New York’s newest Middle Eastern entrant comes from a seasoned restaurateur who wants to tell a story of his native Palestinian cuisine — with dishes that few of the many Middle Eastern restaurants in the city have served. Though not a household name, chef Tarek Daka has opened two Sicilian restaurants in New York City, a cuisine he was drawn to for its similarities to the Palestinian flavors he grew up with. But for his newest Chelsea restaurant Qanoon, he’s taking a much more personal approach to the menu.
Qanoon’s menu pulls from his upbringing on an industrial farm in Palestine, where his mom’s cooking was powered by the season’s freshly harvested produce like eggplants and olives. Now open at 180 Ninth Avenue, on the corner of 21st Street, the restaurant serves his version of the meals he grew up eating and the ones he cooks for family and friends at home — food that will go beyond the street foods of falafel and hummus, commonly found on most Middle Eastern menus across the city.
“Everything I cook for friends and family, they say, ‘You should have this on the menu,’” he says. “Now I have the opportunity to explore all of these amazing dishes.”
The menu promises a “culinary journey inspired by Palestine,” and it’s one of the first in Manhattan to do so. He operates with a farmer’s ethos, with fresh produce and locally sourced seafood and meat top of mind.
A meal here begins with traditional dishes like baba ganoush and labneh rolled into balls of olive oil, mint, and za’atar, as well as a bright red mezze dip of walnuts, sun-dried peppers, and pomegranate molasses. Other recipes are tweaked for the modern New York diner, such as the mujaddara croquettes, rounded fritters made of green lentils and rice.
The makloubeh, a rice dish that translates to “upside-down” in Arabic for the way it’s plated and traditionally made for large groups, is here converted to a single serving. A small ceramic bowl arrives flipped onto a white plate, and when lifted, a neat pile of basmati rice stirred with lamb stew and a vegetable medley topples out.
“Back home, when you eat this type of food, we are family members of 50 people and everyone eats from that big plate,” he says. “The makloubeh is in a big pot of I don’t know how many ounces, and when you flip it, it’s this gigantic plate for everyone.”
Other dishes include Palestinian meatballs baked with cauliflower, onions, tomatoes, and tahini, and the olive oil-heavy musakhan, a flatbread topped with sumac-spiced roasted chicken that’s traditionally made during olive harvest season in Palestine.
Daka is the sole owner behind Qanoon, which has a homey, brick-walled interior and a 40-seat dining room, plus about 10 seats at a bar. Once a liquor license comes through, the plan is to offer up to 60 Mediterranean wines, plus drinks infused with the ingredients already used in his kitchen.
Qanoon is the chef’s third NYC restaurant. He first opened Sicilian restaurant Eolo with his ex-wife, which has since closed, and followed up with the pasta restaurant Pastai. It was his upbringing on a farm that led him to ditch his original career in accounting for New York’s restaurant industry about a decade ago.
It’s an exciting entry to New York’s Middle Eastern space, which hasn’t seen many restaurants focused specifically on Palestinian cuisine; Daka points to Tanoreen in Bay Ridge as serving the closest thing to his cuisine.
Qanoon is now open for dinner from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. for the next three weeks, with lunch and brunch arriving afterward.