Walking into Bufalina, its hard not to have a good feeling about what’s about to transpire. The bustling Neapolitan pizza restaurant is both warm and inviting, thanks in no small part to Bufalina’s staff. We were welcomed immediately by soft-spoken, attentive host/manager holding drink menus. While we waited for our table, he consistently kept us updated on its status and made sure our drinks were full. This thoughtful, gracious style of service seemed to be a universal quality shared by everyone we encountered throughout the evening, which helps account for the welcoming atmosphere at the restaurant.
We started our meal with the daily cheese board featuring three wedges of cheese, Easy Tiger baguette, and a bowl of almonds. While the no-frills cheese plate didn’t include a bounty of accompaniments, the solid selection of three cheeses – including a creamy Tomme Crayeuse, a young and delicate Pecorino Toscano, and a nutty yet restrained Dunbarton Blue – were just fine on their own.
Arriving next was a locally sourced heirloom vegetable salad featuring a colorful array of seasonal components from black-eyed peas to squash blossoms. What would have been just a nice, simple start to our meal was made noteworthy thanks to tangy vinaigrette dressing, of which I’d buy by the bottle.
Aside from the service, much of the Bufalina’s warmth radiates from its crown jewel: a stately white brick oven positioned squarely in center of the dining room. A pizza master, armed with a bevy of tools, tends to the wood-fire oven with painstaking care resulting in Neapolitan style pizzas with expertly singed crusts. Bufalina offers six or seven pizza options featuring classic flavor profiles and high-quality ingredients. We opted for the taleggio topped with sausage, mozzarella, and scallion and the mushroom and onion. The tangy taleggio paired with sweet marinara and salty sausage crumbles was outstanding. The mushroom and onion was solid and unexpected. The mushrooms were minced into a spicy paste to give it a bold kick. The white onions, served slightly raw, would have been an even better component with a little caramelization to balance out the heat.
Bufalina’s teeny dining room means there will be a wait more often than not, but rested assured it is worth it. Though only barely opened (there’s paper still covering the windows), Bufalina’s kitchen is dishing out Italian goodness like a well-oiled machine. The delicious food, combined with thoughtful service, makes Bufalina one of the most promising new restaurants to hit Austin this year.