Mediterranean cuisine now extends to cocktails at this NYC hotspot
We take a trip to Bustan on the Upper West Side for some delicious food and Israeli-inspired drinks.
It has been a great year for modern Israeli food, with chefs like Michael Solomonov in Philadelphia and Alon Shaya in New Orleans getting national recognition for showing the country that Mediterranean cuisine is more than just hummus, pita and falafel (of course, there’s a lot of those too). It is comforting, healthy and innovative, adapting well with other regional cuisines.
With all the talk about reinterpreting classic Israeli dishes in America, there hasn’t been much focus on Mediterranean flavors and spirits in cocktails. But at Bustan, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, this fusion is now happening in the drinks.
The nearly three-year-old restaurant is popular for their brunch served all day, every day. It recently brought on a new executive chef and partner, Israel-born Rafael “Rafi” Hasid, who owns three bars and restaurants in Brooklyn: Israeli restaurant Miriam, wine bar Wolf & Deer, and sandwich shop Bergen Dean. Mediterranean influence can be found in all.
Coming on at Bustan, Hasid added new items to the menu and a cocktail program. “I believe that a restaurant these days is about experience, and you have to fulfill all parts of it – the food, the wine, the cocktails,” he told From The Grapevine.
Hasid brought on bartender Kelsey Didit, who worked with him at Wolf & Deer, to create six additions. Many of them use Israeli spirits such as arak and Mediterranean fruits such as fig and pomegranate.
“I was really excited to work with new ingredients,” Didit said. “I didn't really have a strong understanding of Israeli and Mediterranean spirits or how to pair with them, so it has mostly been trial and error.”
Didit’s results? The "Why So Serious" combines arak with Jamaican rum, loganberry liqueur and grapefruit. Anise is also used in the "She’s So Sour," which mixes pisco with lime juice and egg white like a typical pisco sour, but adds a Mediterranean twist with star anise syrup and cilantro. On the sweet side, there’s the Fig Lemonade, a riff on a Moscow mule that’s served in a copper mug that includes fig-infused vodka, St. Germain (an elderflower liqueur) and ginger beer.
“Traditional Mediterranean flavors are intense on their own, so magic happens when you try and combine them,” Didit said.
On the menu, Hasid has placed more emphasis on small plates to create a more authentic mezze-style Mediterranean feast.
“When you sit down in a restaurant in the Mediterranean, we say we’re opening the table,” he said. “The Greek call it mezze, the Spanish call it tapas. But the idea is a lot of colors and different food on the table for sharing.”
Hasid kept Bustan’s hummus with hard-boiled eggs and warm chickpeas, but added other small plates including shrimp kadaif with harissa aioli, spicy beef kofta with labneh cheese, pistachios, pomegranate sauce and a touch of chili, as well as roasted beets with skordalia (garlic and potato) purée.
The centerpiece of the kitchen remains the taboon, a dome-shaped traditional Mediterranean wood-fired oven. (Bustan’s is particularly special because it has a base that can rotate for even cooking.) Most of the menu’s dishes are cooked or finished in the taboon.
Bustan’s signature dish, the lamb terracotta, is a stew of lamb kebab, onion, tomato, sumac, red peppers and pistachios, which gets wrapped in dough that’s baked in the taboon. At the table, the waiter cuts open the bread dome to reveal the stew inside. Hasid’s braised short ribs with celery root purée and dried fig along with the whole branzino with salsa verde and lemon potato also spend time in the taboon to impart rich, charred tastes.
Hasid, who has lived in New York since 2000, now divides his days between Park Slope in Brooklyn and the Upper West Side. In his new venture with Bustan, he’s looking forward to share the food of his home country with new people.
“I like to make people happy through food,” he told us.
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