I have a soft spot for this space. It used to house a gem: a little restaurant called the Ironwood Café, before the Ironwood moved to the Somerset Village strip and then, shortly thereafter, closed for good. Post Ironwood, 374 Bank was a shawarma restaurant for a little while, and then in 2003, The Buzz opened.
I reviewed the new restaurant in the spring of 2004 and found the space terrific but the food a yawn. Then lately a bit of a buzz emerged about a new chef: word was the food had taken on some verve under Terry Foster’s charge.
So I’m back at Buzz.
It remains a very attractive room – long and narrow with tall walls the colour of dark moss and olive between swaths of craggy old brick. Globe lights are on dim, but not so dim we can’t read. Add candlelight, interesting art, music at the right volume, service that goes the distance and we’re off to a pretty fine beginning.
On that first visit, the food is up and down. There’s the coconut shrimp thing (with out-of-a-jar marmalade dip) and what tastes like PC spring rolls on an outrageously expensive sharing plate ($22). Then there’s a dynamite venison steak with a scattering of blueberries and a rough hash of rosemaried root vegetables (a better way to spend $22). The soup on that first visit was apparently pumpkin, but had scant pumpkin flavour, tasting mostly of infused oil and cream, and of the crostini-perched Brie on its pale, thin surface. A plate of al dente linguine with scallops in a lemon cream sauce is pleasant enough (but for a final flourish of some Kraft-like shredded cheese, which we flick off before eating). The dessert works – a lemon crème brûlée that is more pudding than custard, but is as comforting as lemon pudding can be.
Two weeks later, we return. Our server is delightful, determined to level a wobbly table, excited about the new chef. NO, not THAT new chef. (THAT new chef has left.) The new Buzz chef now is the former sous chef, whose name appears on the tapas menu -Chef Jishnu Sreenivasan, newly promoted.
I choke on my glass of Ravenswood. Really, I should leave. Give this new guy a chance, return in a few weeks. But we’re hungry and thirsty. And she’s so nice. We order his “tapas” (the buzz word for any appetizer lately). They go down pretty well. So does their price: $6 a plate. The best of the bunch is the polenta with peppers. Two crisp disks of soft polenta, rich with ricotta and parmesan, sandwiching well roasted red peppers. Simple, delicious and almost a meal. Duck confit teams up with smoked Gouda in two good sized empanadas. Chunks of red snapper are wrapped in ribbons of prosciutto. A mound of arugula is perky and fresh in a lemon vinaigrette, and blood orange sections are a bright addition. The shrimp in this salad, however, are dull, unseasoned things.
The Buzz steak frites is a flap steak. (Sometimes called a steak bavette.) Like the skirt or flank steak, it comes from the less tender, but more flavourful region of cow. It’s a nice steak – marinated, grilled dry to rare (don’t order it past medium-rare) sliced into thin-nish strips of good flavour and great chew. It comes with sweet potato fries and a bundle of well-done vegetables for $19.
If a good fibrous steak isn’t your thing, there’s a gentler option in a homemade nut and vegetable burger with ground chickpeas, cheddar cheese and a tomatillo salsa.
We like our second dinner. It wasn’t all perfect, but if you avoid the trappings of those sharing plates, and focus more on the chef’s specials than on the somewhat pedestrian menu, you may find at Buzz that the price is right, the room is right, the service is right and the wine list, though not long, pours practically all its offerings by the glass or half litre. Nor does it gouge us on prices or charge much for BYOB – $5 corkage fee Sunday through Tuesday.