Bestia is a restaurant that needs no introduction here on FTC. The ultra-popular, hard-to-get reservation in Downtown L.A. continues to thrive, and has a loyal following for its rustic Italian cuisine. So when Chefs-Owners Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis decided to open up a 2nd restaurant focusing on Middle Eastern cuisine, it came as a bit of a surprise, until you realize they have family ties to Israel, Morocco, Turkey, and Egypt according to their website.
Like Bestia (and a slew of other restaurants), Bavel has no signage. Look for a plain red brick building and the crowds and you’ll find Bavel amidst an otherwise quiet stretch of Downtown L.A. at night. The interior design is beautiful, with a huge planter hanging from the ceiling and a massive skylight.
Bavel feels far more inviting, warm and less hamster than Bestia, which is a good thing.
According to their website, the name “Bavel” is a possible original/alternate spelling of the Old Testament name for the city of “Babel.” (They continued with this naming convention for their drinks menu.) It seems their bar manager previously worked at the short-lived Parish in Downtown L.A. We decided to start with some drinks:
Darrah (Cooler - Blanco Tequila, Orgeat, Grapefruit, Lime, Cucumber, Crushed Ice):
This sounded wonderful, but turned out to be unbalanced and tasted a bit middling. It was a bit too heavy on the Tequila, and there was little Cucumber and Lime coming through.
Nebuchadnezzar (Old-Fashioned - Lamb Fat Bourbon, Blue Plum Brandy, Smoked Ice, Grapefruit):
We had to order this just based on the fact that they actually infuse Lamb Fat into the Bourbon(!). (Un)fortunately(?) you couldn’t really taste the Lamb Fat in this drink, which might be a good thing. Their Nebuchadnezzar was a surprisingly smooth Old-Fashioned, and more drinkable than the Darrah.
Duck 'Nduja Hummus (Creamy Garbanzo Beans, Jerusalem Mix Spice, Herbs, Pita):
Their Housemade Hummus is smooth, creamy, and outstanding! There’s a real vibrant quality when you take that first bite, a purity of flavors coming through. But on top of that the Duck 'Nduja was incredible! There was this complex, exotic spice mix coming through, and a deeply satisfying Curry-like flavor as well.
But what elevated it even more was their Housemade Pita:
If you thought the Pitas at Ta-Eem Grill were great (and they are), these are even better, arriving fresh out of the oven, piping hot! They were fluffy, airy, fragrant and SO GOOD! (@LAgirl @PorkyBelly @Bigmouth @hungryhungryhippos @Ns1 and others)
Just like what makes the Bing dishes at Majordomo so appealing, when you have piping hot, fresh-baked Bread (of sorts), it just elevates everything with it. One of the best Hummus & Pita starters we’ve ever had!
Highlight of the evening!
Confit Okra (Whipped Feta, Cumin, Mint, Lemon, Radish, Marash Pepper, Sea Salt):
Chef Ori was walking around greeting multiple tables, and stopped by to say “Hi” to us as well. It turns out the Confit Okra is Chef Ori’s favorite dish on the menu, and it shows: I have never had Okra taste anything like this before. It’s ultra tender, but not mushy, like it’s been slow-stewed, but it’s got a luscious quality (from the Confit cooking method).
The Confit Okra is already an absolute joy to eat, being perfectly seasoned (it has this appealing, savory quality), but then add in their Housemade Feta Cheese(!), which gives it enough funk, but is still surprisingly light and creamy (nothing like most Fetas out there), and a bit of the Mint and the kiss of Cumin and Marash Pepper, and it’s another winner!
Grilled Oyster Mushrooms (Stinging Nettle Cardamom Puree, Turmeric, Sumac):
This arrived as two skewers of Oyster Mushrooms, and we were really excited for this dish (I love Mushrooms!) however while their was some smokiness, it also tasted like lighter fluid. That ruined this dish for me. There were a couple Mushroom bites towards one side that didn’t taste of lighter fluid, and that was delicious, but the rest was kind of ruined.
