Review: Buccan specializes in complex tapas-size offerings to share


Editor’s note: This review originally published in May, 2011. Prices listed may have changed.

There's a current of cool that sweeps throughout Bûccan, the delightful bistro that has been the buzz of Palm Beach since opening earlier this year. 

 The aromas of an open kitchen stream out into the bustling dining room and bar, where most seats are filled well before 8 p.m. Getting a table here in season is a feat, which is why we wound up sitting at the long, high-top communal table on my recent visit. 

>>Related: 20 best restaurants right now in Palm Beach County

It was fine with us -- the table was ample enough to accommodate three clusters of diners and our private conversations. And the service didn't suffer from the group seating situation -- it was pretty outstanding. 

 From my high-top vantage point, I caught a glimpse of chef Clay Conley checking details in the dining room before disappearing into the kitchen steam. He's the celebrated Miami chef (Azul at the Mandarin Oriental) who is co-owner of Bûccan, a place he envisioned as relaxed, both in ambiance and cuisine. 

 The Maine native has created a menu of small plates that is beautifully eclectic -- and accessible. By accessible, I don't mean simple. The chef's fine dining background (which includes a stretch as culinary director for Todd English's restaurants) reveals itself in the complex layers of each dish. 

 Take his version of the Argentine empanada. Instead of simply stuffing it with ground beef, Conley delivers a perfectly crispy empanada ($5 each) stuffed with rich, flavorful braised oxtail and drizzled with yellow pepper and creole sauces. We accompanied those empanadas with a salad of Swank Farm baby kale, currants, pine nuts and Parmesan ($11). 

 Tossed in a lemony vinaigrette, the salad contrasted nicely with the rich, meaty empanadas. Between sips of a Mt. Eden cabernet, it was clear the meal was off to a noble start. This would not be a regimented meal, but one of shared tapas. 

 While the restaurant offers a selection of "large plates" (from wood-grilled sirloin to herb roasted chicken with mashed potatoes), it's the smaller dishes that called our names. And days later, while interviewing Conley, I came to learn this is how he prefers to eat while dining out. He's all about the small plates. 

 A little later, we shared an order of Prince Edward Island mussels in an intoxicating curry-laced coconut milk ($12), soaking up the sauce with scraps of bread. We also feasted on a smoky, tender barbecue quail served atop a cheddar biscuit ($13), a surprisingly juicy little bird. And we were seduced by the night's gnocchi dish, light, doughy spheres in a truffle-deepened cream sauce ($30). 

 I found the wild mushroom flatbread with gruyere cheese, marsala-glazed onions and black truffle ($15), however, to be too rich -- layer upon layer of deep flavors -- for my taste. 

 That said, Bûccan hit the right note with its desserts, even though they are not made on premise (they're whipped up by a local pastry chef). My favorite was the Redneck Fromage Blanc ($10), a weightless, almost savory cream cheese flan served with fresh strawberries. It was an appropriately light finish to an evening of edified nibbles.


Review Box

Buccan

FOOD: A 

SERVICE: A 

ADDRESS: 350 S. County Road, Palm Beach 

TELEPHONE: 561-833-3450 

WEBSITE: BuccanPalmBeach.com 

PRICE RANGE: Moderate to expensive 

HOURS: Monday through Thursday from 4-11 p.m. (bar to 1 a.m.); Friday from 4 p.m.-midnight (bar to 1 a.m.); Saturday from 5 p.m. to midnight (bar to 1 a.m.); and Sunday from 5 p.m.-10 p.m. (bar to midnight) 

CREDIT CARDS: All major 

RESERVATIONS: Yes 

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes, including restrooms 

WHAT THE GRADES 

MEAN: 

A -- Excellent 

B -- Good 

C -- Average 

D -- Poor 

F -- Don't bother


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