out of town: buku

A few weeks ago, I made the quick trip up to Raleigh to see my friend Andrea. Since we had a classy day at the North Carolina State Fair planned for Saturday, we decided to go for a nice dinner and some drinks on Friday night before shaking our groove things (sort of, more like singing along to top 40 hits while sitting at a prime bar location) in downtown Raleigh. I got into town a little after six, and went for a late dinner after sharing a beer and some laughs at her apartment.

map & more
score: 8
spending: $$-$$$
neighborhood: raleigh, nc
cuisine: tapas, small plates
official website

Andrea had picked BuKu from Yelp and Urban Spoon reviews (she and I share a mutual love of tapas and small bites, and I have taken her a few times to Soul when she’s visited in Charlotte). Once we arrived, it seemed like the perfect spot for a Friday night friend date. Bu Ku’s atmosphere is trendy–a wall fountain greets you, the space is dimly lit, the bar area is sleek and sophisticated, and steady din of diners and bar patrons fills the air, letting you know it’s hopping. We arrived for a late dinner (after catching up over a few Spotted Cows at Andrea’s apartment), and there was still a short wait, so we grabbed some drinks at the bar. I opted for a cocktail, and thoroughly enjoyed by Pimm’s Cup–Pimm’s no. 1, Cardinal gin, lemon, and ginger beer. It was refreshing; something about gin makes me think fresh (plus the acidity of lemon always brightens a cocktail). Our table was ready after one pre dinner drink.

While trendy, BuKu’s dining room is definitely elegant and warm. We were seated among white tablecloths and candles, which inspired us to be classy and order a bottle of wine off of their extensive wine list. We perused the menu, which took us a while because of the variety of cuisines and options. Buku’s food is inspired by the pushcarts of street vendors in cities across the globe; which is definitely reflective in their menu. We were looking at things from empanadas (Spain or Latin America),  to dumplings (China), to naan (India), to pierogis (Poland). While I did like that their menu described the food as a “kaleidoscope” of plates, emphasizing distinct and unique flavors and different regional traditions, I can definitely see how the offerings could appear to be disjointed.

While Buku offers both small and large plates (our waitress explained the small plates were for sharing, like tapas, and the large plates were more like entrees), Andrea and I decided to go for sharing so we could taste more things (greedy much?). We got a wide sampling of cuisines.

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The first to come out was the crab-stuffed avocado. It was a ripe, green, creamy avocado chock full of crab meat (I love a place that doesn’t skimp on crab meat), bell pepper, red onion, mango, tomato, and lime. It was served cold, which was unexpected to me (I often eat crab meat warm, whether with steamed blue crab and Old Bay, crab cakes or Alaskan King Crab) but after one bite it totally made sense–warm avocado? Ish. It reminded me of a crab meat salad, similar to tuna or chicken salad, sans mayo; which was awesome because avocado provided the creamy base (as a minor tangent, has anyone else made tuna salad with avocado instead of mayo? If you haven’t do it now, and if you need a recipe, holla at ya gurl). The pepper and onion gave the dish a nice crunch, the sweetness mango and tomato paired nicely and enhanced the naturally sweet crab meat, and the lime gave a nice zest at the end.

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Next up were pork dumplings, a family stand by, so I probably insisted that we order these. They were good dumplings; perfectly steamed pockets of dough (no sogginess here) with flavorful ground pork, ginger, and scallion, and a sesame-soy sauce for dipping.

We then travelled to Latin America with an order of Empanadas. I die. I love empanadas; there was a empanada food truck in Madison that parked just down the street from the law school, and I had to resist it anytime I was going to or from class (in retrospect, I should have just eaten empanadas all day every day). A good empanada has a crispy shell encasing warm treats inside. The chipotle-braised chicken exploded as I took my knife to the empanada, and I enjoyed the combination of chicken with the guacamole, tomatoes and queso fresco that adorned by empanada in every bite.

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The aloo chana chaat jumped out at me from the menu (I have a thing for chick peas), but I think this was my least favorite dish out of the selection we ordered. It wasn’t bad by any means, but the spice from the potato was so overpowering that I had issues tasting the other flavors. Luckily, the cucumber cooled everything down. Also cilantro chutney–yum (also how unique!).

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Last up, we had the PEI Mussels, cooked with white wine, basil pesto, cream, and tomato, and accompanied by grilled baguette. I’m a huge fan of mussels, especially those in a flavorful, creamy broth. These were amazing. God, I could drink this sauce. We obviously requested more bread because it would be rude to pick up the bowl and chug the sauce and three toast points were clearly not enough to enjoy this delectable sauce.

Dinner was tasty and fun, and worth the pricier tag (I think catching up with friends over wine and good food is the best way to spend an evening). While I’m not a Raleigh local, I totally suggest you check out Buku next time you’re in the great State of North Carolina’s capital city. After dinner at BuKu, we headed over to The Hive and drank some delicious beers and jammed to Top 40 hits. Successful evening, if you ask me.

Buku on Urbanspoon

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