bavel

baba ganoush // smoked eggplant, charred bell peppers, red walnuts, lemon chili salt, fried pita

One of my most memorable dining experiences of 2018 was at Bavel in Downtown Los Angeles. That may have been partly because it was a celebratory dinner (our wedding anniversary!) with my husband, but in all honesty the food and atmosphere stole the show. Offering a similar chic, downtown vibe to their previous hit, Bestia, chefs Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis truly blew us away with this Middle Eastern gem. Both chefs have family roots in Israel, Morocco, Turkey, and Egypt, which is evidently clear in their dedication to creating inspired, yet traditional, flavors. I absolutely loved the mix of fresh ingredients and slow cooking techniques, as well as the variety of flatbreads and spreads, veggie-focused small plates, and larger format meat and fish dishes. Carbs with dips are always a highlight for me, and the delicately fried pita served with smoky babaganoush was divine. I’d heard from multiple people that we just HAD to order the slow roasted lamb neck shawarma, and being the dutiful diners we are, that is just what we did. Just wow. The lamb was fork tender and literally melted in your mouth, and I couldn’t stop creating the perfect bite with a bit of lamb, tahini, and pickled veggies all wrapped up in the chewy laffa. By the way, the sommelier was super helpful in guiding us toward a full bodied, yet well-balanced biodynamic wine to pair with dinner. I loved the giant jug it was decanted in too! Never one to skip dessert, even after being extremely full, we went for the roasted fig tart. The baharat spiced semolina crust was super unique and nicely complemented by the brown butter cream. What a sweet treat and perfect ending to a truly memorable meal. Both my husband and I are plotting a return trip soon!

slow roasted lamb neck shawarma // tahini, pickled vegetables, laffa


mh zh

Mh Zh had been on my list of places to try in LA since before we ever came here, and it's pretty obvious why. It checks off all the boxes of what I want in a dining experience- Middle Eastern flavors, great bread, wood-fired veggies, lamb, & fish, and outdoor seating! All ideal things in my book. The only thing missing is a great bottle of wine to pair with such delicious food! (They used to be BYOB & are currently working on their liquor license). The space itself is quite small and doesn't take reservations, so we hadn't ventured over for dinner until recently, and wow, I'm so glad we finally did! The whole experience is very "Silver Lake"- with brown paper table cloths, silverware in a jar, and menus casually written on paper bags, all happening right on a cute little corner of Sunset Blvd. But trust me, the food couldn't be further from that boring, cookie-cutter fare you'll find elsewhere.

If you're feeling super hungry or with a group, I highly recommend you "fire menu", which is essentially ordering everything on the limited menu, and makes for a great smorgasburg of shared plates. My husband and I ordered a la carte, and still managed to try a wonderful assortment of dishes, many straight out of their Josper oven. Anything served with Bub & Grandma's bread, which is stocked at many popular restaurants in LA, is always a highlight, so we dove right into it with bowls of tehina and ful . Mh Zh's ful is a white bean stew of sorts, and comes laced with schug, a super flavorful Israeli hot sauce packed with green herbs and garlic. Yum. The grilled beets seemed so simple, but the depth of flavor involved was truly remarkable, and we both consider them some of the best we've ever eaten! The nightly special was lamb chops, which we love and naturally felt obligated to order. They were so juicy, and paired nicely with a creamy, herby chimichurri sauce, and the whole branzino was cooked to perfection in the Josper oven! I already cannot wait to go back, and considering how close I live, there's no excuse!


kismet

Kismet was the restaurant I was most looking forward to trying once I knew we were coming to Los Angeles. This all-day café is totally up my alley- the menu reimagines Middle Eastern flavors for modern-day California cuisine- so basically everything I want in a meal. Before relocating to LA, chefs Sara Kramer and Sarah Hymanson helmed the kitchen at Glasserie in Brooklyn, which is one of my husband's and my absolute favorite spots, so we had pretty high hopes for our meal at Kismet. I can say we thoroughly enjoyed the food, and although there are some similarities to Glasserie in that they both have Middle Eastern influence, Kismet is its own delicious beast. I love their focus on using small, responsible growers, and how much they value creating personal relationships with the farmers and producers. This passion really comes through in the food, as every dish really allowed the ingredients to shine.

