Although it’s not hard to find respectable falafel and hummus here, Los Angeles is about to get a quick infusion of the nouveau Middle Eastern and Israeli cooking trend when celebrated New York City-based chef Einat Admony swoops into town next week.
Known for her family of restaurants scattered around downtown Manhattan — Balaboosta, two Taïm falafel and smoothie bar locations, and the newer Bar Bolonat — Admony, along with her husband and business partner, Stefan Nafziger, will set up shop for a series of four dinners at Fred Segal Mauro Café on Melrose Avenue at Crescent Heights Boulevard.
“I always look for new challenges and new fun stuff to do,” Admony explained during a phone interview about her motivation to head West for the dinners, which will take place on May 27, 28, 29 and 31.
Contrary to what friends predicted, Admony is a big fan of Los Angeles.
“People always told me I would hate it, but I love it! I try to be there at least two or three times a year,” she said.
She was most recently in L.A. late last year to promote her cookbook, “Balaboosta.” During the visit, Admony appeared on the “Good Food” radio show with Evan Kleiman on KCRW, hosted a pop-up dinner at Urban Radish boutique grocery store downtown and cooked for a group in a private home.
In addition to spending time with her network of friends here, she said, “I think the food scene is getting better and better, and there are a lot of great places to eat now.” She counts Venice hot spot Gjelina and chef Ori Menashe’s continually packed downtown Arts District Italian eatery Bestia among her favorite L.A. restaurants.
Admony was brought up in Israel with a mother who emigrated from Iran and a father from Yemen, which deeply influences her eclectic, contemporary take on Middle Eastern and Mediterranean culinary traditions. She likes to say that she holds Shabbat dinner “at home every Friday with a million people.” (Despite her Sephardic roots, she opted for an overtly Yiddish term meaning “perfect housewife,” for her restaurant and cookbook.) The pop-up series, therefore, will take a one-night hiatus so she and her family can observe Shabbat. Admony and Nafziger, who live in Brooklyn, will bring their two children, ages 5 and 8, to make the West Coast jaunt both a working trip and family vacation.
As for the dinner, Admony plans to showcase her signature dishes from her popular New York City restaurants, highlight recipes published in “Balaboosta” and take advantage of the opportunity to cook with certain peak-season local ingredients. After this past long, harsh winter, Admony is extra eager to see what’s available in L.A. markets.
“It’s so different than New York,” she noted. “If you want to go by season — and that is what I do at Balaboosta and Bar Bolonat — we basically had root vegetables until two weeks ago,” when spring onions began to appear at greenmarket vendor stalls.
The meal likely will kick off with pomegranate rose sangria, a beverage that reflects her approach to ingredients as well as her cultural heritage. Guests will be served four appetizers presented family-style. Those will be two vegetarian dishes, along with Balaboosta favorites shredded phyllo dough-wrapped shrimp kataïf with Japanese flying fish roe tobiko sauce (with a kosher alternative option), and fluke ceviche with fennel, strawberry and pistachio. Artichokes are in season, so one of the appetizers will be artichoke heart with za’atar and chili chimichurri.
Adobo-rubbed skirt steak with charred tomato, spring onions and cherry tomato vinaigrette will be available as an entrée choice. The fish main course dish will be “a Moroccan-style fish presented more in the high-end [style],” she said. Malabi, a Middle Eastern pudding, or chocolate mousse in a hazelnut crust will conclude dinner.
Tickets are $90, not including beverages, taxes and gratuity.
Might this venture trip be a toe-dip to test the waters to expand the Taïm-Balaboosta-Bar Bolonat restaurant family to Southern California? After all, the latest Middle Eastern gastronomic wave, recently featured in an article in The New York Times, appears to be gaining some momentum in Los Angeles.
Brooklyn chef Sara Kramer, for example, recently announced her plans to leave her hometown to open a falafel shop and Middle Eastern restaurant in L.A. And Bestia’s Menashe, who was born in Los Angeles of Georgian and Moroccan ancestry and mostly raised in Israel, is looking to bring his twist on Middle Eastern food to the Arts District with a new restaurant. Meanwhile, the casual Canteen Grill, specializing in Israeli street food, is a fresh addition to Melrose Avenue a few blocks east of Fairfax. (Although the fact that Mezze closed leaves a gap.)
“I don’t think I’m ready, but I’d love to see how people react to my food and connect to the flavors,” Admony said.
Although the menu is mostly set, the quick-talking chef is open to letting inspiration strike when she gets here.
“If I fall in love with something, they’ll get a fifth appetizer,” Admony teased.
Fluke Ceviche with Strawberries, Fennel, & Pistachio
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 pound skinless fluke filet, cut into small cubes
2 tablespoons finely chopped strawberry
2 tablespoons very thinly shaved fennel
2 tablespoons finely chopped red onions
1/2 small jalapeño chile, cored, seeded, and finely chopped
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
Toasted pistachios, coarsely chopped
Mix together the lime juice, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Toss with the fish to combine thoroughly. Then add the strawberries, fennel, red onion, jalapeño and cilantro. For a fancy presentation, use a ring mold or large round cookie cutter to form the ceviche into a nice circular shape, then top with toasted pistachios and microgreens.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
For tickets, please visit http://balaboosta-mauros.brownpapertickets.com/