America, meet Meir Adoni, a 44-year-old Moroccan-Israeli chef and a star in Tel Aviv’s dining scene. Last week, he introduced his modern approach to Middle Eastern cuisine to New York City with Nur—his first restaurant outside of his home city.
Adoni’s debut restaurant Catit, (which he recently closed to focus on Nur), opened in 2002 to great acclaim and quickly solidified his role as one of the leading food voices in Israel. Today, he owns Lumina, a modern Israeli bistro, and Blue Sky, a seasonally-driven kosher restaurant at the beachfront Carlton Hotel. He has also published a cookbook, starred on an Israeli cooking competition show, and been wreathed with accolades from press.
These days, Israeli chefs are obsessed with “grandma cuisine,” mining their families’ heritages for inspiration. But Adoni was one of the first to embrace and explore the stunningly diverse food traditions found across the country, apprenticing himself in the home kitchens of Jewish and Arab grandmothers alike. He first learned to make fresh couscous from an elderly Libyan woman, arriving at her house at 5 o’clock on a Friday morning (she had been up since 2 preparing for Shabbat) to roll and steam semolina into couscous granules. “These cuisines are disappearing,” Adoni said. “We try and catch the last things.”
Nur’s menu nods to traditional Jewish cuisine, from the honey and garlic challah to the “gefilte shrimp”—a playful and decidedly not kosher riff on the Jewish holiday appetizer served with dashi gelée and creamy horseradish. Meanwhile the brain fricassee, which sandwiches the organ meat in a butter croissant with harissa and pickled egg, elevates the waste nothing approach to old school Israeli cooking.
Still, Adoni and his business partner Gadi Peleg (who also owns the popular Israel-to-New York transplant Breads Bakery) emphasize that Nur’s guiding food philosophy takes a more regional focus. To that effect, Moroccan sfenj doughnuts are filled with smoked trout and medjool dates in a sweet-savory dish, and a Turkish-delight inspired starter pairs seared foie gras with rhubarb jam and honey-lavender yogurt.
And then there is the “Palestinian tartare,” a dish that brings together chopped raw beef with inky black smoked eggplant cream, shaved artichoke, and sheep yogurt. Its one of Adoni’s signature dishes, which he developed in honor of the Arab cooks who work in his kitchens in Tel Aviv.
Israel often gets credited for its abundant fresh produce and spices, and rightly so. But Adoni said he’s currently reveling in New York City’s own overwhelming availability of niche fruits and vegetables. “You can get everything here—salsify, Savoy cabbage, mustard leaves, tiny okra,” he said. He has already made friends with farmers at the sprawling Union Square farmers market three blocks south of his restaurant. In particular, he turns to Norwich Meadows Farm, which is run by Muslim couple Zaid and Haifa Kurdieh, and grows a variety of Middle Eastern produce.
And then there’s the exciting reality of opening a restaurant in his dream city. “I woke up the other day and said to myself, ‘You have a restaurant in New York,’” he said. New Yorkers have every reason to be just as excited.