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Eat and Drink

NYC restaurants get creative with halva

Until recently, quality halva was almost impossible to come by in New York. What could be found was dry, gritty and practically unrecognizable to loyal fans. But thanks to new purveyors and a recent revival in pastry kitchens across the city, things are looking up for the tahini-based confection.

An ancient treat, halva has been around for nearly 3,000 years. While its origin is widely disputed — Arabic, Turkish or Indian — it’s now enjoyed around the world, from Eastern Europe and North Africa to the Middle East and South Asia, and is especially sought out by some in the Jewish community during Passover, which begins April 22. In the U.S., it’s typically made with ground sesame paste, studded with nuts and served in loaves.

“It’s more like a rock,” Lisa Mendelson said of most New York halva.

Before co-founding the tahini and halva stand Seed + Mill, which opened in Chelsea Market earlier this year, Mendelson used to yearn for the halva she grew up eating in Israel. Now, her team mixes the treat by hand, creating a delicate, flaky texture that’s difficult to achieve with a machine.

Sold by the slice or in on-trend “bites,” Seed + Mill’s halva comes in more than 25 creative flavors, from coffee and nougat to rose oil and sea salt-dark chocolate.

The response, Mendelson says, has been overwhelming. “It was clearly something that was missing,” she said.

Restaurants around town seem to have taken notice, too. Here’s where you can find halva worked into a variety of unique desserts.

Underwest Donuts

At this donut shop in the Westside Highway
Photo Credit: Karen Bitton Cohen

At this donut shop in the Westside Highway Car Wash, chef Scott Levine (formerly of Chanterelle and Union Square Events) makes an old-school cake donut with milk, butter, sour cream, tahini and halva. He then fries it in a Belshaw Adamatic Donut Robot, glazes it with more tahini and tops it with shredded halva. $3/each; 638 W. 47th St., 212-317-2359

Taboon

Located on the far reaches of Hell's Kitchen,
Photo Credit: Ilanit Solomonovich Habot

Located on the far reaches of Hell's Kitchen, this Mediterranean spot draws crowds with its house focaccia. Those who fill up on the signature bread, however, risk missing out on the silan dessert, which features vanilla ice cream sprinkled with puffed rice, date honey, caramelized pistachios and a fluff of shredded halva. $12; 773 10th Ave., 212-713-0271

Bar Bolonat

The daughter of an Iranian mother and Yemenite
Photo Credit: Ahren Rehmel

The daughter of an Iranian mother and Yemenite father, chef Einat Admony is credited with advancing modern Israeli cuisine. At her West Village restaurant, she puts a new twist on halva, serving shreds of the Persian cotton candy atop a traditional creme brulee. $11; 611 Hudson St., 212-390-1545

Russ & Daughters Cafe

Run by fourth-generation owners Niki Russ Federman and
Photo Credit: Russ & Daughters Cafe

Run by fourth-generation owners Niki Russ Federman and Josh Russ Tupper, Russ & Daughters has been selling halva for nearly 60 years. While delicious on its own, the confection is even better in a sundae, which the duo serves at their spinoff cafe. Broken into chewy, bite-size pieces, it takes on a whole new dimension when sprinkled over sesame ice cream and topped with salted caramel sauce. $8; 127 Orchard St., 212-475-4880

Boulud Sud

Dreamed up by former executive pastry chef Ghaya
Photo Credit: Paul Wagtouicz

Dreamed up by former executive pastry chef Ghaya Oliveira, Boulud Sud's givré features grapefruit sorbet mixed with jam, fresh fruit and Turkish rose candy. Served inside a frozen, hollowed-out grapefruit, it comes topped with sesame foam and crumbled halva for a mouth-watering blend of flavors and textures. $15; 20 W. 64th St., 212-595-1313

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