“Helua” is how we say ‘beautiful’ in Arabic, and also how I describe the crowd at Barbounia, the South Park Avenue haven for Mediterranean and Middle Eastern fare.
250 Park Avenue South (At 20th street)
New York, NY 10003
Running late yesterday (as I am most days), I pulled open the door to Barbounia decisively, stepping in quickly to meet friends. Looking around for my party of mostly girls, some of whom I grew up with in Saudi Arabia, I couldn’t find them immediately for all the other parties of girls crowding both the bar and every table in sight.
Finally seated with my party, we got started with our bottomless mimosas and glasses of champagne ($18) and conjectured about the disproportionate ratio of attractive women to men in the restaurant (approx. 150:2). Since this spot is a favorite with boozy brunchers, it should appeal to every New Yorker I know, and yet it was almost exclusively stocked with females.
One thought was that while men appreciate a multi-round champagne brunch, outside Chelsea, they aren’t usually the ones to plan it. Another suggestion was that since it was 1:30pm on a Sunday in December, the guys looking forward to a day fueled with alcohol were enjoying their Sunday Funday in front of a big screen at a sports bar.
The conclusion I’m most satisfied with is that while there are plently NYC spots offering a bottomless drink option on weekends (Sunburnt Cow, EV, Sunburnt Calf, UWS) the location (by Union Sq, easily accessible from Up- and Downtown), ambiance (big, bright, clean) and menu (nothing low budget about the cuisine) of Barbounia check all the boxes for a great holiday-get-together location.
(Which, at 1:30pm on a Sunday in December, is seemingly what the women of New York do.)
In addition to the rounds of champagne, we enjoyed the mezze platter with Arab favorites from our childhood: hummus, amazingly fresh babganoush, and updated Mediterranean faves like, mmm, the spicy feta. Chef Efraim Nahon’s style is similar to that of an Israeli Todd English (his neighbor to the south at Olives in the W Hotel.) Standards like a Nicoise salad, burger or pita sandwich become new dishes– even for those of us raised in the Arab desert– when prepared with a innovative eye and use of high-quality ingredients. The more creative dishes like the skillet-served eggs are a decadent treat and, well, what you should order. (Give the Green Shakshuka a try.)
Oh, by the way: Always tell me if a restaurant requires all parties to be there before being seated. Barbounia does(!) and I was late (!!), but thanks to persuasive talents of my lawyer friends, their drink order was already in by the time I arrived.
Let’s be honest:
Ann: That’s my goal.
Mary: What? (Looking at the 12-woman table cheering as they exchanged secret santa gifts.) To be a whoo-girl at brunch?
Ann nods, already 3 mimosas in on her 4’11″ frame.
Mary: It’s doable.
Accessorize: Some fun for your Arabian nights.
Also by Marchesa…