As children, when Sotir Zonea and his brother Vasile went to their grandmother's house after school, they were greeted not only with a loving embrace but also a spread of snacks pulled from whatever happened to be on hand. It's that kind of relaxed and casual feeling the brothers hope to create with their new restaurant, Bea, which opened on 43rd Street at Ninth Avenue just over a week ago. The restaurant inhabits the former La Madeleine, a 29-year-old establishment that closed in 2008; since they took over the space, the brothers have made changes like the addition of a gorgeous, square bar. They kept other fixtures, like the charming all-weather garden, complete with a beautiful, 37-year-old tree that was planted in the ground (there's no basement) by building owner—and real estate mogul—Douglas Durst for his daughter.
To facilitate merriment, Bea employed mixologist Jason Walsh to design an exhaustive cocktail list that employs a variety of spirits, herbs and syrups in over 20 different cocktails. Of the drinks Walsh offered us, favorites included the herbaceous, bitter Grannies Nightcap (rye, vermouth, Fernet Branca, Drambui and lemon oils) and The Gypsy Lord (aged rum, pomegranate syrup, lime juice and angostura bitters). The latter, served in a julep cup, features crushed ice from the bar's two vintage, hand-cranked ice grinders, which are as functional as they are fun to watch. A literal taste of Romania makes an appearance at Bea in the form of visnat, a sour cherry liquor that the Zonea brother's father makes from grain alcohol. It's a potent sip, with a flavor reminiscent of sherry, that'll put you on your ass before you know it.
The food menu by chef Anunya Clarke represents the eclectic backgrounds of the proprietors as well as the chef's experience cooking around the globe. Order the Lamb Meatballs ($12) in a bright, savory tomato gravy topped with tangy yogurt sauce and some pita or one of the pizzas for a small bite. The Steak & Tomatoes ($20), with rosemary potato wedges, or the Green Pasta ($16) with marinated shrimp would stand in for a more robust meal. They don't have a dessert menu—though substituting something sweet for a cocktail usually isn't a bad idea—but the house-made ricotta offers a fine substitute: it's airy and almost sweet, topped with a rosemary honey and just enough sea salt to remind the palate it's eating cheese.
403 W. 43rd Street, (212) 602-1910; Open seven days a week from 5 p.m. to 4 a.m.