Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Stepping off a busy New York City avenue directly into another country may seem impossible, but the abundance of possibility becomes evident after crossing the threshold of one of many ethnically-diverse restaurants within the city. I easily imagined myself lounging in a breezy, sea-side café overlooking the Mediterranean as I savored each delicious course Friday night at the upscale Barbounia on Park Avenue at 20th Street.

After exploring countless department stores on 5th Avenue all afterno
on, we had worked up quite an appetite. Wandering downtown, this alluring restaurant drew us in with its vibrant blue, yellow and orange hues of Provencal pottery and welcoming autumnal decorations adorning the stoop.

We arrived about a half hour before the kitchen opened for di
nner. Claiming a couple chairs in the bar area, we watched as, nearby, the waiters tasted and discussed the dishes they would be serving that night. I consider a briefing of waiters before work an essential aspect of running a reputable restaurant, or any other business, for that matter. It is important for one to know the product one will be selling. At a restaurant, the waiter must understand first-hand the intricacies of the flavors he will be suggesting. I worked at a restaurant once where it was not their policy to allow their servers to taste the dishes. It made it difficult to answer the questions asked by customers about specific dishes. How can one be expected to speak on the spiciness, sweetness, consistency, etc. of a dish without having tried it oneself? How can you recommend something you have never experienced?

Barbounia’s policy of allowing their servers to taste their foods before setting out on the floor left me confident about their service and food before we even commenced with our meal.

We were the first table of the night seated in their warmly-lit dining room. The large mirrors adorning the walls, alongside the fair blue colors of the sea, gave th
e room a sense of brightness, even as the last rays of sunshine disappeared with the day outside.

Our waiter, Gabriel, was gracious, burly man from Romania. He spoke with a thick accent, sounding almost Greek to me. (Perhaps it was suggestive due to the surroundings.) He was attentive to our every need, perched nearby, ready to move in as soon as we glanced in his direction. After explaining to us the range of countries—such as Turkey, Greece, and Israel—that the menu included, he left us to explore the tantalizing possibilities that lay out before us.

We started off our dinner with a Mezze—a tzatizi made with Greek yogurt, fresh herbs, scallions and olive oil. It was served with warm flatbread straight from the oven. The bread was surprisingly moist considering its thickness (about ½ inch) and the tzatizi was a wonderful mingling of tart yogurt with bitter herbs.

Our appetizer was a beet salad consisting of arugula, walnuts, raisins, Stilton cheese, and thinly sliced pears and red beets, splashed with a red wine vinaigrette. The bitterness of the arugula was a perfect combination with the sweetness of the Stilton cheese. I find sweet, soft cheeses are a wonderful complement to bitter greens such as arugula or mâche. Très delicieux.

Swimming in a sea of green tabouli in a braised fennel yogurt sauce was a citrus-marinated salmon—the entrée. Grilled to a moist medium-well, the fish literally melted in our mouths.

I made certain to leave a small pocket in my stomach empty so I could try one of their succulent desserts. Every one of the eight listed on the menu was unique and intriguing, but I finally settled on the yogurt panna cotta. The creamy panna cotta covered a thin layer of chopped hazelnuts and almonds, drizzled with a tangerine honey, sprinkled with mulberries and candied oranges pieces, and, finally, garnished with a tiny dollop of pistachio ice cream. There was also a cookie made with shredded wheat, held together with a light honey, balancing out the textures with a bit of crunch.

I could have melted away into that dessert; it was simply incredible. Every flavor provided a fascinating view to the harmonious dialogue, resulting ultimately in a faultless conclusion.

1 comment:

Family Fare said...

Nice review....and food descriptions!
New York is chalk full of places for you test your palette. So nice that enjoy the pleasures of fine dining!