A delightful, sometimes verging on excellent, meal is yours at Bustan on the UWS. The décor is eclectic with navy tiles on the walls along with large round yellow circles that glow. Upfront is a sleek bar with seats upholstered in black and white cowhide. One wall displays a series of small paintings, something to chat about should conversation founder. You can sit at the bar or at tables, leaning against banquettes covered in (deliberately) mismatched fabric. Sounds weird but everything plays well together.
Many dishes make use of the taboon, the Middle Eastern answer to the pizza oven. The kicker here is that the oven has a rotating base that cooks items like whole fish with a single 360-degree turn. A beautiful --and especially tasty when hot -- long pita bread emerges, slicked with oil and served on a long plank with an accompanying dish of olives.
Restaurant partner Jose Paulo Cortes who serves as Executive Chef who knows his way around the taboon and the rest of the kitchen. Beet salad, composed of several varieties together with thin-sliced radishes and fennel (which I didn't taste); the whole crowned with balls of falafel and one of bread-crumbed goat cheese, was a winner as was the day's catch, a poached filet of striped bass set in a puddle of tomato sauce with cooked peppers, the whole served over Israeli cous cous. Lamb mergez brings moderately spicy sausage over lentils and a spiced bean and spinach "stew." Flatbreads with pastrami smoked salmon come with dill crème fraiche; there 's also a mushroom version with ricotta, Taleggio cheese and asparagus. Had I room, the whole roast cauliflower looked great but there's a limit.
Other appealing dishes that make use of the taboon include lamb chops with that roast cauliflower and spiced fava beans; lamb "terracotta," baked in bread crust with roast tomato and peppers, flavored with sumac, oregano, tahini and pine nuts and many fish dishes such as grilled salmon. Pasta lovers can dig into homemade ricotta gnocchi with wild mushrooms and sage.
Among the desserts, the Turkish sundae brings vanilla gelato topped with crisped rice, caramelized nuts and shredded halva while sticky toffee pudding, apparently the dessert du jour, wears a plop of tiramisu gelato.
Brunch has Middle Eastern versions of classic egg dishes, some baked in the taboon and the highly touted mazettim, foccacia for dips including hummus, baba ganoush, tzatzkiki, spicy feta, and taramousalata.(one selection for $7; five for $19), also available, and popular, at dinner.
The bar dispenses all manner of cocktails, draft and bottled beers and an extensive wine selection; non-alcoholic offerings including juices, sparkling fruit sodas and ginger beer.
Service is on the slow side but the crowd--a bit older than at some other spots--didn't seem concerned. I ate in the long, narrow main room; there's also a winterized garden out back. Bustan is open Mondays 11am-3pm and, 5pm-10pm; Tuesday-Friday from 11am-3pm and 5pm-11pm; Saturdays 10am-3pm and 5pm-11pm; and Sundays 10am-3pm and 5pm-10pm. Reservations are a good idea.