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Il Buco:
The Date of Amontillado

by Jordan Robinson

I spent last summer driving across America -- alone. So the first thing I did when I got back into town was ask out this girl I met at an outdoor Oyster Fest in the East Village.

"You're the boy," Oyster Girl says when I call her, "so you pick the restaurant."

Still suffering from the summer's dining hangover consisting of equal parts roadside barbeque, truck stop diner, and Cracker Barrel, I realize that I must try to acclimate to the urban dating and dining scene all in one fell swoop.

I take her to Il Buco, not really a shellfish establishment, rather antique store by day, mediterranean restaurant by night. Well -- at least it used to be, until the antique store gave way, leaving the charming rustic ambiance of a Tuscan farmhouse. Many antiques are actually still for sale, so in theory, you can walk out with a pleasantly full stomach and a cool old watering can.

I escort her down cobblestoned Bond Street and we duck into number 47, allowing our eyes to adjust to the warm glow of candlelight.

The host whisks us off to an oyster-sized table tucked away in back by the kitchen, and we ensconce ourselves in our own little first-date world.

"Yummm!" coos Oyster Girl as she scans the dizzying menu of small tasting-sized dishes drawn from the countrysides of Spain and Italy. "Can we order it all?" I concur in principle, not having gotten as far as actually looking at the menu -- or even the wine list, I realize, as the waiter returns for our drink order. I ask for a recommendation. Turns out that the Dolcetta d'Alba our waiter suggests is far and away my favorite Italian wine -- would have been my pick, too, had I managed to turn my gaze from my date's baby blues to Il Buco's whites and reds.

Now we consider the menu in earnest. It seems designed for sharing -- not just food, but experiences. It begins to draw out our stories of living and traveling in Spain and Italy. She starts to reveal to me her crustacean-riddled past; I amuse her with anecdotes from my recent travels across zen America. While we do not in fact end up ordering everything, we make a respectable showing, and food begins to emerge from the nearby kitchen.

First we snack on plates of woody, garlicky olives, followed by tender grilled baby octopus and a refreshing salad of frisee, roasted beets, and fresh pears. We cannot pass up the earthy portobello mushrooms before -- when time comes to order the entrees -- putting our palates in our waiter's hands.

Good call. He presents with a flourish an enormous platter of salt cod baked whole with braised fennel, as well as a steaming bowl of wide ribbon-like sheets of pasta swimming with morel mushrooms and sage. We are caught up in the flavors, the candlelight, the Date.

My date looks up from her plate. "I never want to stop eating this!" she proclaims, valiantly attacking a tasty marriage (did I say "marriage?") of manchego cheese and honeycomb. This seems promising, I think.

As does this: "The restaurant's haunted, you know," confides our waiter. "Come visit the cellar when you're done."

By now, I am won over. By our mind-reading waiter, who revealed to us the kitchen's best surprises. By the romantic prospect of visiting a haunted wine cellar. And by Oyster Girl, who seems to enjoy food, wine and -- by extension, in my flawed short-hand calculus of first dates -- life.

We finish our meal, grab some candles, and venture down the creaky steps. "It is here," whispers our host, "that Edgar Allan Poe penned 'The Cask of Amontillado!'" My date and I reach for each other's hands and note the nearest exit. I mean, things are going great, but I'm not quite ready to be bricked into a forgotten wine celler together for eternity.

"Are you married?" asks the host, blocking the stairs, his face luminescent in the candle's glow. "Uh . . . yes," I say, not sure whether this means there'll be a second date, or whether there's no escape. "We're from . . . Iowa," I blurt out -- still lying, trying to divert his attention. My date kicks me. "Sure. Iowa, you know -- corn, caucuses, Des Moines." Somehow, this does the trick, as we are soon donning our coats and breathing in the crisp air of an early Autumn night.

As for Oyster Girl and me, I don't know, maybe this place scared the first date jitters out of us. Because we did go on a second date after that, and a third. And you know what? I guess my calculus added up after all. It turns out she really does enjoy life. And the city is our oyster.

Jordan Robinson was not the least bit scared in the wine cellar. Really.

Il Buco
47 Bond Street
New York City
(212) 533-1932
M-Th 6 pm - Midnight, F-Sa 6pm - 1am, Su 5pm - 11 pm
No credit cards

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