I first learned about Barbuto's roast chicken from a review filed by former Times' critic Frank Bruni. Here is some of what he had to say:
"...It’s always been terrific: crunchy, meaty, tender, glossed with oil...this restaurant has developed a track record with roasted chicken so impressive that it’s arguably cause for scientific study. It’s certainly cause for a review. It’s also cause for befuddlement, because so much else about Barbuto is so much less reliable."
Clearly the man likes the chicken. Also, of note, is his faith in its consistency - it's good, and it's always good. But is it always excellent? Or is it even ever perfect? This requires a bit of exposition.
As reasonable men and women, we can agree that there is good roast chicken, and then there's very good, or excellent roast chicken. The question of the existence of the perfect roast chicken, however, is much more open to debate and will likely befuddle roast chicken philosophers such as myself until the end of time. We can certainly imagine that the perfect roast chicken exists, but as has been demonstrated by I believe Kant, just because something can be imagined does not mean it exists.
In the figure below, I have illustrated the possibilities as a bull's eye. In the dead center is the perfect roast chicken, which, again, is a matter of conjecture at this point. Yet we can say with sufficient certainty that good and excellent roast chickens exist. The question, then, is which of these categories does Barbuto fall under?
My friend and fellow chronicler of roast chicken filed a review on her blog concerning the question which lies before us. I recommend a trip to her review for another opinion, a better summary of the overall experience, and also for excellent photography. Here are her words:
Ah, yes. So she describes the flesh as "fine," while the skin is "most excellent." Could "fine" count as "good?" If so, does the overall roast chicken average out to a good roast chicken or an excellent roast chicken? At any rate, her judgement seems to be rather respectful although not particularly enthusiastic.
I enjoyed the roast chicken much more. As I said, I cannot recall (and therefore have never had) a better roast chicken. The outside coating of salt and pepper had caramelized and melded with the skin to form a crust beyond reproach. I found the flesh to be extremely well-seasoned and flavorful. Indeed, I am having trouble saying anything bad about this roast chicken.
But yet, I must admit, I can imagine that there might be a better roast chicken. To be clear, this is different than imagining that the perfect chicken might exist. I can imagine a better roast chicken that might exist which still is not perfect.
I could go down this rabbit hole, friends, but I shall stop here. The search for the elusive perfect roast chicken is no different than the search for the perfect fried chicken or for the meaning of life: that is to say, it's never-ending and never to be found. But we humans are a stubborn species, and even when there is no hope we keep trying, either because we wish to spite the forces which oppose us or because we are ignorant of them. Perhaps both.
Washington Street, West Village