Balaboosta: Taim’s Sister Spot Needs a Boost
The tantalizing picture in NYMag’s teaser preview was enough to get me to check out Einat Admony’s new venture, Balaboosta or the perfect housewife in Yiddish. The first full-fledged restaurant of the falafal shack Taim’s owner opened just a few weeks ago and clearly has a few kinks still to sort out. While the restaurant is charmingly, if not awkwardly, designed with homey touches (think: portait photographs, cookbooks, antique clocks, fresh shoots of greenery), services falls dangerously short and the food lacks a certain spark.
The cramped space on Mulberry and Spring has tough competition from neighbors, including Cafe Gitane, Public, Balthazar, Barmarche, L’Esquina and Bread. Long and rectangular, the dining room is bizarrely set-up with a few large round tables for groups at the front, very closely squished tables for two running on a diagonal down the center, a bar with several seats near the door, and 3 tables for four at the back. The strange use of space makes for awkward moving about throughout and for uncomfortable seating all-around.
Besides the less-than-perfect set-up, Balaboosta has two main issues. First, the service is downright terrible. Not only is it slow to the point of having to shove our check in the face of the first person who scampered by, but it is also far too casual. The waiter told us to order red sangria over white because it’s far more alcoholic (do I want this? perhaps. do they know I want this? probably not.), ignored us 90% of the time, and when asked for advice, mumbled softly to himself about who knows what. Balaboosta suffers from a distinct lack of professionalism; the waitstaff didn’t seem to understand that you can be friendly and laidback without sacrificing speed and efficiency. Perhaps this will come with time, however fellow casual newcomers Recette and Bistro de la Gare haven’t appeared to struggle.
Second, the food is good but by no means revelatory. Chef Admony had a real opportunity here to fill a neglected niche of Israeli cooking in downtown Manhattan; with all of the ethnic restuarants, bistros, and falafal stands out there, very few restaurants offer up elegant and authentic Israeli food. However, consider the opportunity missed, for now. The multi-faceted ‘eclectic’ Israeli cuisine lacks a certain punch, a spark necessary to say ‘wow, this is something special.’ For example, the grilled pizza slathered in carrot puree and topped with caramelized onions and goat cheese is savory and crispy but it either needed more zing in the puree or more of the decadent flavorful goat cheese. Similarly, the falafal-wrapped meatballs with green tahini just needed more oomph in the meat – aside from the famous Taim falafal, this dish just lacked in definable flavor. Highlights? The $30 pitcher of sangria is the perfect antidote to too-hot summer in New York weather, and the fried olives with lanbe and harissa oil brought my part Israeli dining companion back to Jerusalem with its dead-on rendition of the sour sweet cheese.
The jury is still out on Balaboosta – the food is good enough and interesting enough to warrant a second visit further down the line. Perhaps by late summer, this Nolita establishment will work out the kinks service-wise and add some new dishes to punch up the menu. The setting makes it great for parties of 6, if you can grab one of the large oblong tables in the window, for non-claustrophic couples seeking a not-too-loud but still exuberant scene, or exhausted shoppers looking for a spot to rest bags, sip wine and nosh on cheap enough small plates.