It took a while for the chef Einat Admony to follow-up Balaboosta, her hit Middle Eastern spot in NoLIta. There were the usual issues with permits and the city’s bureaucratic Department of Buildings. What should’ve taken six months took more than twice that. It’s a wonder anyone opens a restaurant in this town.
Bar Bolonat, which opened in March, offers Admony’s take on the modern Israeli cuisine of her native Tel Aviv. Judging by the crowds, you’d have to wonder why no one thought of this idea sooner. Of course, execution matters. The cooking is more precise and precious than at Balaboosta, but with a rustic soul that is immediately accessible and of-the-moment.
Some of her ideas are less inspired. A restaurant called Bar ______ that is not really a bar is so very 2009. I only wish that were true of Bar Bolonat’s other conceit, a small-plates menu, consisting of plates of unpredictable sizes, which the kitchen sends out in no coherent order, as and when they are ready, regardless of whether you are. Why couldn’t that tired concept have expired in 2009?
But if it must be a small-plates menu, at least it is a good one. The present menu is a tightly-edited list of 14 savory dishes in three bunches (lightest to heaviest). The categories are unlabeled, but they seem to be sort-of-snacks ($6–12), sort-of-starters ($9–16), and sort-of-entrées ($23–31). No guesswork is required to identify the last category, the three desserts ($10–12), which we didn’t try.
There’s half-a-dozen house cocktails and about 30 wines by the bottle (about ten by the glass), fairly priced in relation to the food. It’s an eclectic list, not tethered to any geography. There’s a handful of Israeli wines, and even more offbeat terroirs like Morocco. We weren’t prepared to try that. They were out of my first choice, but a 2010 Domaine Barnier (a Syrah/Grenache blend) for $63 paired well with the food.
We ordered six of the plates to share, which was about the right amount for a party of three with modest appetites.
By all means start with the Hudson Street Kibbeh ($15; above), a plate of teardrop-shaped pastries made from Bulgur wheat, stuffed with spiced beef and served with pine nuts in a lemon sauce.
Shrimp in Yemenite Curry ($16; above left) swim in a conventionally spicy pool of lemony cream. Grilled Baby Artichokes ($12; above right) are served cool, covered with a refreshing Sicilian pistacchio yogurt.
Ramps are the Brigadoon of vegetables, appearing only a few weeks a year. Perhaps because chefs work with them infrequently, ramp dishes seldom live up to their promise. Asparagus with ramps ($14; above left), topped with a crunchy something, were slightly bitter. I can’t fault Lamb Belly and Shoulder ($29; above right), except that for the price there ought to be more of it.
I forgot to photograph the kitchen’s signature dish (you can see it at Grub Street), a whole Poussin. At $31, it’s just $2 more than the lamb, but unlike the former, is the size of a whole entrée. Served in a cast-iron skillet, it glows orange from a glaze of pomegranate juice, walnuts, and lime. Persian rice coats the bottom of the skillet, cooked to a satisfying crunch much like the soccarat in a paella.
The restaurant occupies a coveted corner lot opposite Abingdon Square in the West Village, just a bit south of the Meatpacking District. An L-shaped bar dominates the room, half-hiding an open kitchen. Tables line the perimiter, pressed against curtained picture windows. The low ceiling traps sound, which ricochets against the all-brick and wood décor.
The house apparently expects you to keep using the same plate and silverware, no matter how many dishes you’ve ordered. About 2/3rds of the way through, I asked for fresh place settings. My request was honored, but the server was so surprised by this that she forgot the silverware. Aside from that, the service was fine, bearing in mind the sort of place this is. The restaurant was full, with what seemed to be a mostly female clientele.
I like the food here better than Balaboosta (which I by no means disliked). In fact, most of it is very good. The prices add up: you feel like you haven’t had that much, and yet the bill is $180 before tax and tip. But these small-plates joints tend to work that way. I wish such a good restaurant wasn’t handicapped by that conceit.
Bar Bolonat (611 Hudson Street at W. 12th Street, West Village)
Food: Modern Israeli cuisine, liberally interpreted
Service: Okay, given the drawbacks of a small-plates menu
Ambiance: Modern downtown décor on a bright streetcorner