APRIL 3, 2014 – I’ll start with this: I love Balaboosta, and the Taïm truck has long been a lunch staple around my office. It then goes without saying that I was extremely interested when I discovered Bar Bolonat would open just a few short blocks away. I hastily grabbed a reservation for this past weekend and awaited dinner with anticipation.
Unfortunately, we had some mix-ups regarding my Saturday night reservation, but they were quickly fixed up after a short phone call. To my surprise, upon our arrival the host provided us with complementary champagne for the issues, which we very much appreciated. A good start no doubt. Read on to see what we ate…
The menu is divided into three sections, each with successively larger portion sizes. We begun with pleasantly chewy, dense pieces of cauliflower over peanut tahini. The menu reads “bamba”, a peanut-butter flavored puffed rice snack in Israel apparently, which I can only assume is what the cauliflower was crusted in. Not sure how the overall texture was achieved, but everyone liked it.
Another item from the first section was the Jerusalem bagel, a less-doughy, breadier bagel served alongside olive oil for dipping, and house made za’atar spice mix (usually sumac, sesame and herbs). The bagel likely isn’t what you’re used to, but the airy quality is a welcome change from the usual. I’d actually recommend giving one of these to every table for free at the start of the meal. It’s a fun intro, it tastes great and frankly isn’t all that dissimilar from bread and oil you ordinarily get in many restaurants.
From the next section came an herbacious fatush salad with avocado, cucumber, feta, pieces of flatbread and a mint vinaigrette. I remember eating a lot of fatush as a kid and loving it – how can you resist bread and feta in your salad? This is of course a more refined version, with the standout being the mint vinaigrette that sets everything off. I’d also add that the unusual addition of avocado was really smart as well, because this dish is about textural contrast, and avocado added another dimension to that.
Also from the middle section came Japanese eggplant with sheep’s milk cheese, marjoram, orange and aleppo vinaigrette. I can’t say that I picked out the orange, but again, the vinaigrette stands out here. Aleppo pepper is a spice that has some mild heat to it, not unlike a chile pepper. That touch of heat with a bit of cheese and delicate eggplant was certainly a nice combo. One critique here was that I found the eggplant a bit on the oily side.
Perhaps my favorite bite of the night was the Hudson St. Kibbeh, which I’d describe as egg-shaped bulgar wheat fritters stuffed with spiced beef and pinenuts served alongside a preserved lemon sauce. These one-bite delights (or two for the small-mouthed), give you so many satisfying notes, from the thin crisp coating to the warm, flavorful beef inside, to the cool tangy sauce that balances it all out. I wish we had gotten more than three balls for $15 though – perhaps I was supposed to be left wanting more?
We also ordered the shrimp in Yemenite curry, which while tasty, I didn’t find particularly memorable or exciting. Not all that different from other south-east Asian curries. I also would have liked some mechanism to soak up the liquid, which the small piece of fried bread (malawach) couldn’t accomplish.
On to the large plates we went, with the lamb belly & shoulder up first. It was served alongside slightly pickled chickpeas, candied fennel and chickpea puree, with a thin, semi-sweet wafer-thin piece of flatbread placed on top (removed for picture). The lamb belly and shoulder were pretty mouthwatering on their own, but the rest of the dish fell flat. Very little candied fennel, a lot of chickpea, and a sauce at the end of the plate that didn’t contain very much flavor.
Our other large plate benefited from the same strengths and suffered the same shortcomings as the lamb. The grilled dorade was perfectly prepared, but the rest of the dish left us wanting more. While the dish was certainly light and bright, the promise of green harissa never really materialized for us alongside the kale and clams. The dish felt light on acid or spice or something.
To cap off the meal, we indulged in some baklava served alongside an excellent mint-tea flavored ice cream that completely stole the show. We found the layered phyllo pastry to be a bit harder than usual and difficult to get through with a dessert spoon, but once we disregarded the mess we created and combined a piece with the ice cream, we were in good spirits.
I had probably over-hyped the meal in my head before arriving at the restaurant, but in retrospect, I thought it mostly succeeded. The large plates didn’t quite hit the mark, but I could definitely revisit a number of the smaller dishes and I have my eye on a few more for next time (I’m looking at you artichokes, tagine and pasta). As usual, this spot is going to get more buzz, so better check it out while you can still get a reso.
Best Bite(s): Kibbeh, Eggplant, Cauliflower, Mint Tea Ice Cream