There are so many things to learn about this city: where to live, where to work, where to play? Because there are so many options, it can be daunting to decide, “Where do I eat?” Like many, we probably stick to our tried and true neighborhoods and eateries. I tend to head downtown toward the lights. I’ve been a New Yorker for about 4 years now and gained a solid group of friends who thankfully love to eat and often give me some great places to try all over town. My most recent culinary adventure was to the UWS. On the recommendation of a friend, I headed over to Bustan on Amsterdam and 83rd street.
Once named one of the top 100 neighborhood gems by Open Table, this modern Israeli restaurant has recently been receiving buzz with the appointment of Rafael Hasid as Executive Chef and partner. Rafael brings his experience and success from his culinary ventures across the East River including the lauded Miriam and Park Slope’s Wolf & Deer to his new hidden uptown gem with its eclectic fare and his Mediterranean flare.
As you enter the restaurant, the warm amber glow emanating from what seems more art than fixture washes over the upholstered banquettes in this intimate space. The vibrant color palette with touches of texture in the stone walls and finished wood grain of the tables give you a sense that you are embarking on an experience that has been curated by a team that wants to arouse all your senses. I came to eat on one of those idyllic fall evenings that are warm enough to still eat al fresco but brisk enough to remind you of the season making you excited for a crisp cocktail and a hearty meal. For this reason, we decided to dine outside on Bustan’s lush back patio. As our drinks arrived, the host kindly retracted the roof so that we could eat under the stars.
Sipping on my Fig Lemonade, a sweet and refreshing take on the Moscow Mule served in the requisite copper cup, was perfect for the weather as the host gave us a tour of the menu. The menu at Bustan is set up to allow you to taste many of the wonderful options as well as order in a more traditional 3 course style. The Mazettim small plate menu has selections that highlight the Israeli and Mediterranean roots of Hasid. With falafel, beef kofta, lamb, taboon charred octopus, and Moroccan short rib “cigars”, you get a feel for the thread of modernity mixed with tradition that is woven into the cuisine. The host recommended that we look at Bustan’s variety of hummus offerings that have been named Best Hummus in New York by New York Magazine. As I mentioned, The Mazettim menu is perfect to order a la carte, as a small bite with drinks, or to order as an appetizer tasting for the table. We took the opportunity to taste as much as possible and opted to order a few dishes. Our Taboon Charred Octopus, Fried Falafel, and Baby Calamari a al Plancha arrived at the table each beautifully plated to highlight the color and flavors of the dish.
The tender taboon charred octopus is served over a bed of white beans, tomato, pickled onion, and frisee with tahini flavored cilantro oil. The fresh flavor of the cilantro tahini perfectly compliments the slightly charred light ocean taste of the octopus. The calamari comes plated in a unique way in which the bodies of squid were stuffed with a spicy feta and served with a citrus salad of grapefruit and orange with a mint yogurt. It is the perfect combination of sweet and tangy with end note of spice. Both of these fresh from the sea dishes paired well against the savory traditional and earthy fried falafel balls served with tahini and a tangy pickled mango sauce.
For our entrees, we decided to stick with more traditional Mediterranean dishes. The Lamb Terracotta and the grilled Australian Lamb Chops seemed like the perfect choices to contrast the modern and traditional use of this mainstay. The two perfectly cooked medium rare Australian lamb chops are built over a medley of fava beans, baby carrots, and heirloom cauliflower drizzled with a savory lamb jus reduction. The herb tahini and rich jus perfectly compliment the simplicity of the grilled lamb. The secret to Bustan’s culinary signature is the Taboon, a traditional Middle Eastern wood-fire brick oven, which is used to bake many of the dishes. This helps to make the signature Lamb Terracotta bowl a true showstopper of the menu. The Lamb Terracotta comes out in a ceramic bowl covered with lid of bread. Once the top is torn away to expose the spicy ground lamb with charred onion, roasted peppers and tomatoes that have been steaming and marinating in traditional spices, you just want to dive into this complexly seasoned dish. The robust aroma did not betray the excellence of this dish.
I know that I almost always do, but, in this case, you should top off your meal with a selection from Bustan’s dessert menu. On this evening we had the opportunity to try the Flourless Chocolate Cake and the Rose Water Pannacotta. The fudgy flourless chocolate atop a crunchy cornflake crust is served with a very distinct Turkish coffee ice cream. The spicy espresso taste with the intense chocolate flavor was a decadent end to this meal. As a contrast, the pannacotta topped with fresh mixed berries is surprising in its creamy brightness and how distinct the taste rose water rises in each bite. Both were perfect with the sweet and tangy Gin Pear Aperitif infused with caramelized pear that truly capped a great meal.
Overall, Bustan is a fantastic experience for all the senses. I feel like the space lends itself to be a wonderful venue for a variety of occasions. Whether you want to stop by after work for a cocktail and a small bite, dinner, an intimate gathering, or want to settle in on the patio for their brunch noted by the Village Voice as a best brunch on the UWS, Bustan is a destination. Its great service, colorful and engaging atmosphere, and delicious food will make it well worth the visit.
You can learn more about Bustan at their website.