My husband and I met another couple for dinner, so we luckily got to try a ton of different things, and honestly it would be hard for me to pick a favorite. The barbari bread by bub & grandmas was nicely doughy and chewy, but got even better when dunked into their super creamy tahini. Kismet creates some really flavorful combinations, like sweet potato with puffed rice and coconut vinaigrette, as well as kabocha squash with peanut and aleppo pepper, and I truly enjoyed all the unique flavors. Scroll through the slideshow to get details on all twelve (!) of our delicious dishes. I'm dying to return for brunch or lunch, as the Turkish-ish breakfast and broccoli toast are absolutely calling my name! The Kismet team also opened a more fast-casual falafel joint called Madcapra, so looks like I'll have to stop by Grand Central Market for lunch too!


nomad

Food always plays a big role in any vacation we take- I might even go as far to say we plan trips around eating (perks of being a #chefswife)! On our recent travels to Portugal and Morocco, I have to admit I was most looking forward to the food in Marrakech! After doing some research on local spots in the Medina, I knew I definitely wanted to visit Nomad. The restaurant serves simple, modern Moroccan cuisine with a focus on fresh, local produce. I loved their updated take on traditional dishes, as well as global dishes infused with a Moroccan twist. There's truly something for everyone here, with plenty of options for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike!

Nomad opened a few years ago in an old carpet store just off the famed place de épices, and has a lovely rooftop terrace overlooking the square. You can even see the beautiful Atlas Mountain range during certain times of the year! My husband and I sat outside for lunch and enjoyed a truly fresh and flavorful meal- what a wonderful start to our trip it was! The lamb tagine with prunes and spices and the Moroccan affogato (I got mine with sweet pumpkin & saffron ice cream!) were highlights for me, but everything we ate really impressed us to be honest. Click through the photos for more details of each tasty dish. It was hard not to come back to Nomad for all our meals after this one, but we knew we wanted to see more of what Marrakech had to offer. I will definitely be back on my next trip, as I still think fondly of our perfect al fresco lunch!


nur

 
 

I love when I get the opportunity to dine at a new hotspot before it gets reviewed by the New York Times restaurant critic. When Pete Wells' review of a particular place is overwhelmingly positive, as was the case for Nur, reservations can become extremely hard to come by going forward. Luckily, I got to experience a deliciously unique meal at Nur with my husband and in-laws a few weeks before the two star review was published. I'd heard such great things about this new Middle Eastern restaurant, not to mention drooled over all the Instagram-worthy food pics, that I immediately booked a table when I found out we were going to be entertaining family.

The cuisine at Nur is influenced by the vibrant flavors of the Middle East, but with a modern twist, giving it that bold edge that's perfect for New York City. I love that the chef plays around with the classics, and can draw from both street food and fine dining dishes to create a truly memorable meal. Some highlights for me included the buzzed about Jerusalem sesame bagel and smoked eggplant carpaccio, which are delicious paired together as well, by the way. The date doughnuts, despite sounding like a delectable dessert, were perfectly savory and just bursting with caramelized flavor. Lamb is typically my preferred meat of choice (I find it even tastier with Middle Eastern flavors and spices), and in my opinion, there's not much better than freshly baked bread. Enter the Horias, lamb kebabs that are actually grilled inside a pita, with eggplant and pine nuts. I could really go on an on, as all the seafood entrées were delicious as well. Not one to skimp on dessert, especially when I knew they would be as delicious as they were creative, I decided to order two! Cardamom chocolate and halva rocks, crispy Jerusalem artichokes, smoked yogurt ice cream, amarena cherries, and candied pistachios were all involved, just to give you an idea... Click through the slideshow to read more about all the creative dishes! Nur is one to add to your must-try list immediately- just try to plan ahead and book a table beforehand if possible!


juniper & ivy

 
 

I haven't spent a ton of time in San Diego (to my dismay), but on a recent trip to the west coast, I got the opportunity to dine with good friends at Juniper & Ivy. Chef Richard Blais, best known for winning Top Chef All-Stars, whips up "refined American food with left coast edge", bringing his super fresh and creative approach to the kitchen. Just reading over the menu, you'll notice inspiration from several different global cuisines, including Asian, Italian, and Moroccan, to name a few. The four of us shared everything, and we were continually impressed with the balance and depth of flavors, dish after dish. The BBQ carrots were cooked perfectly, and I loved the jalapeño chimichurri underneath! While I'm typically not one to order pasta, this corn carbonara (with housemade coriander bucatini pasta!) was one of the best I've ever had. The runny duck egg was such a nice accompaniment. The Moroccan flavor profile of the lamb shank, with its harissa eggplant, black garlic hummus, and date jus, was totally up my alley. Dessert is always a highlight for me, and the two we ordered were so unique and tasty. I loved their take on an "almond joy" candy bar, with a light pavlova shell surrounding coconut sorbet, soft chocolate, and marcona almonds. The blueberry sorbet, served with corn semifreddo, semolina cake, and crunchy lovage meringue, was the perfect balance of sweet and savory. Scroll through the slideshow to see more details about our delicious and satisfying meal. I'm dying to return the next time I'm in San Diego, as there were several other enticing menu items as well!