Get ready for tagines from a wood-burning oven, lamb neck shawarma and goat bresaola, downtowners. Ori Menashe, chef and co-owner of Italian hot spot Bestia, says he’s planning to open a Middle Eastern restaurant next year in the same Arts District neighborhood.
“We’re now in the process of looking into some locations,” Menashe says. “We’re not yet successful in finding the right space. I want something secluded like this one.” He’s referring to the Bestia location in what’s practically an alley off Santa Fe Avenue. “I don’t know, I think I like being a chance taker.”
Menashe says he is in talks with his Bestia partner Bill Chait about collaborating for the Middle Eastern restaurant and hopes to open it by the end of next year. “Both of us are on the same page, and I love our relationship at Bestia,” says Menashe, who was born in Los Angeles but grew up in Israel.
“I cook Middle Eastern food at home, that’s my comfort food. Italian food is too, but I don’t know, Middle Eastern food is just natural to me. ... There are a couple of Middle Easterners in my kitchen [at Bestia] and we always play around with family meal ... kebabs, hummus, tahini, baba ghanouj, mezze, maybe caramelized rice with raisins and saffron. It’s tasty, tasty food."
Tagines and other family-style dishes would come from a wood-burning oven. “We’re going to make our own bread in house — pita bread that I’ve been working on, with a little semolina, bread flour, a lot of olive oil so it’s nice and elastic. I have this dish, I grind lamb meat and beef and put a lot of spices in it, char vegetables on the grill, chop that up, put it in an iron skillet, cover it with pita dough and bake it in the oven. The pita rises in the skillet, and you punch a hole in the pita and tear off a piece and soak that in the broth with the meatballs. It’s rustic and modern, but doesn’t look modern exactly, like what Bestia is.”
He’s also working on Middle Eastern-spiced charcuterie such as lamb pancetta and goat bresaola, as well as house-made cheeses and labneh. Menashe’s wife, Bestia pastry chef Genevieve Gergis, will make the desserts that incorporate ingredients such as rose and orange blossom waters. “There’s a dessert that’s called kanafeh,” Menashe says, “a really, really soft goat cheese, you can put some crust on it when you sear it and then you put shredded phyllo on top and simple syrup with vanilla and white wine and baste it — it’s a combination of crispy and soft textures. But to make a really, really good kanafeh is really, really difficult. But she could do it, she’s amazing.”
And the name of the restaurant? “I was thinking about Bestia [or beast in Italian] in Arabic, but I don’t know if it’s the right word because in Hebrew it sounds like a cuss word. I’m still working on it.”