Malawach (Ancient Grain Crispy Layered Bread, Grated Tomato, Dill Crème Fraiche, Soft Boiled Egg, Strawberry Zhoug):
It’s interesting that the first time we heard about “Malawach” Bread was at Kismet last year. And now we get to try Chef Ori’s interpretation of Malawach as well. Like Kismet’s Bavel’s is Handmade in-house, and served with similar sides (Soft Boiled Egg, a creamy sauce (Dill Creme Fraiche here, at Kismet it was their Housemade Labneh), and Zhoug/Skhug condiment.
First, the actual Malawach Bread is delicious. It’s a thin, multi-layered pan-fried Bread that tastes surprisingly like a Chinese Green Onion Pancake, without the Green Onions.
It arrives piping hot (which is great!), and dipping it into the Dill Creme Fraiche is even better. Their Soft Boiled Egg is fine, but nothing really standout (it tastes like a Soft-Boiled Egg, nothing more or less). And their Strawberry Zhoug is an interesting take - fruity, sweeter, but still with a nice kick - on the Israeli condiment we fell in love with at Kismet and Mh Zh and Ta-Eem Grill.
This is a great dish by itself, but objectively speaking, Chef Sarah Hymanson and Sara Kramer’s Malawach Bread and Zhoug / Skhug condiment are just better at Kismet. The Bread is a little thicker and has a more satisfying bite, as well as the Skhug condiment is just incredible (the flavors are bolder, more exciting). But if you can’t make it to Kismet, this version at Bavel is still very good.
Wagyu Beef Cheek Tagine (Braised Cheeks, Chilies, Preserved Lemon, Turnips, Green Garbanzo, Couscous):
I love a good Beef Daube dish, and this sounded like a potentially amazing plate. Taking a bite, your mouth is greeted by a super tender, nearly melt-in-your-mouth bite of Wagyu Beef Cheek, slowly cooked down in this Tagine. It’s SO GOOD!
I love the Turmeric and Basil notes, and the deft use of Preserved Lemon (just enough to give you this satisfying balance to the luscious, fatty Beef Cheeks). And the special type of Chili they use gives it a light heat, but this wonderful, vegetal aroma with each bite as well.
But it’s their Housemade Couscous that elevates this to an even higher level: Eating Bavel’s Housemade Couscous makes what you might thought of “Couscous” seem like a bad nightmare in comparison. Imagine this ultra light, airy, delicate pile of nutty, fragrant morsels (tinged with Saffron) and you have Chef Ori’s version of Couscous. Fantastic!
Grilled Lamb Saddle (Licorice, Lime, Honey, Borage Vinaigrette, Herb Salad):
The Grilled Lamb Saddle was just OK. Cooked to a medium-well / well-done, it tasted like… Grilled Lamb. We couldn’t really taste the Licorice or Honey. It wasn’t bad in terms of flavor - it was well seasoned / spiced - but it tasted rather straightforward / typical.
Service was very good throughout the meal, with our plates and utensils being cleared out between dishes. Note that they add a 4% “Kitchen Appreciation” surcharge to your bill, and overall it came out to about $120 per person, but we over-ordered. Dropping the Lamb, it would’ve been more like $90 per person.
While it’s still early, Bavel feels like an exciting addition to L.A.'s dining scene: Chef Ori Menashe’s interpretation of the cuisine of his family’s roots tastes dynamic, alive and beaming. There’s a real vibrancy here, and we’d be happy just going back to try more of the different types of spreads. The Duck 'Nduja Hummus with Housemade Pita is one of the best bites of 2018 for us, and the Confit Okra is fantastic as well.
We’re hoping the rest of the menu continues to deliver hits like the Hummus and Okra and the Wagyu Beef Cheeks Tagine, and less like the Lamb Saddle. If it can keep delivering hits like what we had, Bavel will easily supersede Bestia as the place for delivering exciting, interesting dishes that we’d want to return to time and again.
500 Mateo Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Tel: (213) 232-4966
The food was so intriguing that we couldn’t wait to go back for a return visit!
Chef Ori Menashe was on the line cooking and preparing dishes again (which is great to see vs. some places where the executive chef stops cooking).
It was also neat seeing Phil Rosenthal (of “I’ll Have What Phil’s Having” and “Somebody Feed Phil” fame) enjoying his meal as well. He had the same huge smile and stunned facial expressions in real life that you see on the TV show.
The central hearth / fire was so intense we could feel it from the middle of the restaurant.
