455 Myrtle Avenue, Clinton Hill
In my house, our painstakingly balanced marriage threatens to topple over the most inane, frequently food-associated things; divorce is threatened over someone letting the brown sugar go hard, or who was the last to wash dishes. (Though, let’s not fool ourselves, I’m always the last to wash dishes.) But no matter how many similarly silly little battles have been presumably fought and won in the Nate Smith-Sophie Kamin household, the fact is that their partnership—forged in both life and work—spans over 14 years, spawning not just two children, but two impressive restaurants besides.
So you have to believe they’ve got relationship essentials such as communication, commitment and compromise down to a science if you take into account their eminently enjoyable debut project, Allswell, a Williamsburg gastropub with flattering lighting, great burgers, killer puddings, and unrepentantly boozy drinks. And the same cool confidence pervades their new project, the month-old Bar Bolinas, which, despite being directly under the microscope like any brand new business, projects an easy, breezy Cali calm, much like a long-married couple out in public, whose effortless exchanges rarely betray the rigorously controlled workings underneath.
Just like at Allswell, the duo isn’t overly concerned with envelope-pushing or making waves; they’re perfectly content to stick with whatever they know works, and then making it as good as it can be. So while the fare is ostensibly California-inspired at their new Clinton Hill establishment, much of it was actually carefully honed in Williamsburg, and then tweaked just a tad to, well, keep the magic alive.
That means that, much like at Allswell, an impeccable cheeseburger is sure to be a Bar Bolinas mainstay; made with supremely buttery pastured Vermont beef, nutty gruyere and purple rounds of pickled onion, tucked into a Dutch Crunch roll, which is a San Fran favorite and sports a distinctive, crinkly top. And there’s no shame in your game if you order the burger specifically for the side of skin-on, triple-crisped french fries, dunked in an accompanying pot of glossy mayo.
Smith has stayed similarly true to himself throughout Bar Bolinas’ menu, demonstrating his signature penchant for sardines; here they come smoked and served on toast with a smear of bright beet horseradish. He’s also especially keen on little gem lettuce, tossed in an assertively lemony caesar; flap steak, grilled and delivered with a swath of smoky beans; and that old reliable, chicken, here rubbed with pasilla pepper, and accented with kale, cilantro, and lime—definitely Bar Bolinas’ most recognizably Californian option. There’s a glorious, direct-from-the-greenmarket veggie assemblage as well; currently, it’s lionized ramps, jewel-like morels, and exceedingly sweet hunks of roasted Jerusalem artichokes (at Allswell, it’s ramps, morels and farro), which, unlike that burger, will only stick around for a few, fleeting weeks.
When it comes to dessert, Smith has definitely hitched his wagon to the right horse; ever the master of her domain, pastry chef Kamin retains consummate control of Bar Bolinas’ sweets. There’s only three of them—which, again, displays admirable restraint—and while utterly modest and plainly plated, they’re also outrageously delicious. Who needs tuiles, sugar cages and Pacojetted quenelles of ice cream, when you can have layered jars of vividly seasonal strawberry fool or ridiculously moist slabs of emerald pistachio cake, drowned in a tooth-inking pool of coco noir?
Believe me, I’m not the least bit immune to having my head turned by the flashiest, sexiest, and most puffed-up young thing; but no matter how much they glimmer and glow on the surface, most are destined to become flash in the pans and one night stands. Compared to those preening peacocks, Bar Bolinas is a restaurant presented without makeup, and with a little bit of a paunch. But despite — or most likely, because of—those come-as-you-are qualities, it’s also one you’ll want to spend the rest of your life with.