The Other Critics: Wells Gives 2 Stars to the River Café; Richman Reviews Bar Bolonat

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The Japanese eggplant's a hit. Photo: Melissa Hom

This week, the Underground Gourmet recommended unique summer treats across the city. Elsewhere around town, Ryan Sutton dropped a single star on Gato, and Pete Wells fell back in love with the River Café. All that and more ahead.

The River Café is back in business following damage from Hurricane Sandy, and Pete Wells couldn't be happier. In his two-star review of the waterfront restaurant, he singled out the rack of lamb with mint jelly and mustard seeds, the shrimp Oscar with blood-orange hollandaise, and the lavender-and-dried-chili-dusted roast duck. Dessert could use some enhancements, and fried oysters suffered from aggressive breading, but Wells notes that he'll "always regret that it's time to come back to the mainland."

Ryan Sutton gave Gato a blistering one-star (out of four) review this week. While the softshell crab and ramp crostini were uniquely delicious, everything else on Bobby Flay's menu fell short of the mark. Dishes are served with a propensity for sweetness, and not in a good way. The pork porterhouse lacked any sort of meat flavor, and Flay's tarragon chicken "tasted like what happens if you cooked the bird by leaving it out in the sun for a few days."

Alan Richman paid Bar Bolonat a visit, and greatly enjoyed Einat Admony's Israeli-Mediterranean cuisine. He loved the Japanese eggplant with sheep's yogurt and aleppo-pepper vinaigrette, a firm and sweet dish worth its $11 price tag. While the grilled baby artichokes were a misfire, the poussin (best if shared) and the beef kibbeh make it worth a trip. Two stars.

The New Yorker sent Shauna Lyon to Navy this week, where she found the food enjoyable but uneven. She recommends lunch over dinner. The fresh raw greens liven up any dish they're on, and the skirt steak with potatoes (creamy and crunchy) was a treat, as was the crispy-skinned tarragon chicken. If you stay for dessert, turn your eyes towards the simple baked pear with yogurt and granola.

Over at the New York Observer, Joshua David Stein reviewed the Upper West Side's Bustan. He gave it a full five out of five stars, paying close attention to its alluring brunch menu (especially the shakshuka, a Libyan baked egg dish) and the "life-affirming loaf of taboon-baked bread." The branzino is impeccably fresh, its skin crispy and tender at the same time. Bustan's hummus is unparalleled, Stein claims, earthy and refreshing, a taste "like the promised land."

Zachary Feldman also made a trip to Gato this week, but he was more effusive in his praise than Sutton. He thought the softshell-crab crostini and the octopus in tangerine sauce were standouts, and especially enjoyed the crusty soccorat at the bottom of Flay's kale-and-mushroom paella.

Steve Cuozzo also reviewed Bustan, giving it two and a half stars out of four. He thought the flatbreads were a noticeable weak link, but the charred octopus and the Middle Eastern potpie with lamb were standouts, the latter "fervently spiced." Halvah makes its mandatory dessert appearance in the silan, a sundae layered with puffed rice and hazelnuts. It's a decadent way to end the meal.