Whether it’s the beef cheek tagine, the Middle Eastern meats cured on-site, the scallop crudo with pomegranate molasses or the energy that the L.A. dining scene hasn’t seen since the early days of West Hollywood, it’s no surprise that Bavel is on every critic’s list as one of the best in Los Angeles and is a finalist for Best New Restaurant James Beard Award.
With family roots in Israel, Morocco, Turkey and Egypt, chefs Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis have helmed the Mediterranean food trend in Los Angeles. Bavel celebrates its first anniversary this month and shows no signs of slowing down — and neither does its slightly older sister, Bestia.
Gergis’ background in interior design played a key role in the comfortable look and feel of both restaurants, bringing an exciting new energy to a funky corner of the Arts District in the shadow of the Fourth Street bridge. Menashe works the kitchen and the dining room, greeting guests warmly and setting a familial tone, from the top down to the friendly waitstaff.
Ground zero of any Middle Eastern kitchen is the spices, which are an obsession with Menashe, whose daughter is named Saffron. Not only does he roast and create his own spice blends; his eggplant peelings are dehydrated along with mushrooms into powders that are the basis of everything umami on the menu. The spice closet, filled from floor to ceiling with containers of Menashe’s spice blends, is center stage in the main dining room, as well as cases housing the meats cured and aged on-site.
Simple but indescribably delicious are the coal-roasted baby turnips with onion ash, sumac and Meyer lemon served over a fermented mushroom cream made from a mixture of his mushroom powder and cream. The lamb neck, served with tahini, green amba-pickled vegetables and fermented cabbage, falls off the bone over a bed of laffa (Israeli flatbread) and is meant to be eaten like a taco. The scallop crudo comes with pomegranate molasses citrus, charred cucumber, mint, black sesame and just the right amount of heat from the house-made serrano chili oil. And the hummus is a sublime combination of garbanzo textures with green and red chili paste.
Menashe, who grew up in Israel, and Gergis go the extra mile at the very core of ingredients, balancing sweet, sour, bitter, spicy, salty and umami, all while thinking about texture and consistently bringing their warm and welcoming personalities into every dish.
Bienvenue, little red dining guidebook!
Bavel, 500 Mateo St., Arts District; (213) 232-4966, baveldtla.com.