First Look: Bar Bolonat
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.