American Heart and New Orleans Soul at Bo's Kitchen & Bar Room
Florida State was losing to Auburn. The game was being projected on a downstairs wall in a part of the restaurant that's only open Thursday to Sunday. This was a Monday, so chairs were up and no one was down there to watch the game. But Alex Priani, Nikhil Khosla, and Frank Fuschetto could catch the score and the occasional play through the kitchen's pass. The chefs—Executive, de Cuisine, and Pastry, respectively—worked together at South Edison in Montauk. Priani and Khosla together at Acme before that, but now the trio run Bo's Kitchen & Bar Room on West 24th Street. Khosla attended aviation school in Florida, so the game was a big deal to him, but you'd never guess there were any distractions in the kitchen.
Bo's is the latest in chef/partner Todd Mitgang's empire. After Crave Fishbar and South Edison, and having cooked in Soho's Kittichai and consulted on Cascabel Taqueria, Mitgang has turned his talent with seafood south, where he looks to New Orleans for the menu's inspiration. That's why it felt right to order the Crispy Alligator ($13), which turned out to be crispy enough to pass as tempura. As the dish was brought to the table the perfume of fried oil stung my dining companion and I in the nose. The chili aioli served with it would eventually sting our tongues. Mixed into the mound of crackling gator were pieces of fried red bell pepper, and their juicy flesh helped wash the trail paved by alligator's slightly fatty meat. If you've yet to eat alligator, let Bo's introduce you.
The alligator was so fun we ignored the Roasted Oysters ($15), a la Drago's, brought out with it. When we set our sights towards the mollusks we saw them laid in a cast iron dish, four to an order, and each with charred Grana Padano blistering over a béchamel good enough to be the mother of the mother sauces. Sure, it's just butter, flour, and milk, but you rarely see these three things come together and result in more grace than force.
The oyster is protected from the broiler's heat by the richness that lay above it. It's still nearly raw when you free it from its shell and its briny juice laces the warm enterprise and gives it that "big umami" Priani talks about in his bio on the restaurant's website. I'm fairly certain you could replace the oyster with a Sour Patch Kid and still have a delicious result.
Grilled Squab ($18) was another delight. The small birds aren't known for their generosity to carnivores, but Mitgang's rendition includes house-cured bacon, oyster mushrooms, and toasted chicken livers. The brownish accompaniments, not a challenge to the aesthetic of rare game, heft up the dish to a size that could fetch $28 somewhere in the same neighborhood. I could have done without the slightly dried out livers, but that could be because I craved more of those meaty mushrooms. The candied rosemary garnish seems an afterthought until you tear one of its sugary leaves and chase down some of that tender bacon.
About halfway down the entrée side of the menu, listed under Spiced Louisiana Redfish ($29), are the words "crabby sauce." I hadn't paid them any mind, and only chose the dish over Curried Goat ($28) because I wanted to keep the train on southern rails. I'm glad I did. Lump crabmeat, brown sugar, and a pad of butter sounds like it might be over kill, and easily could be, but the kitchen at Bo's is too smart for that. In subtle proportion, that sweet, salty crabby sauce melts over a filet of fish cooked to a temperature so perfect it's as if the Redfish knew its fate and cooked itself for the cause. A pile of grilled turnips, persimmon, and okra sit beneath the fish. Their charred edges and varying textures made each bite a pure joy to eat.
The thought of leaving was hard, not because it was 12 degrees out, but because the room is spacious and welcoming in a way that usually only happens in towns that don't typically see five figure/month rents, like New Orleans. For homesick migrants of the Crescent City, Bo's bar, with it's festive tiled floor, Dixie draft, and crisp Sazeracs, will make you feel you're a stone's throw from the Mississippi and I-10. The decor, like the service, is subtle. As for the glowing "Yeah You Right" sign hanging on the back wall, I'll have to ask about that when I go back.
About the Author: Craig Cavallo is a writer with an addiction to New York City's food and drink. Learn more about his problem at digestny.com.