Meat – Shared Plates – Waiter Service
Orthodox Union (OU)
Sunday – Thursday 5pm – 10:30pm
31 West 17th Street
Everybody knows that there are two types of people who go to restaurants: Those who are willing to share dishes with others in their dining party, and those who treat that idea as if it is a crime against the restaurant experience.
If you fall into the former category, Bonito is the fine-dining destination of a lifetime. If you fall into the latter category? Well, you should get with the program unless you want to miss out on a truly unique kosher experience.
Joshua Kessler is a rising star in the kosher restaurant world. His first restaurant, Barnea Bistro, is a very successful entry into the directory of Manhattan upscale establishments. Kessler calls Barnea “the culmination of a dream fueled by passion and desire.” It was in that kitchen that the idea for Bonito came to him.
In typical French bistro style, Barnea’s main courses stand alone on the menu and diners order side dishes of their choosing from a separate list of offerings. Yet the waiters would often come to the kitchen with requests from patrons that selections from all over the menu be served in such a way so that the cuisine could be easily divided amongst the members of the party. Kessler hypothesized that the reason was that many people were coming for a special occasion and might not return on a regular basis. Therefore, the dining room was full of guests who wanted to taste everything that they could in what might be a rare trip to an amazing restaurant.
Enter Bonito. While the fare still has a definite gourmet quality, Bonito sports a slightly more casual and welcoming atmosphere. That vibe plays well with the idea that everything on the menu is designed to be shared and is plated as such. The menu features a single section that houses everything from salads ($26-28) to appetizers ($29-42) and from side dishes ($28-42) to entrées ($42-89). Each selection is around the same size and Kessler suggests ordering five or six plates for every two people in your party depending on how filling your selections are.
When I was invited to experience what Bonito has to offer, a few items were absolute standouts. If you’re looking for a light plate to start off your meal, I would suggest that you try the Heirloom Panzanella Salad. This elevated take on a classic tomato and onion salad will grab you right from the start. Not only does the balsamic reduction in the dressing pack a nice punch, but the large croutons made from house garlic bread add a great texture to the tomatoes. Like everything at Bonito, the salad looks amazing as the heirloom tomatoes give the dish a striking color that really draws the eye when it reaches your table.
Since Bonito is a shared plates restaurant, many of the items on the menu can be described as appetizers. This leads to a wide selection that includes a few different fish options. I decided to go with the Hamachi Crudo because hamachi isn’t found frequently on kosher restaurant menus and I was intrigued by the way it was prepared. Needless to say, the combination of Hawaiian red salt, Thai chili, and chive oil brings out the flavor of the fish wonderfully. It’s also worth noting that this dish is garnished with watermelon radishes and corn shoots and looks fabulous.
With more than 20 plates to choose from on the menu, making a decision might be difficult. But if there’s one path you must choose, it is ordering the Papas con Pato. This plate might be the best on the entire menu despite being one of the least expensive at just $29. A hearty portion of potato skins are spiced and cooked in duck fat before being served beneath duck confit, poached egg, and garlic aioli. Everything about this combination works well together. The potato skins are slightly crispy and provide a sturdy base for the toppings. The duck confit is delightfully shredded, the poached egg is a complimentary addition and adds to the impressive combination of textures, and the garlic aioli provides a creaminess and flavor to bring everything together perfectly. If it wasn’t for the depth of the menu, I’d suggest each person who goes to Bonito orders their own portion.
Could you make your way to Bonito and just keep ordering the plates that sound like appetizers until you are full? For sure. And I wouldn’t blame you. There are plenty of options to choose from and you are free to make your own choices.
That said, if you are looking at the bottom of the menu and wondering how you can share something like the Yakitori Charred Hanger Steak, let me give you the sales pitch. After the steak has been charred, it is sliced and fanned out in order to make room for the smallest dollop of chimichurri on each slice. With a ring of steak around the edge of the plate, the center has crispy shallots, fennel, arugula, and tomato. The plating is impressive enough that you just might admire it for a minute or two… if the steak didn’t look so delicious that you can’t wait to start dismantling this work of art. The char on the outside of the steak gives it a great mouthfeel and the chimichurri provides just enough acidity to contrast with the rest of the dish.
Bonito is a welcome addition to the kosher landscape, not only as a unique concept, but also geographically. If you are looking for a place for a quiet business dinner in Manhattan, Bonito is your closest option if you are south of 27th and anywhere north of Canal. That’s a large area that the restaurant will be able to service. In addition, its proximity to the Queens-Midtown and Lincoln Tunnels means that those in New Jersey, Brooklyn, Queens, and even Long Island can drive into a neighborhood with much easier parking than most places in Manhattan, and enjoy what Joshua Kessler is cooking.
You won’t be sorry you made the trip.