Sometimes as chefs spin off successive restaurants, they run out of ideas, and their new establishments are boring or simply redundant. Neither is the case with Einat Admony’s new eatery with the rather unfortunate name of Combina, which sounds like a superhero in a comic book whose superpowers run to, say, texting at the speed of light and muting waiters intent on giving long speeches. The relentlessly rectangular space sits on a Soho corner right on West Broadway, and it must be costing plenty. The place seats perhaps 40, at tables jammed together in the middle and along a bar that runs the length of the room. Lined with booze bottles, crocks of pickling produce, and various dry goods, the high-ceilinged interior is extensively shelved. Noise levels are high.
That said, Combina is a wonderful restaurant if you just consider the food. The principle behind it is "Israel meets Spain," but really, that is just a license for Admony to explore the Sephardic food that is her heritage and birthright. In doing so, she not only borrows some familiar dishes, but parses them and makes them aggressively her own. Darkly delicious blood sausages ($18), called by the Spanish name of morcilla, rest upon an elongated bed of sweet pickled red peppers. The sausages themselves are unusually firm and loamy without the slightest hint of cumin. Let blood be blood!
The restaurant, Admony’s fifth, listed 16 dishes on the menu at its outset a week ago; by the time a friend and I got there on a recent evening, there were 18, suggesting that the menu may continue to expand. The offerings are advertised as tapas, though all but the smallest (olives, za’atar popcorn, Marcona almonds) are really demi-entrées. Nevertheless, the waiter delivers the usual longwinded speech that begins, "Do you know what tapas are?" and ends with, "These dishes can arrive at any time and are intended for sharing."
The waiter also gives out some useful information, such as telling us that the eggplant escabeche ($14) came from a recipe of the chef’s mother. It is unspeakably tasty, arriving in a picturesque crock with shards of crunchy pickled garlic, fresh dill fronds, and a dab of thickened yogurt. You’ll be seeing that yogurt again and again, to good effect. It splotches a hamburger ($17) made of ground-up merguez sausage on the usual potato roll, small of size but explosive in flavor. Some near-fiery, house-pickled peppers pose alongside, delicious in themselves. But where are the fries, you ask? In line with modern restaurant praxis, carbs are at a premium here.
The same applies to the lamb belly ($19), a flattened and blackened boxcar of flavor that comes with a pool of yogurt and a schmear of tweaked romesco; and a trio of plump chicken drumsticks ($13) rubbed with what tastes like North African harissa. They are braised rather than fried and all the better for it. The flesh melts on your tongue, and the drumsticks beg to be eaten with your fingers. Of several interesting dessert choices, we picked the Middle Eastern churros ($10), which featured an Israeli chocolate dipping sauce that tasted of cherries; the churros themselves were made out of fried flaky pastry something like Tunisian warka.
As befits a small-plate place, there’s a broad-ranging alcohol list, including a nice vermouth selection, wines from many lands (including Israel), sangria, aperitifs and digestifs, and invented cocktails, including a martini made with salt-preserved lemons, strictly for salt freaks. The Manhattan, with a touch of arak and house-made bitters, was exemplary.
This restaurant represents Admony relaxing and having fun in a familiar groove, deftly assorting elements from Iberia, North Africa, and the Middle East. Next to Taim, it is the restaurant of hers I’m most likely to visit again and again. Drop by for a merguez burger or some chicken drumsticks and see what you think. 330 West Broadway, 212-226-1248.