April 20, 2014 | BITE: My Journal

To the Point: Bar Bolonat

Crisp, mahogany-skinned poussin nests in turmeric-tinted rice and salty potatoes.
Crisp, mahogany-skinned poussin nests in turmeric-tinted rice and salty potatoes.


          “I want to explain our concept,” the waitress begins cheerfully. I brace myself. I’m losing my sense of humor. At least the hostess seated me without an argument when I arrived ahead of my party.

          “You have a concept?” I say, gazing at the very abbreviated menu of Bar Bolonat -- a refreshing 14 items.

          “Yes, we do,” she says perkily. “All our dishes are to share. And they come out of the kitchen in no special order as soon as they’re ready.” 


Grilled baby artichokes get smeared with Sicilian pistachio yoghurt. We need an encore.

          “Oh, how nice, don’t tax the chef,” I mutter. My friends are staring. I’m being rude again. But the truth is, I rather admire this modest approach compared to most menus these days that start with snacks or bar food or bites, then go on to appetizers, mid-courses, house specials, entrées, from the sea, from the land, and from the grill, with a pause for sides.


Apparently chef-owner Einat Admony rides her pink Vespa between her kitchens.

          I’d fallen overboard for the taboon cooking of Israeli Chef Efi Nahon uptown at Bustan. That made me curious to see what Einat Admony was doing at this brand new spot in the Village. I’d never been to Taim, her falafel sandwich place, or to the more ambitious Balaboosta.


Sheep’s milk yogurt tops velvety Japanese eggplant with hints of orange and Aleppo vinaigrette.

          Feeling cramped in this tight, dark corner of her brand new Bar Bolonat, not far from the shrill happiness at the bar (stools with backs) and the open kitchen behind it, I order the Yalla from the cocktail list ($13): tequila with ginger and fruit. My friend asks for the Shiksa. The waitress pronounces it cheeque-sa as in chic. “I like that she made a derogatory term more elegant,” my friend observes.


Feta salts the green fattush, fresh with arugula and cucumber in mint vinaigrette.

          That was just the first like. The drinks take a while to materialize. Exactly enough time to mark the difference between wanting a drink and needing one. By then, I’ve overcome the disappointment of the $6 “Jerusalem Bagel” being simply a version of the sesame studded “donuts” of Turkey we can buy on West 72nd Street now.

          Then the artichokes kick in -- grilled and deliciously smeared with Sicilian pistachio yoghurt and an olive-oily gloss of nuts and seeds called dukkah. Soon enough, there are no bare spots left on the cramped table as starters pile up on slates and plates.


It looks like just another cauliflower but it has a surprising crunch and the taste of peanut tahini.

          The cauliflower is a surprise, with peanut tahini puffs like peanut butter bamba, the Israeli snack food. “Green Fatush” turns out to be salad salted with feta, mostly arugula with avocado and cucumber in a mint vinaigrette with shards of lavash crisps.


It’s annoying to be forced to share three bulgur “teardrops” when we are clearly four hungry people.

          “How many Bulgur teardrops in the Hudson Street Kibbeh?” I’d asked our server.  I’m not a good sport when the kitchen makes a big deal about sharing plates and plans to send three beef balls to a table of four. “Charge us for an extra,” I had said.  Never mind. Two of us split one of the battered spiced beef fritters, fiery hot and still glowing from a deep fat bath.


Beef cheeks are predictably rich and fatty on a rubble of housemade couscous.

          I’m happy enough with the Zabzi tagine I ordered as my main course. I have a weakness for fatty beef cheeks, however they’re done. Tonight, they fulfill expectations on housemade couscous with almonds. So I don’t find fat as a theme redundant in the lamb belly and shoulder on chickpea purée ordered by one of my friends. A scattering of pickled chickpeas cuts through the richness 


Lamb belly and shoulder are rich enough on chickpea purée, but does this seem small for $31?

          I’m predictably less thrilled with dorade -- more cooked than I like it -- decked out with kale and three tough Littleneck clams in the shell. I expect a bigger charge from green harissa stirred into the sauce. But the friend who ordered it is definitely pleased. 


Grilled dorade with kale, green harissa and Littleneck clams is a hit with my pal who ordered it.

          None of that matters anyway because I’ve already found the crispy Persian rice stuck to the iron pan of the roasted poussin and I’m scraping up all that I can. It’s a small bird with mahogany crackling skin and walnuts candied in pomegranate syrup for $32 (the top price of entrees that start at $24 for pasta), but after so many starters, half a bird is just right for me. Maybe the white meat could be juicier. I never eat it when I have a choice. But I could finish the rice. There are potatoes under there too. My friends stare as I push the black pan aside and then reach for it again. Have you noticed? I do like chicken. I order it often, not just because it’s my job, but because I’m always hoping for a juicy bird, simple or with a twist. So I’ll be back. 


I loved this poussin and its crunchy rice soccarat so much, I’m posting two different views.

          This can’t be a review. Call it a quick appreciation. I really liked almost everything we ate (and we ate almost everything on the menu except for the fried olives). So did my friends. Maybe some portions were a bit meager. Three teardrop fritters of kibbeh for $15 seems expensive considering the place’s low-rent look. We spent $75 each, tip included, with one drink each, and just one dessert. The server did throw on an extra chocolate falafel ball to make it four instead of the usual three for the listed $12. Were these rough little orbs trying to be truffles? I hated the texture. Next time I’ll try the mint tea gelato.


I know the motto is “A day without chocolate is blah blah blah—“ but these truffles don’t do it for me.

          “Bolonat” -- it means to the point.  In an interview with the Jewish Daily Forward about her vision, Chef/Owner Einat Admony said she especially liked the name because it included Bolo, where she first cooked in New York long ago. The new menu is a play on Israeli cuisine. “More elevated than Balaboosta,” she said.


Nice to see two women chefs in Bar Bolonat’s kitchen even if neither is Chef/Owner Admony.

           Apparently she wasn’t there the night I came. I noticed some women in the open kitchen and wondered. But she saw my tweeted tribute and urged me to come back. Definitely. Soon.

 

611 Hudson Street, NW corner of West 12th Street. 212 390 1545. Dinner Monday to Thursday 5:30 to 10:30 pm, Friday and Saturday to 11 pm.

Photos may not be used without permission of Gael Greene. Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

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