The past two years in the U.S., and especially in New York, have brought something of a takeover by Israeli food: Alon Shaya won a James Beard award for his NOLA eatery Shaya, Michael Solomonov won a James Beard award for his cookbook, Zahav, Breads Bakery dominated everyone’s favorite list for its renowned babka and rugelach —and shakshuka appeared on brunch menus far and wide.
But the invasion isn’t over yet: A new Middle Eastern restaurant called Nur is opening in New York City with chef Meir Adoni, well known in Israel for his “Chef’s Games” TV show and popular restaurants, and Gadi Peleg, co-founder of Breads Bakery.
If you’re thinking freshly baked pita and tabbouleh salad, think again: There’s no hummus, pita or shawarma on the menu. Instead you will find Adoni’s unique and modern take on Middle Eastern food, highlighting the diversity of Israel and the region while using many local, New York ingredients.
Adoni explained, “Israel is a young country of immigrants that brings so much food culture — Moroccan, Iraqi, Palestinian, Libyan. We want to introduce the many influences of our regional food to New Yorkers, beyond the hummus and pita that they already love.”
I had the chance to sample a few of the dishes this week, and I can say it was unlike anything I had tasted before: Jerusalem bagels (baked fresh at Breads Bakery) served with lima bean masbucha (a condiment made with pureed lima beans), smoked trout and date donuts served with curry citrus vinaigrette, and Adoni’s signature Palestinian tartare crafted lovingly with smoked eggplant, grated tomato, yogurt and tahini. Adoni serves the dish at his restaurants in Israel as well, and shared that it took him 15 years to perfect the dish, which he learned from his Palestinian staff and their mothers who took the time to teach him.
A statement I hear repeatedly from Israeli chefs and food writers is that Israeli food is still very much in the process of defining itself. Adoni concurred, “Only now are we building our culinary language as a part of the Middle East.” With the migration of Israeli food throughout America, I look forward to seeing how American and Israeli cuisines will continue to influence one another.
In the meantime, if you’re in New York soon, head to Nur, order one of everything (the menu is intended to be family-style sharing) and stay for dessert too. The desserts are as inventive, beautiful and delicious as everything else on the menu. And if you don’t eat meat or shellfish fear not because all their sauces and stocks are completely vegetarian.