Sometimes we feel like everything is so ‘been-there-done-that’ it isn’t even motivating enough to write it up, as evidenced by my lack of motivation for the last year. We tend to take a few Instagrams and call it a day. Well, Bustan NYC was a most refreshing change. It is a rare thing for us to head to the Upper West Side for any reason. We happened to plan an outing to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade float inflation just to see what it was like. And coincidentally, we had some friends of friends from Sweden contact us that they were arriving in NYC on Wednesday evening. So the more the merrier! We prayed it would be good. I had made a note to go there on my iPhone some time ago but had no idea what inspired the note.
I did some quick checking and Bustan NYC is a pan-Mediterranean restaurant featuring a taboon oven, or the Middle Eastern version of a wood-fired pizza oven. I’d also noted from the New York Times opening announcement that the chef was formerly of Barbounia. And it turns out he was one of the original partners of Taboon which opened back in 2002. All good signs. Well, we could not have imagined how great it would be.
One warning, the decor is totally bizarre. The hostess station is giant wood spherical sculpture resembling falafel? And the rest is quite the mix of decor. Perhaps, like the food, a pan-Mediterranean blend of elements? Stripes, oranges, blues, purple, black & white, yellow, wood, tile, marble and calf hair? Below is a screen shot from their Virtual Tour. The blues and purples are not popping as much as in person.
The cuisine is a meld of Italian, Spanish, French, Moroccan, Greek, Turkish and Israeli flavors, ingredients and techniques. Most of the dishes are prepared in the taboon oven. And the chef has cooked in many if not all of these countries.
We started with the Mazettim or an array of Mezze appetizers in Greek. Basically, it was a loaf of fresh baked focaccia or flat bread served with your choice of 1, 3 or 5 traditional dips. We chose the hummus, spicy feta and smoked eggplant (baba ganoush). Other available options were tzatziki, green tahini and taramasalata. You absolutely must try 5. The waiter recommended against it as he said many fill up on too much bread. But here’s why – you’ve never had a more fantastic hummus. The spicy feta blew us away. And the smokey baba ganoush? OMG. We asked for more bread even with the 3. So what? Fill up. Enjoy. It’s $3.50 for a second loaf. The first is included. And we used the dips on everything that followed.
We did not order the Hummus Bowl, which may be a regret. But you’ll need to decide between a hummus bowl and the Mazettim as it is a bit repetitive. Either way, you need to get falafel with your Hummus OR the Falafel Basket Small plate. The falafel was out of this world and a gorgeous shade of green inside. And they come with tahini and pickled mango dip. More sauces for your meal.
We decided to try a bunch of small plates rather than order entrees, although it looks like they are shareable as well. We became fascinated with two things – everyone was ordering a giant puff pastry filled with lamb (Lamb Terracotta) which looked insanely good. The other was the Greek Salad which came with the most huge slice of feta on top.
Another specialty of the house we did try was the whole heirloom cauliflower roasted in the taboon oven with Extra Virgin Olive Oil, anise honey and seasoned lebane cheese (Israeli thick, yoghurt based cheese). Wow.
Burrata was served over spaghetti squash with balsamic glaze, speck, majol dates, Thai basil and EVOO. This was the most unique preparation I’ve had to date of this Italian specialty mozzarella filled with stracciatella. It was too small would be one complaint on this dish. The other was the price. $16.50 is over-priced.
Two dishes I could have passed on were the Lamb Shawarma and the Sizzling Shrimp. The shawarma was served on a steamed bun which was a bit too similar to a thick, Chinese pork bun and detracted from the lamb. I’d probably select the Lamb Merguez Sausage instead or the Lamb Terracotta. However my husband thinks maybe I just didn’t get a big enough bite since we shared two 4-ways. So I need to give it the benefit of the doubt! But for sure the shrimp was on the fishy side and was overpoweringly garlicky as well as floating in olive oil.
I think we left a few amazing choices ‘on the table’ so we must go back and have another taste. Of course we say that…maybe we can plan a special outing the Museum of Natural History or something to take us to the neighborhood. After all, 84th and Amsterdam is not a big destination spot. But we found it worth the long subway ride. Although better when we took the Express train for part of the ride from downtown! We’ll also try to go in daylight. The darkness and the orange lighting does not make for good food pics, thus the credits on the pics.
487 Amsterdam Avenue @ 84th Street – Upper West Side