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BoBo's 33
Restaurant Now Closed.
33 First Avenue
Atlantic Highlands, Monmouth County, New Jersey
(732) 872-1311

By The Artful Diner
Special to NJ.Com
June 26, 2006

In Atlantic Highlands, which is fast becoming quite the restaurant town -- Copper Canyon, Gianna's, Indigo Moon, Memphis Pig Out -- BoBo's 33 is still causing quite a stir. Proprietor James Barry, Jr., perhaps in a moment of whimsy, named his nine-month-old establishment after the late family dog. But don't be fooled; the only thing whimsical about this eatery is the name.

A granite-topped bar is at the epicenter of the interior décor, surrounded by rustic brick walls, rich mahogany woodwork, slate & wood floor, and miniature modern light fixtures suspended from the black ceiling. Two huge arched windows at the front and side add a light and airy touch to the scene. All very New York. And very chic. But it only takes one taste of the superlative cuisine to convince you that BoBo's 33 is infinitely more than just another trendy restaurant.

Chef Brad Rust, a CIA grad and alumnus of the Molly Pitcher Inn and Wilmington's excellent Restaurant 821, artfully infuses traditional Armenian/Mediterranean fare with a decidedly creative regional flair. His culinary creations are as pleasing to the eye as they are to the palate, as many of his presentations are reminiscent of the bento style, a form of Japanese take-out in which a box is divided into numerous small compartments.

And from the moment the bread hits the table, the chef's innovative energy becomes palpable. It is beautifully presented in a rectangular triptych: The left and right precincts contain arrangements of scrumptious grilled pita and sourdough; the center is adorned with herbed olive oil for dipping and topped with crisscrossed breadsticks that resemble chopsticks.

Appetizers include such illustrious representatives of Mediterranean classics as hummus ($7.00) and tabouleh ($9.00). The former -- a thick puréed amalgam of chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic -- receives a heady dose of basil and is surrounded by an armada of grilled pita triangles. The latter -- bulgur wheat infused with finely chopped scallions, tomatoes, mint, and parsley -- is formed into a square and encircled by five leaves of endive and topping of basil leaves. Both are outstanding.

Salads also make excellent starters. And the star of the show is the pulled chicken salad ($10.00), which comes replete with pulled spiced (quite mild, actually) chicken, chopped romaine, tomato, cucumber, and incredibly addictive fried chickpeas. These ingredients are then placed in a crisp Parmesan tuile bowl and tossed with a fabulously creamy Parmesan-horseradish dressing. Salad 33 ($8.00), BoBo's contemporary take on traditional Greek greenery, is also quite good. Finely chopped iceberg is imbued with meaty black olives, chunks of feta, and tossed with a zippy herb vinaigrette.

Just one additional note. Whether settled in at the bar enjoying a preprandial libation or as an appetizer at table, the assorted Mediterranean olives ($6.00) make a marvelous adjunct to your meal. They are absolutely fresh and are attractively presented surrounded by artistic squiggles of aged balsamic and topped with a sprig of basil.

Entrées -- whether meat, fish, fowl, or vegetarian -- strike a number of intriguing notes. And, in keeping with the Mediterranean/Armenian theme, kebabs are prominent: The chicken kebab ($22.00) features chunks of tender cumin- and coriander-marinated chicken breast interspersed with red, yellow & green peppers, red onion, and cherry tomatoes served on a bed of Armenian rice garnished with mango chutney; and BoBo's kebab ($35.00) headlines crisscrossed skewers of succulent medallions of swordfish and filet tenderloin on a pillow of lemon-herb couscous embellished with a heady garlic dipping sauce. Both portions are more than ample.

Among the piscatorial pleasures, the tilapia ($29.00) is a standout. Marinated and perfectly grilled, it is set on a creamy seabed of herbed crab risotto and surrounded by an extraordinarily delectable lemon-basil beurre blanc. You might also consider the pan-seared red snapper ($22.00) companioned by broccoli rabe and figs and dressed in a lemon-garlic vinaigrette, or the whole grilled branzino ($33.00) stuffed with citrus and herbs and served with sautéed spinach and herbed couscous.

Two other dishes are also worth mentioning. The first is the "Monti" ($18.00), diminutive ground lamb balls seasoned with onion & parsley and seductively sequestered in spiraled baked wontons. The bento-style pervades here: The two side compartments contain the lamb; the center, an irresistible slaw of julienne of carrots, zucchini, and yellow squash. And vegetarians would do well to sample the mixed grille ($18.00), artistically arranged segments of grilled eggplant, zucchini, and yellow squash in concert with orzo pasta and balsamic reduction.

Desserts are all worth considering. Bento holds sway once again in a presentation of chili-chocolate bread pudding, fresh peaches, and vanilla ice cream ($7.50); the chocolate dipped cheesecake garnished with chocolate sauce ($7.50) is a decadently creamy delight; and the fresh fruit cup ($8.00) is simply marvelous. For starters, all the fruit is at the peak of ripeness. Midori-marinated cantaloupe and honeydew melon balls, chunks of sweet pineappple, and blueberries reside in a delicate fried rice paper cup dusted with cinnamon and sugar; the finishing touch is a lush and luxurious crème anglaise.

And there are plenty of possibilities to assuage your thirst. A very nice selection of vintages available by the glass -- Sonoma-Cutrer "Russian River" Chardonnay ($11.00), Jekel Pinot Noir ($10.00), Pepperwood Grove Syrah ($8.00), Smoking Loon Cabernet Sauvignon ($7.00) -- highlights the first-rate wine list. BoBo's also features an extraordinary array of fine vodkas, as well as an interesting assortment of foreign and domestic brews.

Trendy and stylish are the two words that best describe BoBo's 33. But this is more than just another pretty face. The kitchen delivers the goods, as does the energetic wait staff. It surely deserves a prominent place on your future dining agenda.

Cuisine: Mediterranean/Armenian
Hours: Dinner: Mon - Thurs, 5:00 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.; Fri & Sat, 5:00 p.m. - 10:30 p.m.; CLOSED SUNDAY
Credit Cards: All major
Attire: Smart Casual
Reservations: Recommended; especially on weekends
Parking: Ample street parking
Alcohol: License
Price: Moderate/Expensive
Handicapped Accessible: Yes

Web Site: www.bobos33.com

The Artful Diner is an independent, freelance food writer.  His latest review and an archive of past reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this site on the REVIEWS page.

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