On the northwestern edge of the West Village’s Abingdon Square Park, Bar Bolonat (611 Hudson Street, 212-390-1545) glows from within its painted-black exterior, a welcome sight at the corner of Hudson and 12th Streets after three years of vacancy following the closing of Kobma Thai. Chef Einat Admony and husband Stefan Nafziger have opened this modern Israeli restaurant, a followup to their cozy Mediterranean Soho spot Balaboosta and Taim falafel joints, as a kind of invitation to New Yorkers to experience traditional Israeli flavors refracted through a modern lens. The chef admits it’s a concept she has wanted to explore since opening her first restaurant.
Whereas Balaboosta incorporates some Israeli ingredients into dishes like a trio of street snacks centered on chicken and merguez sausage wrapped in pita bread, the flavors Admony channels at Bar Bolonat concentrate on a much smaller area of geographic influence revealing a roving caravan of spices and cooking techniques from Arabic to Sephardic, Yemenite and North African.
Snaking around an L-shaped bar, the dining room appears almost Scandinavian in its simple hodgepodge of sharp structural lines contrasted by mod seating and natural wood tables. A border of blue Mehrab-patterned tiles is the only visual element alluding to the cuisine.
Admony’s menu is split into three sections of increasing size and price, and in a predictable move, our waitress informed us that the dishes are all meant to be shared like tapas — or in this neck of the woods, meze.
Admony’s Jerusalem bagel is a fun, ingenious starter, its interior yeasty and sweet within a burnished crust. Break off chunks of bagel and dip them in olive oil and house-made za’atar, a mélange of ground herbs, sesame seeds, and salt. Forget New York’s version, this is the everything bagel we never knew we wanted, though the portion feels more like complimentary bread service than a $6 snack. Fork-tender baby artichokes ($12) draped in a coarsely ground, minty pistachio dukkah yearned for more char from the grill, but the laurel green sauce brightened all it covered.
Mid-price plates ($11-$17) are punchier if a bit demure, from a bright fattoush-inspired salad of arugula, avocado, cucumber, feta and mint dressing to a miniature zabzi tagine of beef cheek over couscous. Ancho-like Aleppo pepper serves as the base for a lively vinaigrette, waking up the heavier elements on a platter filled with three seared Japanese eggplant halves dotted with sheep’s-milk yogurt, marjoram leaves and orange zest, the nightshades rendered soft and creamy.
Modest mounds of lamb belly and shoulder hide under a Commandment-size tablet of lavash in one larger plate. Cooked down to an admirable tenderness, the meat sits next to candied fennel and both puréed and pickled chickpeas. Although it’s seasoned well enough with salt and pepper, the lamb is sufficiently gamy to stand up to more intense flavors. At $31 (and the second-most-expensive dish on the menu), it edges toward restraint in its portion size, particularly when the restaurant touts a shared dining experience.
A filet of grilled dourade comes crowned with three littleneck clams, chopped kale, and mild green harissa that’s more herbal than spicy. The fish is seasoned simply, but it works better in this application because the flesh is so delicate. As a result, the clams release their brininess and the harissa swoops in for support.
Three desserts are offered, including a chocolate falafel whose legume crust proves too savory for the molten chocolate within and a pretty tray of ‘Moroccan tea’ pairing diamonds of baklava with sharp mint ice cream. But it’s Admony’s tahini crème brûlée that left the most lasting impression. Sesame imbues the custard with a halva-like richness, its deeply nutty flavor enhanced by the crackled shards of caramelized sugar and sesame-spiked phyllo dough triangle. I love an ornately plated dessert, but when restaurants put out simple, dairy-based treats that are this good, I’m happy to just shut up and eat.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 3, 2014