News & Observer
Celebrating, elevating the world’s street food
By Greg Cox
When William D’Auvray abruptly closed Fins in January, it caught many by surprise. D’Auvray is widely regarded as one of the area’s most talented chefs, after all, and his restaurant had enjoyed a solid fan base dating back to its opening in 1997. But when he moved Fins from its original location in North Raleigh to larger, tonier quarters in the high-rent downtown district in 2007 – just months before the recession hit – the timing couldn’t have been more unfortunate.
To some, the blow would have been devastating. But D’Auvray, who grew up in the Philippines and has traveled extensively in Asia, was no doubt aware that the Chinese word for “crisis” is composed of the characters for “danger” and “opportunity.”
A month after closing Fins, he opened bu.ku in its place. Inspired by the food sold from pushcarts and street vendors of the world – everything from Filipino lumpia to Colombian arepa – bu.ku’s menu ventures far beyond the Pacific Rim boundaries of its predecessor. It’s emphatically more affordable, too. Small plates, which make up the bulk of the offering, are with few exceptions priced in the $5-$10 range.
Don’t be misled by the prices. D’Auvray still uses exclusively wild-caught and sustainably farmed seafood (his sashimi selection remains the envy of Japanese restaurants), and he stocks his kitchen with organic produce and naturally raised meats…
Buku: Distinct dining without borders
By Angela Risko
The question isn’t have you been to Buku, rather, it simply is when are you going to Buku? This innovative, new edition to the Raleigh restaurant scene is not to be missed. Furthermore, consider this to be pretty much a guarantee that one visit will breed another.
Acclaimed Chef William D’Auvray’s vision of preparing global cuisine inspired by the traditional street foods served from the pushcarts in cities all over the world has come to fruition on the downtown corner of Wilmington and Davie streets. And if its first four months are any indication of its future success, then Raleigh dwellers and visitors can enjoy his high quality ingredients and fine-tuned seasonings of culinary perfection for many more visits to come.
The Independent Magazine
The World On Your Plate
By Jane Hobson Snyder
Two weeks into its reincarnation, the restaurant formerly known as Fins looks like an old friend who has found a new love.
The glitzy water wall remains, the plush banquettes are intact and heavy, angular flatware still adorns the tables. But the place is lively, loud and hopping, which is nothing Fins ever was or, it seems, aspired to be.
While we say au revoir to most of Fins’ extravagant, if lovely, seafood dishes, we say merci beaucoup to Chef William D’Auvray and his partners Sean Degnan and Tony Hopkins for this chance to sample D’Auvray’s array of talents and still walk out with our wallets.
Buku: Global Street Food in downtown Raleigh is now open weeknights until midnight and Friday and Saturday until 2 a.m., with regular musical entertainment. The restaurant had been up and running for just a few days when we made two anonymous visits. While we found merit for common complaints about uneven service during our recent visits, we have nothing but praise for the food.
The menu is broken down into sections with choices organized roughly along these lines: soups, breads, sauces, grains, salads, dumplings, raw fish, cooked seafood, meats and larger entrées. This makes it easy to mix and match a meal or to find a quick starch after an evening of barhopping. Every dish is inspired by food you could buy from a street vendor in another country—Indian biryani ($6), Colombian arepas ($5), Thai green papaya salad ($4), Lebanese fattoush ($5), Polish pierogis ($7), Filipino lumpia ($7), Greek grilled octopus ($9), Japanese sake-braised short ribs ($7)—and that’s only a small selection.
If there’s a problem, it is this: What do you do when you’re handed the world on a silver platter?
If you start with the agua fresca or the horchata, you should order empanadas or cochinita pibil, right? But what if you really want the Viet cucumber salad? Or the Korean barbecue? Then you need a beer or sake. And what if your mate craves the sashimi platter but you’re in a red meat/ red wine kind of mood?
It’s paralyzing. And thrilling. Either way, it’s just the excuse you need to play around, loosen up, go global.
The good news is that, unlike the poor jetlagged Yank who is right at this moment poised to buy a questionable lukewarm lumpia on the sidewalk of Manila, at buku you can’t go wrong.
