After sampling NYC’s best paella offerings and imbibing the best of Rioja this past Monday, the obvious conclusion to the evening was to stop at one of the many lovely restaurants on Mulberry Street for a little, you know, something before heading uptown to sleep.
My mother picked out Balaboosta because of its charming, candle-lit interior. I also think she picked it out because she was sick of relying on me and my
stupid iPhone to get us from one place to the next. There was an upgrade for iPhones a couple of weeks ago and the new map app is aggressively useless. As quoted by Anil Dash in the British newspaper The Telegraph, “Apple’s made a new product that actually is pretty but dumb.” I used to be able to get around the City before I had a phone telling me I was walking North when I was actually walking South, so I’ve made a resolution to go with common sense (and listen to a mother who grew up in NYC) rather than a telephone application.
But back to Balaboosta. We put our name on the wait list, ordered two drinks, and sat in the cushioned window seat, which afforded us a view the charming interior. Filled with dark wood accents, photographs and custom bookshelves lined with cookbooks, it created a feeling of being in someone’s well-decorated and very popular home. My mother asked the host (who turned out to be the general manager) what the name meant and he explained that it is a Yiddish word for “perfect housewife or gracious hostess” and that the photographs were of women from the owner’s family who were balaboostas.
We were looking forward to that “little something,” but then realized that if we did eat, we’d be showing up very late to our friend’s place on the Upper West Side. Not wanting to be bad guests, but a little embarrassed, we explained our situation to Alex, the general manager. Beyond gracious, he actually sent us over a complimentary offering of hummus, made a spot for us at the bar and explained, “I know you have to leave, but I’d really like you to be able to try something from here.”
It was such a lovely gesture. Not only was the hummus as smooth and decadent as cat’s purr, but the graciousness of the act complimented the name of the of restaurant perfectly. Talking to Alex, we found out that the restaurant has been open for close to four years and that Alex himself has worked there for almost a year. A transplant from Louisiana, I hope that Alex doesn’t lose his genuine warmth and the obvious pride he has in the place where he works. In NYC’s brutally competitive restaurant business world, I imagine it would be easy to get brusque and tough quickly. And that would be a shame, because Balaboosta is lucky to have him.
I’ll go back to Balaboosta the next time I’m in NYC simply because Alex made such an amazing first impression. There is nothing like being made to feel truly welcomed and appreciated by a total stranger when you walk into a new place. And next time, I’ll find Balaboosta without my iPhone.