Moroccan-Israeli chef Meir Adoni was born and raised in Israel, and his business partner and Breads Bakery founder Gadi Peleg lived there until he was 13 years old. But the partners want to make it clear that their new Gramercy restaurant Nur — opening for dinner on Friday — is “decidedly not doing Israeli food,” Peleg says.
The menu represents dishes from the Middle East and Mediterranean — a savory take on a sweet Lebanese pancake here, Palestinian lamb kebab in pita there. Though dishes from the Jewish diaspora will show up on the menu, like a gefilte shrimp small plate, don’t expect to find falafel. Adoni calls it “modern Middle Eastern cuisine.”
“Israel is a huge part of the Middle East,” Adoni says. “But it’s a part. Middle East has a lot of different things. We are bringing the story of all the regions.”
Adoni has had four restaurants in Tel Aviv — with Blue Sky and Lumina still open — ranging from upscale and haute to casual and trendy. Still, it’s a return to New York for the chef, who first fell in love with New York dining while briefly working at Laurent Tourondel’s now-shuttered restaurant Cello more than 15 years ago. His ultimate dream has been to open a restaurant here.
Peleg, on the other hand, didn’t plan to open a full-service restaurant. He used to work in private equity and opened Breads after deciding to follow his lifelong passion for the food business. (At 14 years old, he asked to go to Le Cirque for his birthday. “That was my dream,” he says.) But he remembered eating at Adoni’s restaurant Mizlala years ago, so when the chef looked for New York partners, Peleg signed on, excited to bring his cooking here.
- Jerusalem sesame bagel with za’atar and lima bean messbaha
- tartare with smoked eggplant cream, sheep’s yogurt, baby artichokes, and raw tahini
- “Jordan Doughnuts” made of Medjool dates, smoked trout, almonds
- A stew with tomato, poached fish, and mussels, with a side of housemade couscous and pumpkin tershi
- dessert with cardamom chocolate and halva, artichokes, pistachio cream, almond sable, and smoked yogurt ice cream
- yuzu doughnuts and a citrus, passion fruit, and coconut soup
At Nur, Middle Eastern staples will be used liberally, such as savory mango-based condiment amba. Medjool dates combine with trout for a sweet-savory doughnut called “Jordan River,” and Adoni’s signature dish, a beef tartare with sheep’s yogurt and baby artichokes, will also be on the menu.
Expect a few dishes for adventurous diners, too, like a version of Tunisian sandwich made with veal brain — an ingredient Adoni ate with hot sauce as a child but is less common here. The croissant sandwich accompanied by pickled hard-boiled egg, harissa, lemon, and cilantro. The chef says it has the texture of “very soft, very fluffy” scrambled eggs. “We do want people to push their limits a little bit,” Peleg says.
Regardless of whether brain will stay on the menu, they plan to keep Nur as a pan-Middle East and North African restaurant. Many of the wines will also be sourced from the region, and cocktails will have Middle Eastern flair, like a bloody mary spiced with harissa. Eventually, the restaurant will add brunch and lunch.
“Middle East food is very exciting. It’s full of flavors; it’s strong,” Adoni says. “You cannot ignore it when you put it in your mouth. It takes you to many places. For me, it’s like bringing Middle East umami to New York.”
Nur, located at 34 East 20th Street, opens on Friday, April 28 for dinner at 5 p.m. Take a look at the space and menus below.