Every dish that flew out of the kitchen at 7 p.m. on a Friday night was spot-on: The Viet cucumber salad was cool on top yet spicy down at the vinegar-soaked slices, where fried peanuts put out the flames. The chicken-filled masa empanadas with farmers cheese (first sealed on a plancha and then just lightly fried) were smothered in such a fantastic salsa verde we didn’t want to let the plate go. With three empanadas for $7 plus the $1 horchata, any lingering nostalgia for Fins dissolved.
The Korean BBQ at $7 might be the best deal in town. The long rectangular platter features a pile of sesame spinach, a small bowl of kimchi and a round bundle of thin flash-grilled sirloin strips, which, though charred, border on rare. Add the hot mustard dip and the dish is pitch-perfect.
In comparison, $6 for a single, scantily filled bao (Chinese pork bun) seems a tad much, especially since the combination of light, sweet bread and savory meat made us want two.
It’s sacrilege to visit D’Auvray’s house and not get a sashimi platter, so we did. Fins charged $26 for it; buku charges only $18.95. But in this fast-paced environment, with other dishes piling up on the table, it lost some of its magic.
Service was attentive, if too much. Twice we received a second serving of what we’d ordered (and despite the temptation to eat it, we came clean). The server didn’t have a handle on every esoteric ingredient, but if she had this early in the game it would have been extraordinary.
Globe-hopping can be exhausting. When you agree on a stopping point, the trio of crème brûlées (an old Fins standby: vanilla bean, ginger and chocolate) is a fine reward and works well with many cuisines.
Or just sip your sweet. Buku’s drink list features homemade bases and syrups, and the spicy-chocolate molé-molé martini is as luxuriously hot as a beach in Ixtapa. It’s a blend of Three Olives Chocolate Vodka, Crème de Cacao, Navan and red chiles, but all you really need to know is that it’s got curls of chocolate and looks like liquid mahogany.
Look for lunch service to start soon, and a weekend dim sum brunch to follow. Come spring, a pushcart on Wilmington Street will serve actual street food to the time-strapped lunch crowd. Eventually buku plans to launch a “mobile food service” that will drive to key spots downtown and broadcast its location on Twitter.
Losing Fins hurts, but having buku in its place takes the sting away.
I was over at New Raleigh recently, reading about the opening of one of Raleigh’s newest restaurants, bu-ku. The article states that the folks at bu-ku recognize that their new joint is part of the “quickly emerging, food-conscious Wilmington Street District” which NR said likely means Busy Bee, Gravy and Sitti “which are located a few blocks North and actually on Wilmington Street.”
The News and Observer
New Destination for Fans of Street Food
Either way, the overnight transformation of the fine-dining restaurant Fins into the more casual Bu.ku (110 E. Davie St.; 834-6963; http://bukuraleigh .com ) brings another trendy, recession-friendly dining option to downtown Raleigh.
The specialty at Bu.ku, whose name is inspired by the international slang twist on “merci beaucoup,” is owner/chef William D’Auvray’s global street food. The bulk of the offering is shareable small plates, grouped not by country of origin but culinary kinship. Under the heading of “dumplings, savory pastries, rolls,” for instance, you’ll find everything from empanadas to pierogis to Chinese barbecue pork buns; and “hot pots, soups, fragrant broths” covers the spectrum from coconut curry to clam chowder. Most are in the $4 to $7 range.
With barely a month between the closing of Fins and the opening of Bu.ku, D’Auvray has made only minimal changes to the dining room decor. The mood is decidedly more relaxed, though, and once the live entertainment (a nightly changing schedule of world music ranging from Latin to African drums) kicks in, it should be downright chill. Bu.ku is open nightly for dinner, with a late-night menu available until midnight on weeknights, 2 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Once things are running smoothly (possibly as early as this weekend), lunch will also be served.
Meanwhile on Hillsborough Street, another fine-dining destination is undergoing a similar transformation. Frazier’s served its last meal on Valentine’s Day, a casualty of the economic times and street construction. Owners Kevin and Stacey Jennings are redesigning the space as a wine bar/small plates restaurant, which they expect to be open for the summer unveiling of the redesigned Hillsborough Street. I’ll have more details as they take shape.