Cons: Big portions (ok for big groups), poor service, bland food, tacky decor, menu, etc
I had never been to Buca di Beppo until very recently. Ive heard a lot about it in the past, and much of what Ive heard has been bad things. However, despite all the warnings, I still wanted to give this place at least one try.
If you arent familiar with Buca di Beppo, the main concept is that it offers family style meals. This means that when you select something from the menu, the portion is enough for two or more people, from appetizers to salads to pastas.
This is the story of my unpleasant venture into the location in Albany, NY
Our First Hurdle: The Menu
I'm a vegetarian, so I checked out a paper menu by the door to make sure that I would be able to get something. Actually, if there was something I could split. There were a few meat-free choices, so we headed in. We were seated, but not with menus. This was the first thing that really annoyed me.
The menus are printed up on the wall. This required staring at a menu that was just inches above the heads of the people eating across from us. So there they are, trying to eat their meal, and we're basically staring in their direction. The people must have realized why we were staring almost right at them, but I think it was unnerving for both parties, and they kept glancing at us (which is what I would do if I thought a stranger was staring at me for 10 minutes).
It's difficult to see and focus on the menu on the wall, and then make a timely decision, especially when it involves discussing it with someone else. Finally, (and not in a timely manner), our waiter came over with a huge frame which sits in a base and contains the menu. We hadn't made up our mind, so he left the menu, which actually helped us to expedite our decision. I dont understand why we couldnt have had regular menus or the frame from the start.
While we waited, I had plenty of time to look around. I was already thinking "tacky" when we walked along the front of the restaurant to get to the front door. For starters, the outdoor window boxes were stuffed, and I mean stuffed with fake flowers of all colors and types.
As soon as we went in the front door, I was starting to question as to if this were such a good decision. The atmosphere was predominantly red, with a dim light setting. My impression was that things appeared old, and not just because the photographs were mostly black & white.
Every inch of Buca de Beppo's walls are covered. Most of the wall hangings consist of old pictures (none new, whatsoever). There are lots of black and whites, and some really old color photos. Many of the pictures are arranged by "themes", such as one little section that had pictures of people boxing. Other items included small flags and Italian items.
I really, really don't like the decor. Where we were sitting, there were color Christmas lights woven along the walls, in between pictures. The walls had a dark wood paneling, and between the lights, pictures, and paneling, everything looked cheap and old. I felt like we were in someone's basement from the 60's, especially with the dark lighting. Ironically, the name loosely translates as Joes Basement.
In the section we were eating, I was rather repulsed by some giant letters that spelled out Buca di Beppo, and tried to avert my eyes away from the giant "Buca" that was covered in red glitter (think Wizard of Oz).
The decor on the table was pretty hideous too. There were paper placemats plastered all over the table (so you could barely see the checker-print tablecloth peeking through). The drawings on these placemats looked like they had been drawn by a kid, because they were sloppy pen sketches. There was a drawing of a large woman with double chins, and then a bizarre map of Europe with volcanoes spewing out of Germany. Germany? Well known for active volcanoes? Hmmm. Enough said.
I covered most of the atmosphere in this place when I described the decor. However, I got some other impressions during my visit. The host and waiters seem thrilled to describe the family-style eating, which I dont think is that great of an idea. I just told them I knew how it worked, because I could tell they were prepared to dole out a big spiel about it.
While we were waiting for our food (which was quite lengthy), a large group of people came in. They ended up standing at the bar area talking for quite a bit. At one point, they decided to make good use of their time by looking at the menu, which again meant staring over our heads to the menu on the wall, which was rather uncomfortable. We were having a conversation, which was difficult once people were basically staring at us in silence.
I think that Buca di Beppo pushes an image of trying to be a party atmosphere. Like the loud decorations, I think they encourage large groups and noisy parties. Just not my style.
