One of the many reasons that I love the Buffalo is the plethora of mom & pop style restaurants. I tend to gravitate towards the humble, ethnic-oriented restaurants, some of which are found off the beaten path.
In other words, “authentic – a slice of Buffalo life.”
I was recently exploring downtown by bike, with a friend, when we decided to make a final stop at a relatively new Italian eatery called Blue Cave. The restaurant occupies the former Casa Azul – the blue “shipping container” building – on Genesee Street, just around the corner from the Theater District.
While sitting at the bar, ordering drinks and a couple of dishes, I met Chef/Owner Mario Bianca – a native of the Siracusa region in Sicily. I soon learned that Chef Mario met his wife Pamela, a WNY native, while living in Virginia. The couple moved to Buffalo in 2018, with plans to eventually open an authentic Italian restaurant, inspired by the food and culture of his homeland. At Blue Cave, everything is made from scratch, including the desserts.
When I write about restaurants, I tend to showcase the overall experience, as I am not a food critic. But being half Italian and eating Gramma Nunciato’s sauce every Sunday for a large part of my life, I feel the need to express my opinion of the cuisine at Blue Cave. My review? Heavenly. Delectable. Savory. If you are into scratch Italian food, you must give Blue Cave a try.
Chef Mario has 25 years of experience in the restaurant industry. He worked his way up, from dishwasher, to server, to manager, and then GM. Now, he’s taking all of that experience and running a first rate restaurant, serving up scrumptious dishes the likes of caponata, arancini (Sicily’s favorite street food!), tartar di salmone, gnocchi bolognese, rigatoni alla Norma (short pasta, eggplant), and filetto di cernia (pan seared grouper).
We tried a few of the offerings, and I was surprised to find that the grouper was one of the best fish dishes that I have had, in recent memory. It was off the charts. I’m very picky when it comes to sauce, which is why I typically don’t go out to Italian restaurants. There are only a couple in Buffalo that I thoroughly enjoy. Now, I can add Blue Cave to the list of favorites – not just for Italian food, but food in general.
Chef Mario plans on changing the menu every 6 months and eventually every season. He also plans on organizing a wine pairing dinner soon, and Sunday brunch starting in the spring.
I asked Bianca what inspired him to choose the name Blue Cave. “The minute I walked into the building for the first time, I thought ‘La Grotta Azzurra’ – English translation, Blue Cave.” Mario opted for the easier pronunciation.
As for the decor, it’s not often that you find an Italian restaurant (in Buffalo) inside a contemporary setting such as this. On a warm summer evening, it’s an inviting, brightly lit beacon. I might suggest, however, that as the colder weather approaches, dim the lights and put some candles out on the tables and at the bar. That will go a long way towards making for a cozier meal.
My final take on Blue Cave? Chef Mario is a genuine, passionate, and heart-centered man. He effortlessly infuses these traits into his culinary creations. The food is a home run, in my book – I am actually planning on heading back for dinner later this evening, to introduce a couple more friends to Chef Mario and his exquisite dishes. Maybe it’s time to try the braciole? Or the spaghetti con bottarga (long pasta with cured fish roe)? Decisions, decisions, decisions. At least the toughest decision – where to go to eat – was easy to make.
Full bar | Gluten free pasta available upon request
Hours: TUES-THUR 5pm -9:30pm, FRI & SAT 5pm-10pm