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!
One restaurant opening I was pretty bummed to miss while in LA was Dez, a fast-casual Middle Eastern spot in Nolita. Specializing in vegetable mezes, chef-crafted salads, bowls, and pita sandwiches, plus a a seasonal soft serve as well as housemade baked goods, this place is basically my ideal restaurant. Not to mention it was opened by one of my fave people to follow on Instagram, and fellow Brooklynite, @EdenEats (go follow her if you don't already- trust). No surprise then, that I put Dez at the top of my priority list on a recent trip to New York. I brought along my favorite eating partner, my husband Derek, and we had the perfect Middle Eastern lunch feast in the dez. I'm a huge fan of their bright and colorful mezes, vegetable-focused small plates best enjoyed with their freshly baked pita. The heavenly mix of flavors and textures did not disappoint- from the fire roasted cauliflower with crispy capers and currant chimichurri, to the honey and harissa roasted carrots with dukkah, I don't think I could pick a favorite if I tried! Derek throughly enjoyed his shawarma burger, complete with its giant shard of crispy eggplant sticking out the top! We were somehow too full for dessert (who even am I?), but I def need to get back to try their soft serve and baked goods soon. And brunch too? Sign me up!
I'll just come right out and say it- I'm obsessed with Lodge Bread Company. This bakery and café in west LA focuses on whole grain sourdough bread baking, freshly milled flours, and wood-fired pizzas, and truly impresses in all ways, if you ask me. Every day, Lodge Bread churns out some seriously delish and hearty bread, unique pastries, and both Neapolitan & pan pizzas, not to mention some tasty wood-fired veggie dishes as well. It's truly everything I want in a meal- carbs and sweets! I'd been eyeing the (gigantic!) sourdough cinnamon roll ever since I first saw it on Instagram, and finally indulged on my most recent visit. It's not overly sweet, thanks to a lighter, whipped frosting and that hearty whole grain sourdough, but utterly delicious with the perfect amount of cinnamon flavor! Next on my must-try list is the babka!
I've now gotten to try a good variety of things from the menu, and have yet to be disappointed. Upon first entering the bakery, after checking out the bakers handling the dough with such care , you'll find the beautiful array of pastries baked fresh that day. I highly recommend trying a couple (or five). Other than the cinnamon roll, the pine nut blondie and the carrot olive oil cake are to die for! The wood-fired cauliflower with pickled raisins & chermoula is just bursting with flavor, as are the roasted beets with chicories, cara cara oranges, labne & pepitas. You can't come to Lodge without ordering pizza. Trust me, just do it. My pan pizza was thick and chewy, almost like a slightly crusty sourdough focaccia, piled high with roasted veggies. Our sweet pea pie was the perfect seasonal treat, topped with snap peas, pea tendrils, green garlic & ricotta! I'm now drooling again just thinking about this meal, so looks like a return trip is in my very near future!
The latest restaurant in the abc line up from Jean Georges is abcV, a plant-based eatery with a focus on sustainable and organic ingredients. Everything on the menu is vegetarian, and most of it is vegan, or can easily be made so. I got the chance to dine at abcV with my vegan bestie, and we ordered a bunch of dishes to share so as to try as much as possible! Highlights for me included the pine nut and lemon dip with harissa and dried apricots- such a unique and flavorful take on hummus! The stone ground nut and seed butter layered underneath roasted carrots created the perfect sweet and savory dish, and its richness was cut nicely by chilies and lime. As I'm obsessed with all things tahini, it was no surprise I loved the roasted cauliflower drizzled in turmeric tahini and topped with crunchy pistachios! Yum!
Plenty of other dishes tempted our tastebuds as well, however, we were getting full! If you can believe it, we didn't even have room for dessert, so reluctantly skipped this part of the meal. I know- who even am I? Next time for sure though, as I recall absolutely loving the salted caramel ice cream sundae with candied peanuts and popcorn from abc kitchen! I'm also looking forward to returning for brunch soon, as the creative brunch bowls and dosas sound super delish. Be sure to click through the photos to see descriptions of each dish, and definitely make a reservation at abcV stat!
For a casual, Middle Eastern lunch in Williamsburg, Samesa is where it's at. This tiny spot, inspired by a hole-in-the-wall falafel joint, offers a some seriously colorful, vibrant, and flavorful food. Both meat and veggie options abound, and I always tend to start with some of their freshly baked pumpernickel pita and housemade dips. The carrot romesco with urfa biber and roasted beet with sumac dips are both faves of mine, but you really can't go wrong with any of them. The mezze plate above makes for a legit lunch in itself, and involves beet-pickled eggs along with the chef's choice of various dips, salads, and other pickled goodies- so delish! Fresh dishes like the raw squash and zucchini salad with smoky eggplant purée make for a light and healthy option, while the braised lamb and chickpea sandwich is the perfect choice for the meat-eaters. Samesa also makes some pretty tasty and unique smoothies- the tahini date with coconut & cinnamon tastes like a creamy milkshake, but is actually vegan! As you can see, there's truly something for everyone, and I highly recommend you check it out, stat!