If Balaboosta is the restaurant run by the perfect Jewish homemaker, then Bar Bolonat is the restaurant run by the fancy Israeli second wife that took her place. The rustic and homey vibe at Balaboosta has undergone a slick makeover that is more urban chic than down home comfortable.
This restaurant feels like it could be a new tapas place in Barcelona or a wine bar in Soho. The new wife is worldly, and the dark, slick modern aesthetic that is the global symbol of cosmopolitan chic reflects her tastes. And she’s brought her fancy friends along for the ride. The clientele, with their interesting glasses and outfits, seems like they’ve just come back from a day of gallery hopping. You better step it up when you hang with this crowd–wear some designer, read The Economist, and be prepared to engage in discussion about jet setting to London or Paris.
I am a big fan of the first wife’s homestyle cooking, but I have to admit that there are some things that the second wife does very well. The everyday cauliflower, for instance, is the best fried cauliflower dish that I’ve had in the city. Israelis have pretty much perfected this dish, but Bar Bolonat’s is extra crispy and extra special. You almost feel like you’re eating an extremely fresh cauliflower tempura, and something about the batter, perhaps it’s rice flour that’s used, gives it a delightful crunch. The peanut tahini sauce is pretty unique and provides a subtle nuttiness that pairs well with the neutral flavors of the vegetable. There’s also some lemon to brighten things up. Slight tweaks on a classic, for sure, but very effective ones.
One of my favorite starters was the Jerusalem bagel, with the exception of the price. $6 for what is essentially a medium-sized sesame bagel with a side of olive oil and herbs is outrageous. But it was pretty fantastic–the bagel was warm, it had a nice crust to it, and the inside was chewy and springy. The olive oil was especially rich and fragrant, while the side of seasonings seemed a bit unnecessary. Perhaps Bar Bolonat should get in on the bagel craze, these would sell like hotcakes. Although pricing at a $1 or $2 handle would be more appropriate.
The zabzi tagine was a subtle and refined take on a classic North African dish. These stews are usually overflowing with robust herbs, but the one at Bar Bolonat felt like a subdued curry, which I didn’t mind. The couscous was impressively fluffy, and the beef cheeks were marvelously tender. It was very tidy and well-executed, but it did lack the warmth and soul of the homestyle variety. The second wife is very sophisticated but a little aloof.
The most unique but not necessarily tastiest dish that I tried was the hand cut pasta. It didn’t resemble the rich tomato and olive-oil Italian varieties that we’ve become accustomed to. I almost felt like the noodles were pickled in some chilies and garlic, resembling something like a kimchee pasta. The slightly tangy flavors were offset by mixing in the creamy yogurt ricotta into the noodles. I commend the second wife for thinking differently and bringing something new to the pasta table, but it’s not something I would order again.
The weakest dish was probably the lamb belly and shoulder. First of all, we specifically asked the server if the lamb was really “lamby”, since we didn’t want it if it was, and she assured us that it wasn’t. My first bite of the lamb belly was extremely gamey. The shoulder was less so, perhaps that’s the part of the lamb the server was referring to? The meat was certainly tender, but there wasn’t enough mint or lemon to tone down the strong flavors of the lamb. It was a lot of rich, strong meat, and we couldn’t finish it all.
We were pretty full from sharing all the small plates so we passed on dessert. It was no doubt lovely being a guest in the second wife’s home, as she is a very talented chef. She certainly has an eye for detail and for seeing things differently. I’m looking forward to her hosting us again, since her conversation-starting cooking means the meal will never be boring.
611 Hudson St (between Jane and 12th St)
New York, NY 10014