully as a result of our feedback Chef Grini will add it ASAP as you need to try this. This is one item that I would not hesitate to recommend to a first-time Buzo visitor to get them hooked.
Focaccine Farcite: Mushroom, Truffle, Arugula – I had been told that Chef Grini is a fan of truffle flavours, and after this tasting, so was I. Arugula is a green that I can usually do without however, in this particular combination it just worked. Muted and smoky, the arugula provided just the punch the ‘pizza’ needed to not be one-note.
Focaccine Farcite: Zucchini and Goat Cheese – I’m yet to meet a zucchini (dish) I didn’t like and this ‘pizza’ kept it that way. Mild in flavour and homey in texture, like the previous focaccine, this offering would be perfect for a light lunch or brunch with friends. I particularly enjoyed both with the special chili oil and pepper paste that was offered on the side. Perfection!
Portobello Fries - Oh. My. Word. That’s really the long and short of this dish. What more can I say, they were -that- amazing! Hot and crispy on the outside, meaty and decadently juicy on the inside, they are heaven. Not an official part of our menu, they were requested for us by Corey of Learning Patience who remembered how much I loved the fries at our previous Chaud Café tasting. Thanks Corey, this is one that I now consider a must-have for each future Buzo outing!
Pumpkin Ravioli – What would an excursion to Buzo be without a sampling of pasta? All their pastas are freshly handmade each day and I was glad I got to try them in ravioli-style as stuffed pastas are a favourite of mine. This dish was an alternate prepared for me as a replacement for the Lobster Ravioli that the other bloggers received. Mild in seasoning, despite the hearty slivers of fresh shiitake mushrooms, the sweetness of the pumpkin really shone through and the texture of the pasta was the perfect al dente. I found myself wishing for an additional level of flavour though, some grated Parmigiano, pesto or chilli paste perhaps. The chilli paste and oil already at the table were thankfully more than up to the task!
Fragole: Strawberry Salad – this served as a palate cleanser at this point of the afternoon. Simple and stark, its presentation made me burst into a smile with its pop-art colours and concentric radish circles. Dotted around the bowl’s edge they were a cheeky finale to the visual motif started with our earlier polenta dish!
Ready for a prosecco break? I know I was! No, but seriously, the change in libation also marked our shift towards a final sweeter-tinged main course dish, and then dessert…
My apologies for not knowing the proper name for this dish however it was one of the inpromptu offerings Chef Grini prepared for me in lieu of the Fried Calamari and Shrimp with Shrimp Risotto that the others were having. I can say however that if this item is not on the menu, it definitely deserves to be! Bathed in a buttery caper sauce, accented with tomatoes and black olives, it was a delightful blend of creaminess and tanginess. As with my previous Chaud Café outing, I was once again shocked by the fact that now a second chef has overcome my caper revulsion. The hey? Complementing (and muting) the bitter/salty quality with mild and creamy main ingredients and sauces. I see what you did there!
I loved this dish and would not hesitate to order it or any other salmon offerings on the Buzo menu. It’s a rarity to find salmon so delicately prepared here in T&T and I had to stop myself mid-way to take another shot to remember how flawlessly moist and flaky every mouthful was. Tell me this isn’t a thing of beauty?
There’s a whimsical humour that weaves its way throughout Chef Grini’s presentations. Wine in milk bottles, focaccia and fries in terracotta pots, paper bags and rubberized lids, all offset and disarm in a charming manner as if to say that although this is ‘serious food’, your dining experience should remain lighthearted from start to end.
Fragole con Panna – Who doesn’t love strawberries and cream? Buzo’s play on this classic combination upped the ante with the additions of fresh mint and caramelized almonds. It was light, refreshing and the perfect segue to the grand finale.
Tiramisu – It’s an oft-repeated anecdote that tiramisu is Italian for ‘pick me up’. Well after a feast like the one above it seemed only fitting to leave our tastebuds on a rich and decadent high. This was probably the lightest tiramisu that I’ve had to date. The coffee layer serving more as an accent, same as the chocolate, to the thick clouds of whipped mascarpone. This was a dessert I would have again and it also encouraged me to explore Buzo’s other dessert offerings on my next visit.
From start to finish my experience at Buzo was an amazing one and, if the feedback from other Trinidadians is anything to go by, this is the norm. High attention to detail, from the décor, to the service and of course the cuisine, mean that you are the center of the experience from when you arrive, to when you leave. Vegetarians will find enough options to keep them satisfied amongst their meat-eating counterparts and I would recommend that vegans either call first, or see which vegetarian options most lend themselves to easy modification.
ABOUT CHEF CHRISTIAN GRINI:
(From the Trinidad Guardian) Born and bred in Urbino in central Italy, Grini, 34, moved to Trinidad from Milan seven years ago. Also the executive chef at Prime restaurant in Invaders Bay, Grini says “my passion has always been food”.“
(Read the full article at www.guardian.co.tt/lifestyle/2012-06-09/love-passion-grini%E2%80%99s-food )
Buzo Italian Osteria
6A Warner Street,
Port of Spain,
Trinidad and Tobago
Mon – Sat: 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 a.m.
Telephone: 1 (868) 223-2896
Facebook page: www.facebook.com/pages/Buzo-Osteria-Italiana/217922361562780
Visit the other blogger writeups of this tasting for additional opinions, insights and dishes:
• Foodie Blogger Meetup at Buzo Osteria Italiana (My Chutney Garden)
• T&T Food Blogger Meetup @ Buzo Osteria Italiana (TriniChow)
• Blogger Meetup – Buzo Osteria Italiana (Learning Patience)