We have a Sabra invasion in full swing and no one bats and eyelid, not even Trump. Einat Admony (Balaboosta, Bar Bolonat, Taim), Efraim Nahon (Taboon), Michael Solomonov (Dizengoff), Nir Mesika (Timna), and many more, including now Meir Adoni, an Israeli superstar opening his first in NYC. The falafel kingdom continues to expand with chainlets like Taim, and Nish Nush leading the way. And we even have a (sort of) Israeli bakery chain in Breads Bakery, whose owner is Adoni’s partner at Nur. Even my new favorite French dessert spot in East Village is owned by talented Israelis.
But something is missing in NYC, and that something has something to do with the title, and real estate. When I was in LA last time, we discovered a place called Itzik Hagadol (Big Isaac), a sprawling “fast-casual” (new phrase which I hate but use anyway) spot in Encino, serving Israeli classics like falafel, hummus, babaganoush, and things you dont normally find here like Mititei. I was into my second Shashlik when I realized… NYC doesnt really have one of those. If I want to take my extended family somewhere on a whim here, I wouldnt know where to go. But if I want to take my wife to a fancy Israeli or one that requires knowing the right people who can reserve a table for you 4 weeks in adavnce, I got plenty of options. Thats NYC for you, and the nature of Manhattan real estate. Either things are too fast, or too expensive. “Fast Casual” is lacking here.
So if Adoni wants to open an Adoni Hagadol, I wont even take royalties. He’s already off to a flying start, hotter than a Shakshuka in the Sinai. We werent quite sure what to expect from Israel’s culinary idol. And when we arrived, as often happens when we come back from an extended European trip, we are greeted with a jolt in the way of three greeters. I think on average the employee/diners ratio is roughly 5 times higher in NYC than anywhere in Europe. Why do we need three hosts!
But the good news is that almost nothing but greatness on those plates….
Honey and Garlic Challah – I gather that the first two breads on the menu are the highlights here, but I wanted to try something else. Besides, the Kubaneh and the Sesame Bagel, arent very unique to NYC anyway. You can get a similar Kubaneh with S’chug and other condiments at Timna, and a fine Jerusalem sesame bagel at Bar Bolonat. But the Challah was fine, doused with just enough honey and garlic on top, served with pickled onions, and creme fraiche. While we liked it, I secretly cried a little at night for not getting the Kubaneh after all!
Jerusalem Sesame Bagel – Hagadol serves a bigger sesame bagel. Nice and buttery, just like the bagels in Mahane Yehuda market, albeit 10 times pricier. And just like in Bar Bolonat it comes with Za’atar on the side, and an exceptional tehini-like Lima Bean Messbaha.
Date Doughnuts – Very good and very Mediterranean. Comes in two, along with this addictive curry Citrus Vinaigrette. By the end of the night I dipped everything in this thing including forks, fingers, car keys, and wife’s finger.
Damascus Qutayef – Essentially fried Lamb Pancake. This was fine. If I have to pick one dish I wouldnt order again, I think this is it. The sweet notes were a little overpowering for me. But the sides of Marcona almonds with cucumbers, and a gazpacho like yogurt chaser at least kept this interesting
Horias – Excellent! “Lamb Kebab in Pita” is more like mini lamb Shawarmas inside these perfectly crispy pitas with a hint of Amba (Mango condiment). As some of the other dishes it comes on top of old newspapers for some reason with some pickled veggies. You can munch while getting up to speed on the latest Cricket wives gossip
Eggplant Carpaccio – Possibly the dish to get here, which is ironic considering its the only vegetarian dish outside the bread category. Smoky, creamy, crunchy at times, and simply delicious. Not every bite is the same. The only minor quibble one might have is that the dish is listed under Big Plates but is more of an app. Its a big plate alright, but not the content. Possibly the eggplant to beat after Atoboy in NYC
Sea bass – Well cooked, supremely flavorful black bass, with more eggplant, Freekeh, Broccoli Rabe, and Spring Beans. Adoni clearly likes his eggplant which he features throughout.
Lamb – Two fine skinny tender lamb loins. Like the Seabass, all sorts of Meshugas on the plate like a Lentil salad, and what really stole the show for me, a Lamb and Bulgar filled onion. The “Mains” here made me appreciate Timna even more. I found a lot of similarities all over the menu but in particular the way the mains were constructed. Complex and ingredient heavy, but truly exceptional stuff
34 E 20th St (Brway/Park), Flatiron
Rating: Three Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that.
Recommended Dishes: Sesame Bagel, Date Doughnuts, Damascus Qutayef, Eggplant Carpaccio, Sea Bass, Lamb