I always had a soft spot for the chain Hummus Place when I was in college. It was reliable, affordable and the hummus was always perfect. It was a place where I could go and feel like I was sitting in Israel, tearing and dunking away until I was stuffed.
Last April, Hummus Place’s owner Ori Apple came together with chef Nir Mesika (of Zizi Limona) and beverage director Amir Nathan to open a new Israeli restaurant, Timna (109 St. Marks Pl., 646-964-5181, timna.nyc).
To my dismay, the menu doesn’t have hummus — aside from the delightful masabacha for brunch — but what it lacks in hummus, it makes up for with other Israeli ingredients prepared in thoughtful ways that I could eat over and over again.
The name Timna refers both to a valley in southern Israel and a city in an ancient Yemeni kingdom. As the name suggests, the food, while grounded in Israeli influences, weaves in flavors from North Africa and the rest of the Mediterranean.
The dining room itself is simple and cool with smooth brick walls and beautiful herbs sprouting out of wooden boxes. It’s casual and quiet; the main focus is clearly on the food.
Sit down and immediately order the kubaneh ($8), a Yemenite yeast bread, which I have officially added to the list of breads that are worth paying for in the city. It’s baked in a tall clay pot so it grows upward until it’s just crisp on the top. From there, go for the light farro with charred vegetables ($13), which is served with tahini that is imported from Nablus, a city north of Jerusalem, or the more hearty oxtail ragout with the most delicious and creamy corn polenta ($23).
The East-West duck with soy-glazed bok choy and a curry aioli ($24) and the Chinatown salad topped with ginger-cilantro pesto ($12) are where Mesika showcases his skills in fusion fare. But my favorites are definitely where he goes a bit more traditional, like a pile of browned, roasted cauliflower over a pool of creamy tahini ($10). Even without a big bowl of hummus, it’s a perfect meal.
Ariel Kanter is an editor at Gilt City.