TravelNoise: Bustan, New York City
You can spot Mediterranean fare on just about every New York block, and it’s not exactly a surprise that we New Yorkers can’t get enough of it. But just when you think you’ve had it all, you haven’t—unless you’ve taken a trip to the upper west side to try Bustan…
Cradled amongst quaint storefronts and other trendy restaurants on bustling Amsterdam Avenue, Bustan patiently awaits you, though you just may be able to get a whiff of its taboon bread from a few blocks away. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of amazing smells, and even more amazing tastes. My guest and I walked into a fairly busy dinner crowd and took in the eclectic yet rustic vibe of the restaurant. We were led to the back and into an enclosed outdoor seating area that was strung up with hanging plants and butterfly decor. The scene was relaxed yet elevated—you could absolutely come here on a date night, or for a casual “I-just-want-amazing-food-in-my-face” night.
The drink and food menus both strike a delicate balance between familiar and innovative. The pomegranate negroni ($14), with bourbon, Campari and Bustan pomegranate vermouth, immediately caught my eye, while my guest opted for the smoke & fire ($14), an exciting blend of Schuge tequila, mezcal, celery, pineapple and lime. Our drinks came out promptly after we ordered and it was all we could do not to scream and shout over them. My negroni was one of the smoothest I’d ever had, not too sweet, and nicely balanced with tart pomegranate, and my guest’s drink was smoky, sweet and savory, with a tangy kick from the pineapple.
As we gushed over our cocktails, our waiter pointed us to the food menu, and almost immediately suggested the housemade taboon bread ($4) with their (of course) homemade hummus. After whiffing it from outside the restaurant, we couldn’t contain our joy when we finally got ours. The bread was perfectly pillowy on the inside and slightly charred on the outside, accompanied by hummus that melted like butter and boasted high-quality olive oil, fragrant olives and prime herbs.
We also took the liberty of ordering the Mediterranean pink snapper crudo ($16), with tomato seeds, preserved lemon, radish, basil and olive oil, and the market tomatoes ($15) with feta cheese, shallots, za’atar, Moroccan olives and fresh herbs, as starters. The crudo was floral, fatty and light with a burst of citrus and slow heat from the jalapeño, and the market tomatoes were truly the perfect summer dish. Big, salty pieces of feta, a carousel of fresh and grilled juicy tomatoes, sharp onion and jalapeño, and even more high-quality olive oil made this dish sing like no one’s business.
As for the mains, our waiter highly recommended the chicken “musakhan” ($27), with more taboon bread, tahini-amba, watercress basil and sumac almonds, and the kebab halabi ($31), which hosted juicy lamb kebabs, roasted onion, tomato, long hot pepper, tahini and pine nuts. Just when we thought the meal couldn’t possibly get better, our mains proved us wrong. Juicy, flavorful chicken was perched on top of taboon bread and accompanied by creamy tahini-amba and crunchy almonds, while the kebab dish came out in style, looking almost like a souffle with the bread stretched over a large terrine and baked to a golden bubble. The kebab was super tender, with tahini and the taboon bread dome acting as a wonderful starch to mop up the lamb juice.
We had come this far and couldn’t say no to dessert when we were told it was likely some of the best we would ever have. We split the “Kisses”, which featured perfectly fluffy meringue with zesty sorbet, airy whipped cream and fresh fruit, and the “Nemesis”, a dense chocolate cake with salted caramel and crunchy chocolate pearls. The meringue was light and mild with a punch from the sorbet, but the star was “Nemesis”, which served as one of the richest cakes with some of the most luscious caramel my guest and I had tasted in a long time. Rain threatened the patio as we took our last desperate bites of the cake, and we both cleaned the plate even as the first drops fell.
While the upper west side is inaccessible for many other-borough dwellers and some of Manhattan, Bustan is worth the trip. If you don’t go for the dreamy taboon bread or the tender, fire-kissed chicken and lamb, you must go for that incredible chocolate cake. Tell them I sent you, and that they better save a slice for me when I come running back for more.