I was highly disappointed with the service at this place. We were promptly greeted by the hostess, who was more than happy to let us browse the menu before being seated. However, once we were seated, I got pretty annoyed. The restaurant was pretty empty, yet we waited 30 minutes for our food. 30 minutes. I kept wondering if we were getting bread, so I checked the remnants of dirty dishes left on the table next to us. Sure enough, there was a basket of bread. I remember saying, "I am going to be so livid if we get our bread when the food comes out". I was also thinking, this place better have bread if it's an Italian place.
Well, our bread came out with our food. It wasnt warm, and it wasnt that great. I don't know which would have made me madder- the fact that it came out the same time as our meal, or if we hadn't gotten bread at all. Either way, it didnt make sense, and made me angry.
You can check out Buca di Beppos menu on their website (see link below).
Being a vegetarian, we had to choose a meat-free dish. We ended up picking the Eggplant Parmigiana, for around $17.99. I was disappointed that we didnt even get a little bit of marinara pasta with the eggplant, but obviously youre supposed to order it separately. Basically, the eggplant parm consisted of three piles of 3 breaded eggplants. On each was a little bit of fresh tomato, and a tiny bit of cheese. And, a lot of chopped, fresh garlic. Then there was plenty of tomato sauce poured on the plates. I really didnt like the way it was cooked, because the edges were dark and crunchy (so I cut them off), there wasnt enough cheese or tomato, and there was way too much fresh garlic. Enough that my mouth was burning. In fact, that night, I brushed my teeth vigorously, and again the next morning, but I could still taste the garlic at work that day.
Even our plates irritated me. They are elongated ovals, with raised edges. It wasnt the best for dining, and I had to situate my food so that it wouldnt fall off my plate.
I wasnt that thrilled with the menu. I didnt want to pay $10 to split a huge salad, especially if we could have just gone down to Olive Garden to get free salad with all you can eat pasta for $7.95. There werent too many vegetarian selections, and I also didnt want to get a huge bowl of pasta. A whole box of pasta costs what- less than $2.00- and so I like to get interesting meals at restaurants. I didnt feel that my half of the meal ($9.00) needed to cost that much, considering I got 4? pieces of eggplant, and not even a tiny side of pasta.
I would have preferred being able to order an appetizer and a regular meal, rather than just a whole bunch of one thing. It would have been nice to be able to order some garlic bread or bruschetta, but not for an additional $10, combined with the fact there was no way wed be able to eat it all. I hate paying a lot for huge portions that just go to waste.
The Prices Arent Cheap!
For example, lets break down my meal this way. First of all, I wasnt happy that I had to eat about four pieces of eggplant and nothing else. Since the meal cost $18, we basically both paid $9 per person. For the same amount, at Olive Garden (which is just a few doors down from this Buca di Beppo), I could have ordered Eggplant Parmesan for $9.95, and it would have come out with sufficient cheese and toppings, pasta with marinara. I would have also gotten unlimited breadsticks and my choice of either unlimited fresh salad or soup. And if I went at lunch, it would only cost me about $7. So for two people stuck eating 9 pieces of bland eggplant, I wasnt happy. Appetizers and everything else on the menu are all double the size, so double the price.
Without a doubt, I would rather eat at Olive Garden or a different Italian restaurant. I think the idea of being able to gorge ones self on excessive amounts of food isnt that appealing, unless you can split the meal with more than one person. If you go, youre best off going as a group. You wont get too bored waiting, you can split more than one item, and the decor wont be as distracting.
The prices werent cheap, youre stuck sharing food (unless thats your point), the service wasnt good, the decor was unappetizing, and so was our food. My experience wasnt good, and I wont be going back, even if it were a large group.
Buca di Beppo: http://www.bucadibeppo.com
My other restaurant reviews:
Ollies Noodle Shop, NYC: http://www.epinions.com/content_113555508868
Zen Palate, NYC (vegetarian): http://www.epinions.com/content_113455828612
Olive Garden: http://www.epinions.com/content_59862060676