Einat Admony is arguably the woman responsible for bringing real falafel, the street food of her native Tel Aviv, to New York. In the past 15 years, the Iranian-Israeli chef has whetted New York's taste for Mediterranean cuisine, first with raved-about falafel joint Taim, and more recently, at her wider-reaching Middle Eastern-Mediterranean restaurant Balaboosta, where she marries the flavors of her childhood and culls from her mixed heritage. The challenge in bringing her native food to the US, she says, is that everyone is trying to do the same thing, and it's not authentic. "You always need to consider the American palate, making it less spicy and with more consideration." Her dream for New York is for an old Moroccan grandma to open a restaurant with real, authentic couscous and mafrum (something like a meatball).
Whether she's searching for ingredients to make dinner for her family or for some traditional Israeli-style ceviche, here's where Einat goes for a real taste of home.
For ingredients, one of my main places to go is Kalustyan's; everybody knows it. I go for Persian lime (in Farsi, it's called limu). At Balaboosta, I use it for the lamb chop sauce, and also at home to make a Persian stew with pomegranate juice and chicken which my mother taught me to make. They make their own spice mixes there too, but I like to make my own.
For the really Israeli groceries, I go to Holyland. They have the semolina for real couscous, and it's the only place to get the Israeli version. I make this authentic couscous at home for my kids. It gets all the flavor from the soup that's boiling under it, and then I top it with toasted almonds, crispy garlic, olive oil, cumin, salt, and dried apricots. They also sell the Pereg brand spices there, which are very fresh and aromatic. That's what I use in the restaurant. Pereg is Hebrew for poppy seed.
There is an Israeli girl that has a very nice bakery called Zucker. She was kind of an inspiration to me before I ever met her, when I first came to New York. Her pastries are so great—It's like home when I go there. I love the roses they make.
Hummus Place is a chain, but they have amazing hummus. The proportion of the ingredients is great, and it's really smooth, which is great for the American palate, but the flavor is authentic and very real. The hummus in Jerusalem is chunky because it's made with a mortar and pestle. You can't find that kind of hummus here.
Azuri Café does good schwarma, with lots of vegetables and salad inside. The guy is crazy—he's like the Soup Nazi. He has good falafel too.
The focaccia at Barbounia is good. The chef there came from Taboon. The pita we use at my restaurants comes from Pita Express, which is the best pita in New York, so any restaurants that have that serve the best.
Tanoreen is a Middle Eastern restaurant in Brooklyn that has amazing fresh knafeh, which is a traditional sweet pastry made of shredded phyllo dough with cheese.
My parents are very kosher, so when they come to New York, I take them to Olympic Pita in Coney Island. They have amazing laffa, which is like a big pita. It's great bread, crispy, and so fresh. They do good kebabs too.
Cafe Mogador is my favorite place. I own two Mediterranean restaurants, and I can still go there without getting tired of it. It's the best couscous in the city, even though it's still instant. I usually get the lamb tagine casablanca. I also love the fried eggplant with tahini, the carrot salad, and the hummus. They have the second best falafel in town (second-best to mine, of course); it's great, crispy, green falafel. They've been around for 25 years, I've been eating there since I got here 15 years ago, and it's still consistent.
Also, Meme is a new place in the West Village. I just ate there. It's kind of Moroccan-Israeli, and it's owned by Israelis. Very cute, casual place.
Higher End Dining
Vareli is a restaurant owned by an Israeli guy who has worked at Bouley and comes from a prestigious food background. It's busy there, but nobody hears about it; it's underrated. It's on the Upper West Side, and I go there even though I typically don't go above 30th Street. He's doing great ceviche, very Israeli style. There's a great variety there. He recently started doing falafel, even though I jokingly told him that that's mine, and he's not allowed (not really).