On a rollicking block populated by numerous restaurants and little shops between Spring and Kenmare, Balzem’s dark and glassy storefront seems to cast a shadow over Nolita, a neighborhood that sometimes feels like it’s becoming too trendy for its own good. Upon stepping inside, one finds the restaurant’s atmosphere starkly different from anything in the area as deep orange lighting from chandeliers and the rugged charm of Balzem’s brick walls set a moody, dusky scene.
Drawing upon classic Mediterranean dishes (some family recipes) and an eclectic selection of tapas and mezzes, Chef Balahan Bobus has carved a unique niche in a competitive section of Manhattan, and I was enormously satisfied with what I sampled of the menu at the press dinner—11 dishes in total!
The chicken orzo soup was a sparkling broth of red and gold and that drew its hues and flavors from both tomato and lemon in a swirl of tang and salt with fresh slices of light chicken breast.
Secondly, I tried the Prosciutto Wraps with Burrata. Combining two of my favorite Italian delicacies I was not surprised to fall in love with the dish, which stuffed an avalanche of gooey goodness within the cured and salted slices, which were sprinkled with a splash of sweet balsamic. This was definitely my favorite of the tapas on the menu!
Our third tapa was the Bronzing Ceviche (Raw European Seabass), served over arugula and dill. The sliced fish had the texture of cooked and tender meat and until Chef Balahan explained what I was eating, I am almost embarrassed to write that I mistook it for a chilled chicken dish—a pleasant one at that.
Next, we enjoyed two grilled and spicy seafood courses in the Shrimp and Octopus. I found the shrimp a tad too spicy though it was very well-cooked and complemented the salad nicely. Of the two, I found I enjoyed the octopus more. It was charred with a smokey aftertaste with the insides remaining moist and delicate.
The last of the tapas was the zucchini pancake which tasted like an Graeco-Italian Latke. If you’re a vegetarian or just love something crispy and just bursting with the strong flavors of fresh herbs, then I wholeheartedly recommend this one. Each pancake was covered in a light spoonful of cream infused with dill, feta, and scallions.
For the main, we were offered Grilled Brochette (Rib Eye Skewers served with Pita). It was a substantial portion with plenty of juicy, grilled beef. I didn’t really eat much of the pita, but by that point my belly was close to bursting. It might seem like a less exciting choice than the tapas, but it’s a solid and filling one. I usually find meat of this nature to be too dry or greasy, and was pleasantly surprised to find it neither which way.
The meat was served alongside a trio of side dishes: Truffle Macaroni and Cheese, Potatoes Au Gratin, and Sauteed Spinach. Of these I adored the Macaroni and Cheese the most. It was breaded perfectly with just the right pinch of spices and copious amounts of cheese—everything you could want out of a side dish and a worthy incarnation of the American comfort staple.
By the time dessert came around, I felt so full, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to go on—just kidding! From the Tiramisu to the Napoleon to the Chocolate Mousse, Balzem had its bases covered for sweets. I was particularly impressed with the Napoleon, which was baked in the French style with layers of creamy cake and raspberry syrup. Each dessert was garnished with a ripe strawberry.
Be sure to ask Chef Balahan for his recommendations on wine pairings. He knows good matches for every stage of the meal (special distinction must go to the fragrant Cotes de Provence Rose that accompanied the Prosciutto Wraps). From 5 to 7 PM, he’s offering a happy hour with such joys as $6 glasses of wine and $5 tapas.
The next time I’m with my friends in Nolita, I’ll be sure to direct them to Balzem, though I’m not really sure if I’ll be particularly charitable when it comes to sharing my tapas.
Address: 202 Mott Street (Between Spring and Kenmare)
Phone Number: (646) 837 7033
Lunch: 11:30 AM to 5:00 PM on Mondays to Fridays
Dinner: 5:00 PM to 12 Midnight All Week
Brunch: 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM on Saturdays and Sundays