Restaurant Week is upon us! It’s your semiannual shot at climbing into the City’s swankest restaurants through the backdoor–you best hurry to make those reservations before your time runs out next Friday. Surveying the offerings, Bwog freelancer Bari Weiss takes us to Bolo, the Spanish sensation run by that guy you may have seen on TV.

flayI must admit, I don’t get Bobby Flay’s appeal.  As an avid Iron Chef America enthusiast, Flay always struck me as awkward in front of the camera, at times even coming off as irritated.  For his fans, this is precisely Flay’s allure; his awkwardness is charming, his irritation is edgy, his furrowed brow evidence of the ingenious recipes marinating in his head.

But what most of us know of Flay is just branding.  And though image seems increasingly important in the world of food, chefs still earn their reputations with what comes out of the kitchen.  Flay may not have been able to woo me with any of his four shows on the Food Network—but could he win me over with the recipes that have won him high praise?  I set off for Bolo (23 East 22nd Street), a participant in this year’s Restaurant Week, to try some of the food that earned the joint a rare three stars from the New York Times.

Bolo calls itself contemporary Spanish cuisine and gets its name not from the tie or the hat, but from its two partners: Bobby Flay (“Bo”) and Laurence Kretchmer (“Lo”). Unlike similarly priced bistros, it doesn’t take itself too seriously.  Excellent service creates a warm atmosphere, even as the Picasso-esque wallpaper feels a bit dizzying (perhaps “eclectic” and “fun” in interior design-speak, but strikingly similar to the mass-produced collage paper swathing your neighborhood Starbucks).

The night started off with four tapas ($16), which we added to the three-course prix-fixe menu.  My partner in gluttony enjoyed the sautéed squid and bacon with garlic oil, (“subtle”), but was underwhelmed by the crispy frog leg with mint and garlic, mostly because they seemed to have run out of fresh mint, inadequately replaced by dried chives.  I enjoyed my salt cod fritter with parsley garlic sauce (you can’t go wrong with fried fish), but it paled in comparison to our favorite tapas of the night: a twelve-layer potato with caramelized shallots that literally melted in my mouth.

The most memorable course of the night, anticlimactically, was the appetizer.  A simple presentation of chick peas, cucumbers, red beans, crispy bread chips, and Spanish farmer’s cheese belied a zing of wasabi dressing at the end of each bite—straightforward and refreshing.  But the star of the meal, beautifully presented, was the salmon tartare.  Served on top of a crisp polenta cake, red pepper pesto and lemon chive oil made the fish really pop, with just enough capers to let you know.

On to the main course: roasted cauliflower risotto with caramelized shallots, charred tomato vinaigrette, and fresh thyme, loaded with cheese, was gourmet comfort food—but too rich for an entire course. We also tried the grouper—roasted in parchment paper with mint, parsley, and anchovy butter—with a side of sautéed spinach.  The grouper was cooked perfectly, but as before suffered from a lack of mint…and I could have found more inspired spinach in EC on a Friday night.

Chocolate, port and vanilla flan rescued us from the limp greens.

If you survive the year on soggy sandwiches from 212, Flay’s food will probably taste like ambrosia.  But if you love the Iron Chef and love good food, Mario Batali will flay Flay every time: his significantly more affordable Otto is, like Batali himself, delightful.

Restaurant Week continues through the 26th, and picks up again from January 29thnd.  Lunches are $24.07; dinners $35. until February 2

For a list of participating restaurants, click here.