Buco Pizzeria + Vino

Shops at Boudreau

Boudreau Rd. + Bellerose Dr.

St. Albert

780-569-2826

bucopizzeria.com

11 a.m. to 9 p.m. (later on weekends)

Seven days a week

Food: 4.5 of 5 Suns

Ambience: 4 of 5 Suns

Service: 3.5 of 5 Suns

Dinner for two excluding drinks and tip: Basic, $25; loaded, $50

It is a joy to experience a top-notch, reasonably priced restaurant – offering champagne quality at beer-tap prices.

But of course: Buco Pizzeria + Vino in St. Albert is the latest offering from the Rago family’s Sorrentino Group of restaurants.

The family, headed up by Carmelo and Stella Rago, have been opening restaurants in Metropolitan Edmonton some 40 years. Their down home style, upgraded by flair and fashion, has been expressed through the original Sorrento, all the Sorrentino’s Italian restaurants, Caffe Sorrentino, Bistecca, sports bars and the occasional pub.

With the Rago’s three sons slowly taking over the show, it’s no surprise a new, casual, modern dining concept should emerge.

Buco is sleek – it’s designer heaven with a clean, modern industrial look. Natural light floods in through floor-to-ceiling windows. No expense has been spared.

But it has Sorrentino soul. There’s an ambience, some pixie dust in the air that makes it as inviting and intimate as its stylistic opposite (but actual soul mate), Little Italy’s comforting Sorrentino’s taverna.

This is modern, this is light, healthy eating centred around that comfort food of comfort foods, pizzas made by two-time Canadian Pizza Magazine Chef of the Year, master “pizzaiolo” Carlo Raillo.

Every ingredient of these pizzas, starting with the flour, is carefully sourced, creatively assembled and quick-baked Neapolitan style in an 800F wood-fired pizza oven.

Surrounding the pizzas are an imaginative range of small plates, excellent salads, paninis made from pizza dough and attractive children’s dishes. If one must go heavier, four home-style oven-baked pasta dishes and just five honking-big mains are available to satisfy the dwindling meat-and-potatoes crowd.

Our two pizzas, ($18 each) the “Sunny-side up” from the rossa (red) and Polo (chicken) from the bianca (white ) selections were marvellous.

The crusts were thin, light, the edges perfectly blistered in the hot oven. All the fixings – the herb-infused tomato sauce, the Italian cheese mix, shredded pancetta (Italian “bacon” but far more interesting) and the fried egg sitting happily in the middle of the Sunny-side-up – were of the best possible quality and assembled with culinary imagination.

The Caprese is one of the best salads I have ever tried, period. Its magic was in the use of top-quality tomatoes and veggies, an iron-clad commitment to freshness, and a lovely basil pesto dressing with mint and balsamic liberally lashed over the salad.

Character came from a sprinkling of pistachio nuts and, surprisingly, ripe green olives to add savoury to the mozzarella and tomato profile. The salad had also been carefully cooled to a perfect eating temperature.

I recommend the calamari, not so much for its fluffy corn-flour batter (which was very good) but for its lip-smacking calabrese butter dipping sauce, with cayenne heat whipped into a sun-dried tomato/butter blend.

The house-made ricotta on fresh-baked crostini was so light and billowy, one stopped eating just to savour the texture as it slowly disappeared from the back of the mouth.

Rounding off our superb Saturday lunch for four was a beautifully presented, very fresh, vanilla, lemon, orange and moscato infused panna cotta, and, for the fun of it, a dessert calzone straight from the oven, filled with rich Nutella.

My only disappointment was the stale house coffee, which, inexplicably , snuck through Buco’s quality controls.

Untried was Buco’s extensive Italian wine list, reflecting today’s wide-spread knowledge of inexpensive wines and often the preference for a glass or two, rather than a full bottle.

Buco also understands the attraction of atmosphere. Late afternoons feature an “assaggini (small tastes) bar” offering interesting pre-dinner snacks at happy hour. Closing time is open-ended. If there’s a crowd for “late night social hour” Buco stays open.

Buco Pizzeria + Vino is an excellent concept, superbly executed. No decision has been made on opening more Bucos, but it would fit in several of the city's dining precincts, especially the downtown.

Graham Hicks

780 707 6379

graham.hicks@hicksbiz.com

www.hicksbiz.com

@hicksonsix