Foie Gras Halva (Creamy Paté, Date Paste, Black Sesame, Buckwheat Loaf):
We fell in love with their Duck 'Nduja Hummus during our 1st visit (I was still dreaming about it even during this 2nd visit!). But we wanted to try something new as well. The Foie Gras Halva is slightly thicker than the Hummus, but still very creamy. There’s a delicate balance of the sexy, luxurious Foie Gras combined in this spread.
The Date Paste adds a perfect amount of slight sweetness, and the Black Sesame Seeds gives it an aromatic nuttiness. It’s delicious!
However, like the Duck 'Ndjuja Hummus, it’s the Bread/Pita that elevates it to another level, and with this dish, it’s Chef Ori’s Handmade Buckwheat Loaf:
Buckwheat Breads usually are quite hearty and can be on the dense side. Not so here:
It arrives piping hot, nutty, with a real Buckwheat aroma coming through, with a gorgeous toasted exterior and crunch, with an inside that is like eating a cloud, it’s so soft it’s like a “Custard” in Bread form! It is INCREDIBLE!
I have great respect for local Bread makers like Bub and Grandma’s, Clark Street and Gjusta, but this fresh-baked Handmade Buckwheat Loaf was even better!
Cucumber & Artichoke (Mache, Orange Blossom, Pickled Rose Onion, Green Garlic & Pistachio Dukkah):
This was a new menu item that was just added (it wasn’t on their Grand Opening menu). The Cucumber & Artichoke Salad was incredible! The Cucumbers, Celery were so refreshing and bright, the shaved Artichokes added this vibrant, light herbal note, and the Orange Blossom and Rosewater Dressing added a beautiful floral backnote without overpowering your palate… it was just a hint of flowers. I loved this Salad!
Confit Turmeric Chicken Legs (Yemenite Pancake, Fennel Salad, Black Sesame, Marjoram):
This sounded rather simple, but the short description belies the glory that is Chef Ori’s Confit Turmeric Chicken Legs: Imagine crisped Chicken giving way to this luscious long stewed, tender, fall-off-the-bone Chicken underneath (Confit style)! Just look at this:
Taking a bite…
Seriously. Seriously?! This was the most ridiculously delicious Chicken dish we’ve had since Howlin’ Ray’s (in a totally different way)!
Even the Chicken Cartilage was cooked down to super tender consistency. This was like the best Duck Confit dish I’ve ever had, except it’s made with Chicken.
The Fennel Salad was refreshing and sufficiently bold and bright to stand up to the Chicken.
I loved the Yemenite Pancake which felt like a super-thin version of Ethiopian Injera Bread. Chef Ori encouraged us to rip a piece of the Yemenite Pancake, and then grab some of the wonderful Confit Turmeric Chicken meat and enjoy it that way.
Slow Roasted Lamb Neck Shawarma (Crème Fraiche Tahini, Fermented Cabbage, Pickled Turnips, Laffa):
Their Lamb Neck Shawarma is definitely nothing like the usual “Shawarma” plates you might’ve had around L.A. It starts with the slow-roasted, hefty chunks of Lamb Neck.
It’s spoon tender(!), so tender, lightly gamy, and absolutely mouth-wateringly delicious by itself!
But then you add it on top of Chef Ori’s Housemade Laffa Bread:
And add in some of the Housemade Tahini:
Then some of the amazing condiments - Pickled Cabbage, Pickled Turnips, and an amazing Habanero & Pickled Mango Sauce:
And you have JOY!
Seriously, this is the most amazing “Shawarma” dish I have ever had in my life! Luscious, tender fatty & lean morsels of Slow-Roasted Lamb, fantastic Laffa Bread, delicious nutty Tahini, and the light piquant funk from the Pickled Cabbage, Pickled Turnips and that Green Sauce of Awesome. SO GOOD!
It’s just utterly stupid how great this food is!
Licorice Ice Cream Bon Bon (Sour Licorice Caramel, Muscovado Cake, Caramelized White Chocolate, Maldon):
This sounded… wild on paper, but we were so glad we ordered it! Bavel delivers one of the most creative uses of Licorice that I’ve experienced in a Dessert. It has the distinctive Licorice flavor, but it never overpowers this Bon Bon: It’s sweet, but not too sweet. It’s chilled, refreshing and the touch of tart and Maldon Salt just enhances the beautiful delicate sweetness. Wonderful!
