Balaboosta, 214 Mulberry Street (NoLita), 212-966-7366
The Score: 9.0
The Price: $$$$$
According to the Mediterranean restaurant’s website, Balaboosta is “a Yiddish term meaning the perfect housewife, homemaker, wonderful mother, cook & gracious hostess.” If I were to personify Balaboosta, it would be all of these things. The dimly lit restaurant is neat and cozy, featuring a large bookshelf boasting books, wine bottles, candles, and dozens of chachkes. The waiters are friendly and attentive, never lingering too long nor ignoring the tables altogether. The food was great (but a little pricey!) and the ambiance perfect for a Sunday meal.
Picks & Skips:
The menu may be small, but in Balaboosta’s case, it doesn’t matter. The options are diverse enough to satisfy even the pickiest eater (you can’t go wrong with hummus and chicken!), and each dish was entirely worth its substantial price tag.
Crispy cauliflower: I would have begged for veggies if my mother fed me these when I was 5. It’s easy to make good vegetables, but Balaboosta makes them great. The outside of the cauliflower was crisp but not fried–tasting, and the inside remained succulent rather than dry. The veggie was mixed with currants, lemon, and pine nuts, adding a little sweetness and nuttiness that took what would be a simple dish to a whole new level.
Hummus “mortar and pestle”: The hummus was great—it came with a muddler so we could mix in extra garlic and chickpeas ourselves. The consistency was creamy and the taste not overwhelmed with other spices—the chickpeas and tahini in the hummus were clearly fresh and didn’t need to be heightened by extra flavors. The za’atar pita is what stole the show, though. The pitas, sprinkled with spices, were puffy and when we broke them apart, steam literally rose out of the inside. Without a doubt, it was the best pita bread I’ve ever had.
Calamari a la plancha: One of the special appetizers. The calamari were quickly seared before being served atop an herbed chickpea salad, shallots, and surrounded by a Harissa infused yogurt. The plate was clean in minutes. The mint garnish complimented the perfectly cooked calamari and spicy yogurt surprisingly well, providing a little simplicity and freshness to the busy dish. A must order if it’s available when you visit!
Boneless organic half-chicken “under a brick”: Served with couscous and dried apricot, it was a simple Mediterranean dish. The meat was juicy, the skin crispy, and each bite was filled with a constant, not–too–overwhelming amount of spice. I sporadically found myself biting into a piece of dried apricot, but there weren’t enough on the plate. Somehow onions were added into the dish, but they were kind of soggy—gross. The couscous was great, but the spices were definitely heavier than in other dishes, more reminiscent of Indian than Mediterranean flavors. Altogether, the dish was good, but definitely not the best of the night.
Spice rubbed skirt steak: Ugh, spectacular. The spices gave the steak a sweet taste, and the meat was perfectly chewy and reddish-pink. Because the taste of the steak was so powerful, it makes sense that it was served with simple sauteed grilled vegetables. The veggies were good (and different than the normal selection—salsify, anyone?), but nothing to write home about. Overall, though, the dish was incredible. I will be dreaming of that steak tonight.
Banana and date bread pudding. The pudding was crunchy on the outside and smooth on the inside, with pieces of date scattered throughout. The banana flavor was great, and the pudding tasted even better with the yogurt ice cream served on top. The ice cream was slightly tart and a little crispy on the outside, like those italian ices you got from the little stands in your childhood (and now). The caramelized banana that accompanied the pudding were definitely unnecessary, but so delicious I can’t bring myself to complain.
In the end, Balaboosta was the perfect boost to start off a new week.