Finally, a hot spot that can be taken seriously as a restaurant.
Thu May 29 2008
Photograph: Jeff Gurwin
Time Out Ratings :<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5
Despite having forgone a splashy opening party or even a sign on the door, bobo’s first-time restaurant owner, Carlos Suarez, has had no trouble attracting the type of buzz that downtown impresarios dream of. Mimicking a moneyed bohemian apartment in Paris or London, he decked out two floors of a West Village brownstone with a pastiche of mismatched “antiques,” chinoiserie, books, knickknacks, painted silhouettes and family photos. When bobo opened last fall, Suarez managed to lure enough boldfaced names, trust funders and editorial assistants at Vogue to score ink in all the right places.
The key element missing from the glitzy package in its early months—as is so often the case in restaurants that have Page Six on speed dial—was food worth coming back for. Although opening chef Nicolas Cantrel had done time under Alain Ducasse, with a straightforward chicken grand mere as his signature dish, Cantrel’s glorified bistro fare was far too basic for the setting, and the hype.
That changed a few months back when Jared Stafford-Hill, formerly of Hearth, took charge of the kitchen. The chef upgraded the menu with a selection of beautifully composed seasonal dishes—food both polished and accessible. It seems Suarez is figuring out early how to avoid hot-today-gone-tomorrow obsolescence. Now that his restaurant appears to be finally hitting both its fashion and culinary strides, it may in fact settle into the role it aspires to (and touts on its website) as a clubhouse for the neighborhood’s most dazzling denizens, a sort of overflow annex to the A-list Waverly Inn.
On my first visit late last year, the place was still in high velvet-rope mode, with reservations (other than nosebleed 6 and 10:30pm slots) virtually impossible to come by, and the bolted iron front door open only to those who rang its bell. Recently, I found the place much more welcoming—landing prime-time slots with ease and entering through a door that now swings open freely. On a recent Monday night, when we were escorted upstairs through the candlelit basement bar, we found the second-floor dining room filled with patrons as eclectic as the mismatched china: expat Brits in impeccable suits, a guy in a T-shirt and dreads, a pair of glam-rockers and one recognizable face, restaurateur Danny Meyer (checking in, perhaps, on the competition).
The tables, meanwhile, were squeezed so snugly together—the dinner-party vibe is by design—we couldn’t help but hear, and even join in on, the conversations around us. (If privacy and personal space are an issue, bobo is probably not the restaurant for you.) Even before the chilled rosé or predinner amuse-bouche—a delicate Parmesan tuile topped with sweet-potato puree and amaretto cookie crumbs—had arrived, I was already seduced by the environs, which now manage to be sceney without being obnoxious.
An appetizer of house-made charcuterie—the all-duck “gourmand” as opposed to the all-pork “paysan”—offered plenty more reasons to fall for the place. Lush peppery foie gras terrine shared the plate with briny duck-leg prosciutto, brioche toast and a beautifully dressed tangle of mâche. Chilled pea soup—floating fresh peas, sliced radishes and plump lobster hunks—was sprightly, while a spring vegetable salad, featuring a veritable miniature garden (baby lettuce, tiny carrots and artichokes, fennel, favas, chanterelles and green peas), reminded me just how a good a simple dish can be.
Stafford-Hill’s Greenmarket cuisine is unpretentious without being drab. Miniature asparagus secured by chives in a tidy bundle sat atop a crisp-skinned, perfectly seared sea trout fillet, which in turn lay on a toothsome bed of crushed potatoes doused in preserved lemon slivers and green olive oil. An exceptionally tender skin-on chicken breast—served promptly enough by a waitress who was more invisible than particularly warm or endearing—lounged on a gorgeous baby-vegetable medley (essentially a warm version of that spring salad) and a buttery moat of polenta. With so much produce on the plate, the à la carte sides—bite-size fingerling potatoes and mixed roasted mushrooms among them—were mostly redundant.
The big-kid desserts, while less ambitious than the rest of the food, turned out to be just the right conclusion to this wholesome meal. There were peanut butter cookies sandwiching a not-too-sweet banana-cream filling, and an unctuous rhubarb crisp, served in what looked like someone’s grandmother’s teacup, with vanilla ice cream and buttery streusel on top. Had this been an actual jet-set dinner party, I might’ve preferred the more lavish chocolate soufflé (the loftiest dessert on the menu), but it was Monday—I knew I wouldn’t be lingering that night for parlor games or smokes on the porch.