Service was very good again, our drinks refilled, our plates swapped out between courses. And for a price comparison, now that we know that their Cocktails aren’t worth ordering (and dropping the Lamb Saddle), today our meal turned out to be about $70 / person.
While we’ve only been to Bavel twice, from the stunning, creamy, smooth and gorgeous Duck 'Nduja Hummus with even greater Fresh Baked Pita Clouds, to the Confit Okra that tastes nothing like Okra you’ve had before, to the Beef Cheeks Tagine, Foie Gras Halva with some of the best Fresh Baked Buckwheat Bread I’ve ever had in my life (piping hot!), to the Confit Turmeric Chicken Legs and the amazing Slow Roasted Lamb Neck Shawarma and glorious condiments with the Laffa Bread, Bavel has surpassed Bestia.
I am already planning on when we can return again (and drag some friends with us). Bavel is one of the most exciting and interesting restaurants we have in L.A. right now.
500 Mateo Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Tel: (213) 232-4966
3rd visit. We had a few ideas for dinner this evening, but thanks to PorkyBelly and DTLAeater raving about their visits as well, we decided we had to go back to Bavel.
Bavel remains a beautiful, warm, inviting space, that never feels too fussy; just entertaining and relaxed.
Chef-Owner Ori Menashe was busy on the line again, but this time on a different part of the line, in front of the fierce open-fire, wood-burning hearth. We were wondering what Chef Ori might be doing tonight for him to take over that section of the kitchen. We would soon find out…
Baba Ghanoush (Smoked Eggplant, Burnt Bell Pepper, Red Walnuts, Lemon Chili Salt, Fried Pita):
We were eyeing this on our previous visit, but thanks to DTLAeater for the recommendation, we had to order their Baba Ghanoush this time.
Many of us have had Baba Ghanoush around the city, but to understand what’s going on here, is to look deeper at the dish itself: It starts with a gorgeous Smoked Eggplant, pureed down, so that you get this creamy, smoky, gorgeous spread, but then it’s topped with Burnt Bell Pepper & Chili Oil Reduction, which is incredible! It enhances the Baba Ghanoush even more, and the Red Walnuts give it a distinct nuttiness that only Walnuts can give. The Extra Virgin Olive Oil here is just as ridiculous, beautiful and fragrant.
As if that wasn’t enough, it gets better. It comes served with a different type of Bread than their Hummus and Duck 'Nduja Hummus (which are great). It’s a Handmade Fried Pita topped with Turmeric Lime Salt!
It is visually stunning, but then you gently break it apart - it is piping hot and so airy - and steam rises out of the Pita when you crack it open. Just look at how airy and delicate this is:
It was seriously like biting into a fresh, fluffy, (spicy) cloud!
Add the Baba Ghanoush and the Turmeric Pita together and you had one of the Best Bites of 2018 (again)! SO GOOD!
Then we had more Baba Ghanoush left, so we ordered an extra Regular Handmade Pita:
Piping hot, fluffy, airy and outstanding again! Not dry at all. @ set0312 hopefully your visit at 10:00 p.m. slot was an aberration; with our 3 visits and checking with 2 other friends’ and their visits, none of us have had any dry or mediocre Pitas. Then again none of us ate at the 10:00 p.m. hour.
Currently the best Pitas in L.A. easily.
Lamb Flatbread (Spicy Fermented Sausage, Grated Tomato, Red Onion, Parsley, Pine Nuts, Nigella Seed, Mint, Sumac):
Bavel’s Flatbreads are also made from scratch, in-house. I think our server said it was inspired by Turkish Flatbread. It arrives with nice leopard spotting, a beautiful crust and the Housemade Spicy Fermented Lamb Sausage is present, but it’s judiciously used, so that each bite gives you this fragrant gamy hint of Fermented Lamb Sausage, without overpowering the dish. I loved the Nigella Seeds, Mint and Sumac flavors coming together as well.
Grilled Prawns (Harissa Marinade, Eggplant Tzatziki, Herbs, Lime):
Chef Ori’s Grilled Prawns arrive fresh off the wood-burning hearth. They are hot off the grill and our server encouraged us to rip off the Prawn heads to dip into the Eggplant Tzatziki and suck out the juices.
