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Bula World Cuisine
Restaurant Closed - Chef Boyle opened Salt: A Gastropub
134 Spring Street
Newton, Sussex County, New Jersey
(973) 579-7338

By The Artful Diner
June 30, 2008

As many dedicated foodies are undoubtedly aware, Bula World Cuisine was originally owned by Bradley & Laurie Boyle, who later sold the restaurant and moved down Route 206 to open Salt: A Gastropub in Byram. Fortunately, under the proprietorship of Jackie & Ed Conrey, Bula is back on the culinary radar screen.

And the restaurant remains as "funky" as ever -- in the best sense of the word -- still looking like it would be infinitely more at home in Greenwich Village rather than tucked away on the quiet main drag of the Sussex County seat. And I think that the current owners were wise enough not to mess with success, as the eclectic décor, Saturday night live jazz, and the globe-trotting cuisine emanating from the bustling open kitchen have remained quite similar to Bula's previous incarnation.

Chris Priest is now the power behind the stove, and not only has he recreated a number of Mr. Boyle's original outstanding recipes, but also added some intriguing culinary wrinkles of his own. And, also like his predecessor, Mr. Priest has been extremely judicious in mapping out his ports of call. The menu remains compact, selective, and discriminating... as do his choice of ingredients. There's just enough going on to engage the eye and the palate without overwhelming them.

One of my favorite appetizers from the previous administration, the Gorgonzola crisp ($8.00), thankfully, has been reincarnated. Perfectly grilled tortilla triangles are crowned with melted Gorgonzola cheese and sweet onion jam. These, in turn, are set on a pillow of olive salad. The presentation is simple yet seductive, completely engaging the diner's senses in a delicious interplay of colors, tastes, and textures.

Another first-rate makeover is the "Westpark Salad" ($8.00; with chicken, $13.00; with steak or shrimp, $14.00). Pristinely fresh and obviously freshly tossed baby greens are adorned with a tiara of julienne apples and sprinkling of pecans & crumbled bleu cheese. The only variation from the original recipe is the addition of a subtle bleu cheese vinaigrette rather than the inceptive Champagne vinaigrette.

The Asian pot stickers ($6.00) also have a great deal to offer. The texture of the four diminutive dumplings is just right -- silky but still firm to the bite -- and the interior consists of morsels of pan seared chicken and tender vegetables. Consummatory touches include a splash of Asian spices and an exotic pineapple-ponzu sauce.

Entrées, of course, have their own cosmopolitan rewards. The Kingston scallops ($24.00) are beautifully pan seared, rich and meaty, and are set on a seabed of baby spinach and accompanied by smoky lardons and an evocative Jamaican lime butter. And the Balbriggan salmon ($24.00) -- named after a small town in north county Dublin, Ireland -- is yet another treat for seafood lovers. The filet is encrusted with crumbles of pecans, pan seared to a golden brown, and finds an intriguing point/counterpoint in a sauce of sweet malt vinegar, wilted baby spinach, and delightfully creamy Parmesan asparagus risotto.

At the carnivorous end of the spectrum, I found the Louisiana strip ($22.00) to be immensely flavorful but still remarkably tender. The steak was cooked to a perfect compromise between medium and medium rare with Creole spices providing just enough heat to tease the palate. Lusciously lumpy garlic mashed potatoes proved a most suitable accompaniment... ditto freshly sautéed yellow & zucchini squash enlivened with strips of red pepper.

In the pasta department, the angel hair is teamed with spring tomato, seasonal vegetables, toasted pignoli nuts, and gently tossed with garlic and olive oil ($13.00; with chicken, $18.00; with shrimp, $19.00). The Bula gnocchi ($13.00; with chicken, $18.00; with shrimp, $19.00) is companioned by fresh asparagus and a sensuous roasted pepper basil cream sauce and tiara of pristinely crunchy crustaceans. Both are highly recommended.

Even the lowly fowl is an unmitigated treat. The "Chicken la Bampa" ($17.00) is a boneless breast embraced by a golden brown spicy cornmeal crust and embellished with a fresh tomato salsa and fiery hot sauce. Once again, as with the aforementioned Louisiana strip, the spice is applied judiciously; there's just enough heat to hold your interest without causing any permanent peristaltic damage.

There is absolutely no question that appetizers and entrées are very good across the board; they demonstrate considerable care in both preparation and presentation. Desserts, however, are something of a low point. Only the chocolate cake ($6.00 and the cheesecake ($5.00) are made in-house, the former was certainly acceptable, but the latter was exceedingly dense; not exactly as hard as a rock, but close enough to give one pause.

Service is also something of an issue. Leon, our server at lunch was personable, enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and basically right on the case. But the young woman who took care of us one evening seemed a bit out of it. And this was somewhat difficult to fathom, especially since she mentioned that she had worked at the restaurant during its previous incarnation. Maybe it was just an off night.

My overall opinion of Bula? Desserts notwithstanding, I freely confess that I remain a loyal and devoted fan. Kudos to proprietors Jackie & Ed Conrey and executive chef Chris Priest. The administration may have changed, but this restaurant remains as recommendable as ever.

Cuisine: Global
Hours: Lunch: Tues - Sat, 11:30 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.; Dinner, Tues - Thurs, 5:30 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.; Fri & Sat, 5:30 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.; CLOSED SUNDAY & MONDAY
Credit Cards: MC, V
Attire: Casual
Reservations: Recommended for dinner on weekends
Parking: Street parking; nearby municipal lots
Alcohol: BYOB
Price: Moderate
Handicapped Accessible: Yes
Website: www.bula-restaurant.com

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