RATING |

One of the highlights of the holiday season is the theater, concerts and new movie releases. I've always disliked (probably along with my server) rushing through a meal to make the show. It's a waste of calories and dining dollars.

Barbuzzo, the highly touted latest restaurant addition to the Marcie Turney/Valerie Safran 13th Street empire, has an alternative. Go to the show and follow it with their Late Night menu.

Besides their full menu, Sunday through Thursday from 10:30 p.m. to midnight, Barbuzzo offers three chef-choice specials plus a dressed-up burger served at the bar, kitchen counter or the tables. These ample plates are good for sharing, and at $10 each are kind to the wallet as well.

This end of the evening happy hour had its genesis in a craving of Safran's - a place at the end of the dinner shift that was more than a bar, but had an irresistible burger and good beverage options. So, Safran has been surprised that the Late Night Menu has become popular with the general public as well.

It's perfect for after-theater (who wants to race through a good meal to get to the show?) or to punctuate a long evening of holiday shopping.

So, what about this craveable burger? The Late Night options change every couple of weeks, but be assured that whatever falls between the slices of a brioche bun will quench a craving.

Most recently I succumbed to a perfectly mid-rare beef mound topped with a balsamic onion tomato jam, a thin and crispy strip of sautéed speck (think over-the-top bacon) and a tangy caciocavallo cheese. Not to mention the house-made mustard with a hit of Portuguese beer that was so good I wanted to pack my side up to take home.

There's also a selection from the pasta menu. I particularly liked the Strozzapreti, a thick tubular pasta, tossed with a hearty variety of mushroom called hen of the woods (also known as maitake). The mushrooms took on a smoky, meaty characteristic in the wood-fired oven.

Here's where Chef Marcie Turney comes into her own, by adding brightness to the dish with wild arugula and preserved-lemon walnut pesto. A tiny dollop of a rich, creamy, runny ricotta added the third dimension. OK, the wild arugula does sound pretentious - as if there is caged arugula screaming in agony from the dirt - but supposedly this is a relative of the cultivated kind and has a stronger, more complex flavor.

Much has been made of the array of pizzas coming out of wood-fired ovens in the city. The Salsiccia Pizza is up with the contenders, with a light crust painted with San Marzano tomato sauce, dotted with the perfect ration of Barbuzzo house-made sausage, rabe leaves, mozzarella, fruity Ligurian olives and a sprinkling of hot pickled peppers.

Although it is pretty much already perfection, the pizza was served with a thimble of dried oregano and cruet of olive oil. I like my pizza interactive.

One of the notable options on the menu are the vegetable platters, and the Late Night menu always includes one choice.

It's a light way to end the evening, no trouble sleeping with an assortment of well-prepared individual tastes such as a Sardinian couscous with roasted peppers, crispy bruschetta with truffle-scented mushrooms, perfectly roasted beets with pistachio pesto and corona beans in vinaigrette with a precise diced mire poix adding texture and flavor.

Turney and Safran have done well in their first foray into a venue with a liquor license, and their usual and well-selected program is also priced favorably. They extend that into two discounted offerings for Late Night.

Unlike many food deals that become less of a bargain when you add in the bar tab, Late Night serves a $3 draft, $4 sangria and a red or white wine for $5 a glass.

I'd skip the sangria in favor of the wine choices. You don't often find the likes of a Terre Nero D'avola or an unusual Torrontes from Spain for $5. And, it's hard to beat an easy-drinking, food-friendly draft for $3.

I'd love to see the Late Menu expand to include one of the lunch soups. This time of year a warming mix of flavors to send you back out into the cold would be welcome. And, if the hours expanded to begin at 10 p.m., that would be a generous Festivus gesture to us nine-to-fivers.