The Eggplant Tzatziki is creamy, cooling and a perfect match for the gloriously spiced Harissa Grilled Prawns. The flavor combination is outstanding, and the Harissa Prawns are so tasty, sweet and fresh! Delicious!
(NEW) Aged Duck Four Ways (Breast Kebab, Leg Confit, Chopped Livers & Hearts, Ginger Broth, Fig Leaf Vinegar Dressed Herbs):
Yus! Chef Ori has just added a New Menu Item tonight: His own In-House Aged Duck, served 4 ways! We had to order this. Chef Ori ages the Duck for 5 days before serving.
Duck Ginger Broth:
This was just a touch salty, but otherwise, a deep, rich, poultry flavor coming through in every sip. This was a delicious Duck Broth and would be perfect if the Salt was just a little reduced.
Chopped Duck Livers & Hearts on Eggplant:
I am not an Offal fan, but the Chopped Duck Hearts & Livers were tasty! There wasn’t that minerally, iron-taste present here that you might expect with Liver. Instead it tasted like meaty little bites of Duck in a creamy Eggplant base (which tasted like their delicious Baba Ghanoush).
Aged Duck Breast Kebabs:
First, notice the Duck Skin on the Kebabs (above). Each morsel yielded a nice crispy Duck Skin giving way to tender, perfectly cooked Duck Breast meat within! The 5-Day Aged Duck wasn’t as funky or potent as Chef Josiah Citrin’s Aged Duck at Charcoal, but that might be a good thing. It was moist, tender with crispy Duck Skin.
Aged Duck Confit:
And then we have this. Taking a bite…
JUST STOP. Seriously, Chef Ori is out of control right now at Bavel: Imagine, crisped Duck Skin giving way to the most tender, juicy, moist, mouth-wateringly delicious, slow cooked Duck Leg Meat and you have Bavel’s new Aged Duck Confit!
It might very well be the best Duck Confit in L.A. right now. It is INCREDIBLE!
Fig Leaf Vinegar Dressed Herbs:
One note about the Fig Leaf Herbs, these were quite tart on their own, but absolutely perfect with the Duck served 4 ways, as Duck generally is quite rich, and this helped cut through the fattiness.
Paglava (Rolled Walnut & Apricot Filled Pastry, Farm Cheese, Honey, Dried Borage Flower):
This feels like a variation of Baklava, with Bavel’s version being a Rolled Pastry filled with Walnuts and Apricots. It is lightly sweet on its own, with a lot of natural sweetness from the Apricots (a good thing). The Pastry isn’t particularly flaky, just a soft mouthfeel.
The Farm Cheese and Honey is soft and spreadable and sweet (from the Honey), giving the Dessert a bit of a luxurious taste, and the Dried Borage Flowers add a savory component.
The refills and bussing of tables were very good again on this 3rd visit. Overall, it came out to be about $70 per person (including tax and tip), which feels like a great value given how incredible the food was.
After three visits, Bavel continues to improve and get better, still churning out incredible dishes that have reached high watermarks (for us) in the City of Angels. It is no small accomplishment that Chef Ori Menashe is churning out the best Hummus and Handmade Pitas in L.A., a beautiful variation that’s even better in the Duck 'Nduja Hummus, now add to that making the best Baba Ghanoush with Handmade Turmeric Fried Pitas that we’ve tried in the city! (Let alone the Foie Gras Halva with the most incredible Handmade Buckwheat Loaf as well.)
That alone is fantastic and worth a visit, but then you get into the Appetizers like their Confit Okra, Cucumber & Artichoke Salad (so refreshing!), and the Grilled Prawns (Harissa).
And then you get to their Entrees, which so far have yielded some of the Best Bites of Year (including the aforementioned Spreads section with the fresh, piping hot Breads / Pitas): Slow Roasted Lamb Neck Shawarma (do not miss this!), Confit Turmeric Chicken Legs (my favorite on the menu) , and now Aged Duck Four Ways, which happens to serve the best Duck Confit we have in L.A. right now.
Bavel continues to serve some of the most interesting and delicious food around town (and it just opened!). It is culinary excellence and something worth celebrating.
500 Mateo Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Tel: (213) 232-4966