It’s hard to be taken seriously with a name like “bobo.” Wharton business major Carlos Suarez found he kept using the word, coined by David Brooks, when describing his plans for a new restaurant. Only a Wharton business major or Mary-Kate Olsen wouldn’t pick up on the inherent insult in a word that means “half yuppie-bourgeois and half hippie-bohemian.” No matter: Like Mary-Kate Olsen and many a business major, bobo succeeds anyway.
If you’ve been before and dismissed bobo because of the lackluster food, it’s worth a revisit. Former chef Nicholas Cantrel left and has since been installed at Bagatelle. In his place are chefs Rick Jakobsen from Red Hook’s 360 and Jared Stafford-Hill of Hearth. How convenient! All this time I’ve been to lazy to schlep out to the famously good 360, now tragically closed. One can only hope that the new incarnation of bobo can channel what was before out in Brooklyn’s Red Hook.
If you can find this nearly-unmarked West Village townhouse, you’ll walk into a beautiful, low-ceilinged, candlelit English basement level space with exposed beams, a long bar upholstered with a houndstooth pattern, and a black upright piano stacked with vintage LP records. They may be bobo touches all, but the records aren’t just for show. We heard the Beatles and Led Zeppelin the night we were there, complete with a few pops and scratches and the uncompressed, rich sound of old vinyl records.
It’s an appropriate soundtrack for a place that strives to keep it real, as much as a bourgeois bohemian can. Bobo is one of a growing number of restaurants that, for environmental reasons, does not offer bottled water. Instead, they make their own purified and seltzer water and serve it in carafes.
It was a lively gang that night, perhaps because Knucklehead, Menudo, and Annette had already spent several hours at Smith & Mills before heading uptown. High Maintenance ordered the winter squash soup with pear, cranberry, and smoked duck – hold the pear, cranberry, and smoked duck (don’t ask). The spartan soup that remained held up well on its own, however, and it came served in pretty vintage bone china.
My tuna, white bean and arugula salad arrived as a salad alongside a massive hunk of tuna that must have been prepared in some high-tech way. Was it grilled then sous-vide’d? Grilled then preserved in a crystallized format somehow? Either way, the resulting tuna, though visually appealing, was oddly rubbery and bland. As Sara Jenkins pointed out, why do male chefs insist on treating the kitchen like a science lab? But the white beans were wonderfully toothsome and the arugula nice and peppery.
Menudo’s winter vegetable salad was exactly as advertised and came with a delicately tangy lemon dressing. Raw scallops and grapefruit, beets, and fennel came together in Knucklehead’s dish, the best of the appetizers. The scallops had a wonderfully clean, barely saline taste, delicious with the bitter sweet juicy crunch of the grapefruit. As we saw at Momofuku Ssam, scallops pair particularly well with fruit, and a sprinkling of fennel leaves gave Bobo’s a tingling herbal taste.
Surprisingly for a place that’s not even Italian, much less a serious pasta joint, Bobo has a ricotta ravioli that could contend with the best. Huge, plump, generously portioned ravioli were already decadent before getting dressed in butter, parmesan, and meltingly soft winter vegetables.
The chicken was just the sort of elevated comfort food we were craving on that rainy night. Crispy skin, tender meat, and a buttery flavor throughout. It had been seasoned just enough, but not too much to overwhelm the rich flavor. A mixture of polenta and black cabbage topped off the homeyness of the dish.
Supposedly there was a basic steak dish at the previous incarnation of Bobo, which I never visited. The current entree takes steak to the next level, topping it with oxtail soffrito and caramelized cippolini. Here again Bobo straddles the line between comforting and outright decadent and succeeds with flying colors.
Pot au feu gets a tweak with lamb substituted for beef as the starring meat. I can’t imagine why I’ve never seen this dish before in a New York restaurant. Lamb makes the pot au feu so much more flavorful, and the vegetables were still al dente, done in the Dan Barber haute barnyard style.
There are so many iterations of Annette’s Berkshire pork entree with cabbage, potatoes, and pinot gris in the city now that it was hard to set this one apart, but his had prettily carved baby potatoes in the French style.
As for the desserts, we wished the chocolat pot de creme had gelled a little bit more – it should be firm, not gloopy. But it was nice to see a good old-fashioned upside down cake, this time in pear, on an urban menu again. Definitely worth the post-prandial calories.
A trip to the restroom revealed a gorgeous second floor dining room on the townhouse’s parlor floor. All the details have been well thought-out here, from the octagonal book nooks to the dramatic chandeliers to the Victorian wallpaper and brass swan fixtures in the powder room. Now, it seems, bobo’s food is finally following suit. If liking Bobo makes one bobo, then consider me guilty as charged.
181 West 10th Street at Seventh Avenue South
New York, New York