There is only one cuisine that beats my love for Asian food and thats Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and more specifically Israeli food. I grew up eating these dishes, in fact probably the only thing I loved about the trip to my grandmothers’ as a child was the food. I couldn’t even tell you all the dishes she made; but while other kids were eating grandma’s cookies I was eating kibbeh, tabbouleh, Israeli salad, grape leaves, and sambusaks just to name a few. These childhood memories were brought back to the surface when I visited Israeli last year and was transported back to my grandmother’s kitchen eating the familiar earthy and fresh flavors. Now I don’t claim to be an expert in all things Israeli and Mediterranean food, but I will tell you if your cumin doesn’t smell like a dirty armpit when you are buying it put it down.
You would think living in NYC I would be able to find something comparable. Out of the thousands of restaurants this city has to offer at least one would be able to hit that note. Don’t get me wrong I have been to so many amazing places that have teetered on the cusp of what I ate as a child yet something is always missing.
So when the recommendation came from a coworker that I needed to go to Shaya on my trip to New Orleans I frankly laughed. I thought to myself how can the cajan capital of America possibly produce “authentic” Israeli food.
I was wrong.
Tucked far away from the drunken French Quarters (thank god) Shaya offers possibly the most “authentic” modern Israeli food you can find. While the dishes might not look like those that you will find on the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem the flavors are there. Sitting on the patio in beautiful 72 degree weather I ordered half the menu, ate way to much, and was instantly brought back to my grandmother’s kitchen.
The true winner of the menu though wasn’t even on the menu. The ENDLESS pita bread was possibly the best I have ever eaten and honestly resembles more of a pizza dough than a pita bread. The waiter continuously brought out the fluffy, steaming hot, melt in your mouth pita bread moments before the last one was completed. The dishes were flavorful, simplistic yet full of the spices you come to recognize with this cuisine. I found myself fighting my husband for the last bite of every dish (not a pretty sight).
LAMB RAGÚ HUMMUS
TABOULEH, SHISHITO PEPPERS, LABNEH
PICKLES, ISRAELI SALAD
PERSIAN RICE WITH CHERRIES
SLOW COOKED LAMB
I really wasn’t lying when I said I ordered half the menu. I loved Shaya so much that even before our meal was done I canceled the next nights reservation at some swanky award winning restaurant to come back. Seriously, next time you find yourself in NOLA put down the crawfish and head over to Shaya.