This modern Israeli eatery will leave you floating on a ‘ridiculously happy culinary cloud.’
If tastebuds could dance, mine would have been doing just that all over the room at Alenbi, a modern Israeli restaurant in Brooklyn. During a recent visit to this hot spot, I got the chance to savor a few of the restaurant’s signature dishes. Between the
mouth-watering aromas and the gorgeously plated entrees, I left that day feeling as if the food bar had been raised so high, I might never be able to eat without crashing back down to a humdrum world of Cheetos and Cheerios.
The decor at Alenbi is modern, warm and trendy, and as soon as you walk in you can feel the vibe – the kitchen is open, and pulses with the energy of young chefs working quickly and smoothly to wow your senses. Israeli music plays in the background, and the 30-40 guests the restaurant seats are sitting close enough to become your new friends by the end of the night.
Owner Judah Schlass was born in Israel to a family that was steeped in food service. His parents regularly catered parties on their rooftop apartment in Jerusalem’s Old City, and hosted lots of guests for meals on the weekends. Before moving to Israel, Schlass’s father owned a macrobiotic restaurant in the East Village in the
’60s and ’70s, serving locals and hippies – including John Lennon and
Schlass lived in L.A. for several years with a roommate who was in culinary school and learned the trade secondhand. The two went into business together, creating the Fresh Diet company, and then pop-ups around the world – including Sydney, Australia, the U.S. and Israel.
On one of his trips to Israel, Schlass met Chef Elior Balbul at Blue Sky in Tel Aviv, and they stayed in touch. When Schlass was ready to open a modern, upscale Israeli restaurant in the U.S., he asked Chef Elior to run the kitchen.
Both Schlass and Balbul envisioned a menu with a strong Israeli identity – traditional flavors, ingredients and textures – but presented in a whole new way. And here’s where the restaurant takes guests into unchartered territory, introducing them to a whole new way of experiencing the tastes of Israel in the heart of Brooklyn.
For my lunch meeting with the chef, I started with Frenna bread – a Moroccan version of pita with a charred crust, and a surprisingly buttery, soft center. It was served with shaved tomatoes, the tastiest raw tahini I’ve ever had, and sweet red pepper harissa for dipping, I found myself coming back to this dish over and over to tear off yet another piece of bread and do some seriously tasty dipping.
The Falafel Tartare appetizer blew my taste buds out of the water (and is hands-down the favorite of Alenbi diners) – picture a traditional falafel, but with a million-dollar makeover. The pita is toasted and brushed with olive oil and a slew of Israeli herbs and spices, perfect for pairing with the beautifully plated chickpea-fava bean puree made with fresh parsley and mint, topped with crunchy panko, and set over a river of white tahini, bright orange Amba (pickled mango sauce) and sumac-infused sauteed onions. Words don’t do justice to the absolute explosion of flavors and textures when you scoop all those together on your fork and slide it into your mouth.
Next up was Drunk Liver, a nod to the large population of Eastern Europeans in Israel today and their culinary traditions. Chef Elior’s liver was unlike any I’d tasted or seen growing up – this smooth liver mousse made with silan syrup was light and airy, and served elegantly with crushed pistachios, crispy oversized Jerusalem bagel croutons, and fried onions – it was plated to look like a dessert, and what could have been a heavy dish was transformed to incredibly light bites of deliciousness.
The Lamb Ariis was another culinary wonder, with the flavors of rich lamb, spicy jalapeno, sweet onion, raw tahini, harissa and cilantro all complementing each other in one incredible bite after another.
Chef Elior’s insanely creative and diverse desserts are a celebration of everything delicious in one plate. It’s like he’s a kid in a candy shop and can’t decide what to choose, combining several desserts into each beautiful plate for a stunning presentation. Shoko Bo is a decadent layered chocolate and caramel mousse with fudge brownie, espresso macaron, blood orange cream and halvah. The Arctic is a cool mango blueberry popsicle with cotton candy, coconut macaroon, pineapple cream, fresh berries, caramelized nectarine, and lime meringue. And the lime tart boasts a financier cookie base, lime cream, hibiscus meringue, almond and ginger crumble, and fresh strawberry mint jam.
Schlass says he and Chef Elior intend to change up the menu several times a year, leaving their signature dishes on the menu year-round so that diners can enjoy their favorites whenever they visit Alenbi, while adding new and exciting dishes or variations.
I leave Alenbi floating on a ridiculously happy culinary cloud, and with a gift of fresh ground sumac to play around with when I get home. The tastes linger in my mouth and in my memory, and I can’t wait to come back to Alenbi the next time I’m in New York for another gourmet taste of home.