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!
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!
Oh my, Botanica Market & Restaurant. Where to even start?! One of my new neighborhood spots since being in LA has been this gem of a place, and it honestly couldn't be more up my alley if it tried! Seasonal vegetables, homemade baked goods, refreshing cocktails, natural wines... the list goes on and on. While the restaurant isn't vegetarian by any means, they emphasize vegetables, fruits, and grains, creating delicious, balanced, and fulfilling dishes that would satisfy anyone. I love their belief that healthy cooking doesn't have to be boring, but rather vibrant, creative, and super satisfying! You'll find tons of color and flavor on the menu at Botanica, along with a touch of Middle Eastern flair. I have yet to be disappointed in anything I've tried, and I love tasting new things each time I visit. The morning mezze offers a rotating mix of things like roasted squash hummus, roasted beet-apple radish salad with dukkah, a 6-minute egg with salsa verde, olives, and that wonderfully chewy Bub & Grandma's bread! Heaven! Most recently I got the smoked beet tartine, with fromage blanc, pickled onions & smoked beets on Bub & Grandma's bread with arugula, herbs, pistachios & puffed wild rice! So many delicious textures and flavors, and so much more exciting than a simple salad. Botanica is the perfect spot for grabbing a quick cup of coffee and pastry in the front market, as well as for a wonderfully relaxed meal on the foliage-filled back patio. Making a reservation for dinner is next on my agenda, and soon! Trust me, this is not a place to skip on your next trip to Los Angeles!
I'm all about a new ice cream shop opening in my neighborhood, especially in the summertime! I'd been excited to try Republic of Booza ever since I first saw the signage go up a block from my apartment (dangerously close??) in Brooklyn. While you may assume Republic of Booza serves good 'ol classic ice cream, the decadent, frozen treat here is technically called booza! What the heck is booza? I had the same question. The 'original' ice cream, known for its elastic texture and resistance to melting, was developed about 500 years ago in the eastern pocket of the Mediterranean, and is super common in Lebanon and Turkey. This denser, slightly chewier cousin to ice cream gets its texture thanks to two key ingredients: sahlab, or ground orchid root, and mastic, a resin found in the bark of a tree exclusive to the Greek isles. The result is a truly creamy, flavor-packed dessert, with zero air pockets to be found. The owners like to think of it as "gelato on steroids", and I couldn't agree more. Republic of Booza offers traditional Middle Eastern flavors, like qashta (candied cream) and tahini mint chip, as well as American classics likes salted oreo and chocolate, and even some globally inspired takes like horchata de chufa and red miso! I highly recommend stopping by the Williamsburg store, and trying it out for yourself. Just look how pumped my husband is in the above photo- like a kid in a candy store ;) You may even get lucky enough to watch the spectacle of the booza being made, which involves the confectioner crushing the booza with a three foot wooden pestle and then stretching it with his or her hands! You don't see that at many other ice cream parlors!
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!
Okay, y'all- I'm going to go out on a limb and say I have a new favorite restaurant in Brooklyn. Golda Kitchen is an all-day New American café with the perfect touch of Middle Eastern flavors that serves some seriously tasty breakfast and lunch fare. Local, seasonal ingredients truly shine here, but one of major highlights for me is the beautiful case of freshly baked pastries! There are tons on offer each day, and the flavor combinations are equally unique and delicious. I wanted to try one of each on my recent visit, but managed to narrow it down to a pumpkin olive oil cake with labne frosting and a plum-soaked brioche with pistachios. Glory, were they scrumptious! Our savory dishes didn't disappoint either, and I loved my charred broccoli rabe plate with sweet potato, figs & soft-boiled egg. The sandwiches are pretty impressive as well, as you can see from the photos below. Talk about a mouthful!
Click through the photos to read more about our meal, as I honestly cannot say enough good things about Golda. Really dying to try some of their other goodies as well- how good does hot chocolate with malted tahini marshmallows sound?! Or romanesco & kale moussaka with egg & flax-pinenut streusel?? Or finally, how about persimmon & gingerbread cake with rye flour, whey caramel & labne?! I'm literally obsessed with all these flavor combinations, and cannot wait to go back to Golda again soon!