This week I was looking something different, my palate weary from ringing in the new year with an excess of cheap California champagne. So I headed to Baboush in the West Village in search of new flavors.
Situated between sushi haven The Fish and Cork wine boutique, you might forget you're in Uptown when you walk through the front door and into dimly lit Baboush. Richly colored tapestries and intricate iron sconces line the walls. Tiny embossed metal tables line the "lounge area," really just a long banquette piled high with silken cushions in deep jewel tones. A shiny cobalt blue bar top beckons with brightly patterned leather stools, its backdrop intricately tiled in a colorful sunburst pattern. But the sound of Middle Eastern sitars fused with thumping electronic beats serves as a quick reminder that we're in Dallas, not Morocco.
I perused the drink menu and started with the Pine-Cardamom Martini. A combination of roasted pineapple and cardamom-infused vodka, it's rich gold in color with a thick head of froth. Its aroma is reminiscent of baked goods, warm and fresh and slightly spicy; with the maraschino cherry nestled in the bottom, I was expecting pineapple upside down cake in liquid form but was surprised at the first sip. Not sweet, not tart, but pleasantly mellow, and a nice way to kick off a relaxing evening of food and drink.
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If you're on hiatus from alcohol after holiday overindulgences, try the refreshing traditional mint tea; one of the owners will most likely come out to pour it himself from an ornate silver teapot. Another worthy endeavor is the exotic-sounding Marrakech Express (as far as whether the name is drawn from the train departing from Casablanca or the Crosby, Stills & Nash song, your guess is as good as mine). Described as a mixture of gin, apricot and cinnamon, it's served heavily iced in a ridiculously tall glass, with a single plump Turkish apricot perched on the rim.
When I think of apricots I think of only two things: Moroccan food and old people. My prejudice is unjust, though, as apricot cocktails have been coming into vogue recently, showing up on menus at hipster cocktail dens everywhere, and for good reason. They have an unmistakable musky flavor that pairs nicely with the herbaceous qualities of gin and the gentle warmth of cinnamon; floral, fruity, herbal and spicy combine harmoniously to make a drink that can stand on its own or make a worthy accompaniment to the complex, flavorful dishes coming out of the kitchen.
The menu here consists mainly of small plates, inherently shareable and perfect for snacking while perched on one of the ornately embroidered barstools or plush banquettes. Beef shawarma infused with warm spices come perched atop a bed of creamy, dreamy hummus, perfect for scooping up with warm pita. Merguez (spiced lamb sausage) is accompanied by fiery red harissa, and its juicy, fatty goodness is soaked up nicely by fluffy couscous adorned with chickpeas and golden raisins. The cocktails are wisely concocted to complement rather than compete with all these strong flavors.
If it comes time for an after-dinner drink, you may be tempted by the uniquely delicious-sounding Pistachio Marble, as I was. The menu description promises vanilla vodka, pistachio gelato, mint, orange blossom and a caramel swirl, but sadly all the other flavors are bullied into submission by an excess of fresh mint. One sip and I was left with that "just brushed" feeling -- not what I had in mind, but maybe not so bad after all the garlic-laden hummus I'd just consumed. My date will probably appreciate it, just as I would appreciate him leaving the fez at home next time. Bring on the fedoras and $200 jeans; this is Morocco by way of Dallas.