Finally made it to Bavel and my reaction surprised me. I love Middle Eastern food and thought I would love the food, but hate the ambience, as I had read about gangsta rap playing at ear piercing decibels. It was certainly loud and you did have to talk in a louder than normal voice to speak with your dining companion, but I rather liked the music (perhaps the gangsta rap doesn’t come on until later in the evening) and I felt the music lent a nice energetic vibe to the restaurant.
Maybe in retrospect, my reaction to Bavel’s food shouldn’t have surprised me as two people I know in the restaurant industry and one real foodie friend had already been and I when I had excitedly asked them how it was, they all said it was “fine,” but no one was raving or expressing any desire to return.
The service was okay except a weird note when our waiter seemed miffed that we had brought our own wine and hastily announced there was a $35 corkage fee. This was the first time ever in an upscale restaurant that I had waitstaff assume I wouldn’t know there was a corkage fee and $35 is the norm, so it seemed odd to announce it unless the corkage was $60 or more (where it is at some places). The awkwardness was assuaged a bit later when the sommelier brought our wine over and noted the producer, since it was the kind of wine that a sommelier would be excited about.
Because we wanted to try a lot of things, we ordered the first hummus (the one without the duck), the farm cheese (because we wanted to try the brioche bread that people had been raving about), the okra, the cauliflower, the shrimp and the whole dorade. The other awkward note in service was when the waiter seemed alarmed that we ordered the cauliflower and told us it was quite spicy. I assured him we could handle spicy food, although the cauliflower didn’t turn out to be all that spicy (between that and the awkward note about corkage, makes me wonder what kind of diners Bavel has been attracting).
I can see why people like the brioche bread, as it had a nice crumb, but I found it way too sweet for my palate. It reminded me of raisin bread I ate as a child and I kept waiting to bite into a raisin as the sweetness was invoking that gustatory memory. The farm cheese spread was not particularly exciting and I definitely would not order again. The hummus was fine, as was the cauliflower, although I prefer the similar cauliflower dish they serve at Republique. The okra dish was okay, but we didn’t finish it. We really liked the shrimp dish. The whole dorade was fine, but I much preferred the whole fish that I had the last time I dined at Michael Cimarusti’s fish restaurant at Eataly. Of all the dishes we ordered, if I ever came back to Bavel, the only one I would order a second time would be the shrimp.
For dessert, we ordered the licorice bon bon which the late Jonathan Gold had raved about in his review of Bavel and which he called the best dessert on the menu. May Jonathan rest in peace, but his palate and mine often didn’t agree and I detested the dessert. I found it to be a boring one note licorice bomb with nothing tasty or interesting about it, and I’m a person who absolutely adores dessert. (Still mourning Brooks Headley’s departure as pastry chef at Del Posto in New York, although I love his Superiority Burger and wish he would bring it to L.A.).
All in all, if someone else had a reservation and wanted to take me, I would go back to Bavel because I would like to try a few of the other dishes (particularly the duck hummus, the malawach and the lamb schwarma), but given how hard it is to get reservations, I definitely wouldn’t go out of my way again to get my own reservations.
After dinner we decided to head over to the Bar at the Nomad Hotel for Amaro because I was curious to check the place out. Sort of an interesting set up because if you are not going to eat in the downstairs dining (it seems like they have closed the upstairs), you can find a nice couch, but there is no table service and you have to belly up to the bar to order, which is a pain when the small bar is packed as it was when we got there. However, the bartenders were nice and efficient and I was excited to see that they had Varnelli, Amaro Dell’Erborista on the list as I had been thinking of picking up a bottle and wanted to try it first before committing to a bottle. I liked the Amaro a lot and I find that it is really true that Amaro is a digestif that helps when you have eaten too much rich food which we had, since we had over-ordered at Bavel.
Because I am such a dessert person and because I hated the dessert so much at Bavel, we decided to order a dessert at Nomad. I didn’t find the Nomad dessert menu that interesting, but we settled on Milk Ice Cream with Honey-Oat Shortbread & Brittle. Didn’t like it at all, so it was a 100% strikeout for the night in the dessert category, but the Amaro made up for it, although it seemed like the Amaro was priced higher than it should have been (which may be par for the course for a restaurant bar).