If you want to know precisely where the Mississippi meets the Mediterranean, sip a “Lebanese Iced Tea.” The concoction—regular iced tea, lemonade, a splash of rose water and a sprinkle of pine nuts—is said to have been created in New Orleans by the owners of Mona’s Café. The Crescent City has mad love for Middle Eastern cuisine and various blurred-line versions, restaurants where gyros sit comfortably next to falafel on a menu. Right now there are many places to push the pita envelope and a new restaurant introducing the city to Israeli food.
Chef Alon Shaya, of Domenica fame, recently opened his latest undertaking, Shaya. The beautiful Uptown space aims to “take diners on a broader cultural journey,” spanning Spain, France and Poland, as well as Israel. The menu is both familiar and fun, with loads of spreads and salads, small and large plates, all intended to be shared. The pita is wood-fired and freshly made, while the hummus has topping options like curried fried cauliflower. Shaya waxes poetic over his wood-grilled whole snapper wrapped in grape leaves, and the braised lamb shanks with pomegranate and tabouleh. Desserts he leaves in the brilliant hands of pastry chefs Lisa White and Kelly Fields, who spin sweets from honey, dates, flower waters, pistachios and sesame.
At Kebab there is fluffy homemade, herb-topped bread, piled high with spit-roasted pork or chicken thighs, then crowned with dill- and garlic-flecked tzatziki, or Creole mustard sauce and crisp local vegetables. Sip on a grapefruit-cardamom house-made soda, while devouring stunning, thick, hand-cut fries dragged through Kebab’s own garlic aioli or ketchup.
Over at 1000 Figs the colorful and delectable raw beet-and-carrot slaw is mounded atop tender rounds of golden fried falafel with herby, bright-green interior. Here, too, the fries stand out, garnished with a gorgeous white toum—aka, Lebanese garlic sauce.
New Orleans’ culinary current winds through an array of food cultures, and right now the city is enjoying a deliciously exciting Mediterranean moment. Dig in.