It’s a bit surprising that the Middle Eastern food movement—at least on the high end—has taken so long to take off in L.A., considering our sizable immigrant population. But there’s perhaps no better person to take on the task than chef-owner of the Arts District restaurant Bestia, Ori Menashe, whose family roots reside in the greater Middle East.
Angelenos have long awaited Menashe’s next move—and rightfully so. The chef’s regional Italian fare at Bestia has a stronghold on pretty much every “Best” list, and almost six years after opening, it’s still near impossible to get a table. Seats are equally hard to snag at Bavel, Menashe’s homage to the Middle East’s diverse culinary tapestry. Like its Italian counterpart, Bavel is buzzing. On a Monday night, its a who’s who of the culinary scene. Well-known chefs, prominent food writers and even a Netflix comedienne known for her affinity to the food world are seated in the oversize dining room, huddled over steaming Moroccan tagines with beef cheek, or noshing on thick chunks of lamb neck with pillows of freshly baked laffa.
But the buzz is where the similarities between Bestia and Bavel end. At Bestia, bone-marrow luges and rich handmade pastas reign, and you can easily walk out in need of a repentance. Bavel, on the other hand, has a levity and freshness that will undoubtedly open hearts to the region’s cuisine. For the uninitiated, Middle Eastern cooking in many ways is quite Mediterranean. The similarities between the two—but also the exciting and possibly unfamiliar differences—are why the cuisine has the potential to play so well in L.A.
What separates it from its counterpart is its rich and complex layering of spices, along with the application of bitterness, lent from ingredients like preserved lemon and pomegranate molasses; the use of cooling elements like labneh, a thick dairy not dissimilar to Greek yogurt; the addition of sweetness to savory dishes via smatterings of dried fruit; smoke and dense char from cooking over a live fire; vibrancy lent from freshly torn mint and parsley; and the perfect amount of acid in the form of vinegars and citrus, all of which combine to make dishes pop.
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