barbounia is the latest restaurant to inhabit the capacious space that most famously housed the beloved and lamented patria, epicenter of the nuevo latino revolution back in the 1990s. the formerly complicated bi-level space has been scooped out and spectacularly re-imagined, from the gleaming open kitchen to the fat ivory moorish columns and soaring beige-and-brick archways lit with rows of white bulbs.
chef efraim naon was born and raised in israel, but his modern and classic mediterranean cuisine passionately embraces the cookery of greece, france, spain and morocco, all with plenty of naon's personal touches.
freshly baked flatbread slices arrive with thick and peanutty hummus, smoky and rich baba ghanoush and creamy tzaziki for the spreading. house cocktails are certainly original. "kerasi" combines vodka with peach schnapps, champagne, lemon juice and especially crimson cherry juice, while "sappho" muddles red grapes and blueberries with vodka and "red wine," which dominates the mixture.
mezze (greek for appetizers) include grilled octopus that proudly flaunts the smoky char of the grill, perfectly cooked to a luscious chewy tenderness. a refreshing grilled fennel and celery salad accompanies the cephalopod, as well as a cooling lebneh (herbed greek yogurt).
turkish "lachma hajuan" goes by a number of other names, best known hereabouts in middle eastern restaurants as lamajun. a freshly baked 12-inch flatbread is slathered with sautéed ground lamb, yogurt, pine nuts and tahini. it's the tastiest and best textured version i've ever had.
probably as a toque-tip to patria's chef, douglas rodriguez, chef naon offers red snapper ceviche with tangy moroccan argan oil; rodriguez virtually brought ceviche to manhattan. naon spackles the fish with minced black olives and alternates the snapper slices with citrus supremes. unlike far too many ceviches, this snapper tastes like snapper, not citrus, thanks to the fact that it's not over-marinated. a pair of butterflied sardines are roasted until they ooze with flavor, then plated with harissa, cilantro and pine nuts, alongside a heap of cool grated beets. saganaki, a kind of greek fondue, is served in a six-inch oval cast iron skillet. the delightfully chewy melted kefalograviera cheese bears a tincture of metaxa brandy. moussaka arrives blazing hot in a glazed white ceramic urn, scattered with fresh parsley. the moussaka flaunts a lot more ground lamb than usual, and a lot less eggplant. a wedge of melted feta finishes the ample dish.
brandt is a single-family- owned natural beef producer dedicated to sustainable techniques. their beef is cropping up on menus around town, and it's most welcome. in a cook's illustrated blind taste test, the organic brandt beef out ranked lobel's dry-aged american wagyu porterhouse, lobel's prime dry-aged porterhouse and peter luger's legendary porterhouse. chef naon grills tender and beefy brandt hanger steak (my favorite cut), grinds plenty of syrian aleppo pepper over the meat and plates it with a large sliced bone filled with roasted marrow and creamy yukon gold potato puree.
desserts include a deconstruction of chocolate molten cake plated with various doo-dads like marinated prune, black olive praline and a scoop of deeply flavored turkish coffee ice cream. the chocolate cake wasn't molten-at least ours wasn't-but the consistency is buttery and bittersweet.
kanafeh is a kind of ice cream pancake made with shredded phyllo pastry, sweetened fresh goat cheese, pistachios and turkish mastic ice cream (made with the gummy resin of a mastic tree), all dribbled with rosewater syrup: a truly superb finish.
barbounia made me forget how much i miss patria. this is surely some of the best mediterranean cooking in new york city. -- barbounia 250 park avenue south at east 20th street 212-995-0242 entrées: $15.95 to $29.95 firstname.lastname@example.org