By Simone Zarmati Diament
Ensconced in the heart of Nolita, the northern end of Little Italy that has not been occupied by an expanding China Town, the lively Mulberry Street has become a magnet for food lovers, with Balaboosta, smack in the middle, at the corner of Spring St.
Open for over a year, Balaboosta — meaning in Yiddish “the good housewife” and in Hebrew “Master of the House” — is Israeli chef-owner Einat Admony’s first restaurant after the popular falafel stand “Taim” she ran with her husband.
Designed by restaurateur and partner Aaron Matalon — the brain behind the then legendary Corrado Café —, the space is open and has a comfortable feel to it with stacks of cookbooks and a portrait of Admony’s Aunt Hana on the white brick wall and wooden tables and chairs filled with people of all ages, couples, neighborhood friends, all having a great time and enjoying a menu without pretension. An intimate atmosphere I hadn’t experienced since my days at college or with friends in inviting eateries on the Rive Gauche in Paris. But trust me, the food has nothing sophomoric to it.
I was impressed. What you find at Balaboosta is the best of traditional Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine fused with original flavors, spices and fresh quality ingredients which are Chef Einat’s and restaurateur Aaron Matalon’s trademark.
The mood is set as the wine list (organic, well-priced international choices and a good by-the-glass program) and the menus are brought in by friendly and knowledgeable waiters who encourage you to share appetizers such as fried olives, crisp and salty, served with thick organic labne and harissa oil and crispy cauliflower with currants, pine nuts & lemon.
Curiously, the most touted starter: hummus "mortar and pestle" topped with warm chick peas and seasoned with tahini, lemon and roasted garlic paled before the quinoa salad with dried cranberries, chickpeas, fresh herbs and preserved lemon or the glorious burrata and herbed roasted tomato bruschetta. You will love the char-grilled thick slice of sourdough livened with pesto and piled with sweet tomatoes, grilled scallion and creamy burrata and drizzled with a tasty olive oil. Shrimp "kataïf", wrapped in shredded phyllo with are sweet, deliciously moist and plump with a contrasting dressing of flying-fish roe and the serving is large enough for sharing; and so is the tender grilled marinated octopus with shaved fennel, sunflower shoot and seed salad — a play on the traditional Greek specialty.
Don’t overdo the za'atar pita bread: the entrees are definitely worth trying. Robust Mediterranean flavors delicately come into play: especially in the delicious orecchiette Pasta with roasted fennel, grape tomato, kalamata olives, pine nuts, ouzo-tomato butter and feta cheese — a dish unsurpassed even in the best Italian restaurants; the grilled, flaky and moist whole branzino — straight from the Mediterranean, perfectly complemented by an interesting beet-citrus salad, grilled asparagus and lemon-dill sauce; and the boneless all-natural half chicken cooked to a crisp "under a brick" and served with and a small bowl of garlicky gremolata sauce and Israeli couscous studded with dried apricots and green leeks.
I am always weary of ordering desserts after such a fine meal. Yet, when I learned that Chef Einat is the pastry chef, I had to try them.
There were none of the usual suspects one finds in neighborhood restaurants and the chef’s talent has a chance to shine till the very end of the meal.
What totally blew my mind as well as my palate was the stylish “cheesecake;” a paradigm of all that’s Mediterranean. Italian in taste — the restaurant after all is in Little Italy — the creamy cheese inside (goat cheese or ricotta or both), aromatic with citrus zest as in canoli, is wrapped in crisp Kataif, or shredded phyllo — like a North African and Middle Eastern pastry — bathed in a honey syrup fragrant with orange blossom and topped with the creamiest, lushest pistacchio ice cream. The strawberry and rhubarb crumble is also superb and so I am told the "Persian cotton candy " made with halvah.
I promised myself to come back for lunch or brunch to taste the salads and pizzas, and especially the sandwiches like the lamburger stuffed with herbed goat cheese, served with caramelized onions, brioche bun and patatas bravas or the grilled merguez sandwich with caramelized onions, Dijon mustard mayo, arugula and tomato. Can’t wait for my next trip to NYC.
214 Mulberry Street (Spring Street), NoLIta; (212) 966-7366 .
Atmosphere: intimate and casual chic
Cuisine: Mediterranean with a twist
Wine List A modest and interesting list of largely organic wines offers good choices below $50.
Price Range Appetizers and shared plates, $5 to $15; entrees, $18 to $29.
Hour: Mon, 5:30pm-11pm; Tue-Thu, noon-4pm and 5:30-11pm; Fri, noon-4pm and 5:30-11:30pm; Sat, 11am-11:30pm; Sun, 11am-10pm
Reservations advisable Credit Cards All major cards.