It was a cold damp New York winter evening and plans for dining with my good friend Denise, at Bustan, a Mediterranean restaurant on the upper west side of Manhattan, looked like an inspired idea. The restaurant received a mix of good and not – so- good reviews, we were having an early (by New York standards) dinner and therefore gave no thought to making a reservation.
Thanks to good bus connections I arrived at the restaurant at 5:45 PM and told the Maître d’ that I was having dinner with a friend at 6:30 PM and would like a table. No I did not have a reservation. “Oh my, we are completely booked. You and your friend can dine at the bar or at the table next to the Maître d’ station.” These suggestions were unappealing so I just waited for other options. This forced a new review of the reservation book. “Oh. We have a group coming at 8:30 PM. If you are sure that your friend will arrive at 6:30 PM we can give you both the table. Please note, however, that you will have to leave by 8:30PM.”
At the Bar
No problem! Having 2 hours for dinner was more than sufficient and the matter was settled. I decided to wait for my friend at the bar and tried to determine if I wanted a whisky or a glass of wine. Choosing whisky I asked for my usual J&B: Not available. OK. How about a Dewar’s? Not available.
What they did have was the premium labels for Dewar’s – 12-year-old and 15-year-old. I have no idea the cost per drink for a Dewar’s 12- or 15-year-old (the spirits list was never presented), but I do know that by the bottle, the retail price for Dewar’s 12-year-old is $26.99 and the 15-year-old is $49.99 while a bottle of the Dewar’s White Label Blended is $23.99. So – in a not very subtle way – I was being “upsold” and I was not appreciative. I settled on a GlenFiddich. If my drink was going to be expensive – I might as well order a really good single malt whiskey and enjoy every drop. (A bottle of Glenfiddich 12-year-old retails for $51.99).
So – with good fortune, Denise arrives early (6 PM) and the Maître d’ rushes us quickly to our table. Denise orders a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, Kat (not available @ $11) so she has to trade-up…this time to Sancerre Les Chasseignes Domaine Fouassier Loire Valle @ $14 a glass. (Retail – $19 – $25 per bottle).
Had we not been “up-sold” I would not take the time to check the wine/spirit price mark-ups; however, I was curious and my research of a few of the offerings on the Bustan wine list follows:
Wine list. Half Bottles Available (for example)
a. Champagne: J. Dumangin Fils, Brut, France NV half bottle price $48.
• Retail price full bottle $49-$65; $53.00
b. Hugel & Fils, Gewurztrainer Alsace Franc 2012 half bottle price $28.
• Retail price full bottle $24 approximately
c. Duckhorn, Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley 2012 half bottle price $33.
• Retail price half bottle $16+
It is time to order. The menu looks eclectically interesting. I ordered the Lamb Terracotta with spiced ground lamb kebab, charred onion, taboon roasted tomato, suman roasted peppers, oregano, tahini and pine nuts baked in flaky bread dome ($29). Denise orders the Roasted Free Range Chicken with saffron, cinnamon & almond couscous, taboon roasted butternut squash, broccoli rabe, chicken foie gras sausage and chicken jus ($25). The Hummus Bowl with Lamb Kebab ($18) was ordered by a couple dining next to us and if you like hummus (the portion was enough for two) – this looks like a good option.
As we are waiting for dinner to be presented, a party of three arrives and there is an attempt to seat them next to us. The dime size space between the two tables was a tight squeeze and – in the attempt to pass through this very tiny space, the new patron tips over the wine glass – sending wine all over me, my fur /suede jacket, pants, sweater, phone, the table – everything! I was drenched.
At first I was offered black paper napkins to soak up the wine from my white shirt and the rest of my clothes…which was a really poor idea; I would have ended up with black splotches on everything. Finally a staffer showed up with white cloth napkins and the mop up started.
A few more minutes or wiping and mopping and the drama is over, the patrons are seated elsewhere and Denise and I can restart our dinner conversation.
Back to the Food
The Lamb Terracotta was better than expected. The lamb was expertly spiced and the bread dome – while not flaky as advertised, reminded me of my morning breakfast pita…not delicious but decidedly eatable. The vegetables were a soggy mush that could have been eliminated. The kebabs on a bed or rice pilaf would have been a better choice. Denise enjoyed her chicken as well as the foie gras sausage – so the entrée part of our evening ended on a pleasant note.
For dessert (ask for a separate menu) Denise ordered shaved Halvah with sorbet ($10) – which she claims was very good. If you are lactose intolerant (as I am) there are limited choices. My chamomile tea bag came dunked in a cup. For $4 – loose tea in a pot would have been preferred.
Would I return? With a long sigh I would have to say “maybe.” The kebab was deliciously spiced and I do not usually find lamb appealing. When I am in the mood for lamb and maybe some humus, I would go across town. And I must remember to make a reservation and wear clothes that are washable (perhaps water-proof).
This copyright article may not be reproduced without written permission from the author.