Bavel’s elevated middle eastern cuisine
Shortly after Ori Menashe opened Bestia, his phenomenally popular Italian restaurant in Downtown Los Angeles, he had the idea to create a Middle Eastern spot where he would serve the food he grew up eating in Israel and cooks for his friends and family at home. Now, after nearly five years of twists and false starts, he and his wife, pastry chef Genevieve Gergis, have opened Bavel, a sun-splashed restaurant in a former warehouse at the foot of the Fourth Street bridge in Los Angeles. It’s perfect timing: The city is in the midst of a Middle Eastern culinary movement, as evidenced by a flurry of ambitious new restaurants such as Kismet, Mh Zh and Jaffa. “Obviously there are the flavors, but Middle Eastern food is very festive, too,” Menashe says, explaining the surge. “We put the food in the middle of the table—it’s not one for you and one for me—and it’s like a gathering, with all these people sitting together and sharing.”
As he does at Bestia, Menashe takes a freely creative approach with the classics—but labors over getting the foundations right. His hummus is lusciously silky (the secret: tiny garbanzos imported from Andalusia contribute smoothness, and sweet, stone-ground tahini from Palestine cuts bitterness), and served with spicy duck nduja or green and red chili pastes. It is among an array of delicious spreads, flatbreads and appetizers from which you can assemble a festive meal. More substantial dishes, such as a succulent beef cheek tagine, lightened up by pickling the beef before braising, are made for the center of the table and often include Menashe’s impossibly fine, handmade couscous. Across the board, spices are intense—drawn from the traditions of Turkish, Egyptian, Moroccan and Israeli cooking—but also nuanced and balanced with fresh mint and other herbs. The wine list, by beverage director and natural-wine guru Ryan Ibsen, features unusual selections from regions around the Mediterranean and California. As a nice touch, many are decanted into pretty glass jugs Ibsen found in Tripoli, Lebanon.
While Menashe’s menu is rooted in tradition, Gergis’ beguiling sweets are pure fantasy. “They don’t really do plated desserts in the Middle East,” she explains. “That forced me to be creative.” Her pillowy, barely sweet chocolate doughnuts are fragrant with cloves and rose-scented sugar, and served with a bowl of sherry-tinged cream. The licorice root bonbon, made with ground root from Afghanistan, arrives as an unadorned puck that reveals layers of licorice ice cream, muscovado cake and caramelized white chocolate, all set off by slightly sour licorice caramel. At Bavel, dish after dish is surprising, yet comforting—a mash-up of cuisines and cultures that feels perfectly at home in 2018 Los Angeles. 500 Mateo St., L.A., 213-232-4966; baveldtla.com.
Written by MICHALENE BUSICO.