Gehad Hadidi purchased 50-year-old Midtown French bistro La Bonne Soup from the Picot family in 2019, who had been at the helm after Jean-Paul Picot, its founder, retired in the early 2000s. Under Hadidi’s watch, Pete Wells critic of the New York Times has said that the restaurant demonstrates that the “spirit of French cooking might be the strongest” here among Midtown’s “haute-cuisine” offerings. Now, Hadidi, a former urban planner, is opening a restaurant of his own that’s even “more personal” than his stewardship of an institution with built-in regulars.
Huda opens on November 9 in Williamsburg at 312 Leonard Street, at Conselyea Street. Here, at the first restaurant he’s built up from the ground, the menu looks to the Levantine, pulling from Hadidi’s Syrian heritage with Lebanese and Palestinian influence.
Hadidi had tinkered here and there with putting his spins on French bistro fare at La Bonne Soupe — such as adding chermoula and muhammara with its veal croquettes. “I’d try and sneak in ingredients like za’atar, harissa, and labne,” he said.
“A French bistro is in some ways the best way to learn about the restaurant industry, at the same time, I’m not French and it wasn’t originally my concept, even though I had put my own spin on things, I had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to do something more particular to me.”
Of course, Williamsburg is a distinct audience from Midtown, he says.
With Huda, the menu looks deeper to approximate his grandmother’s home cooking, with modern flourishes, in a low-key dining room. The kitchen is led by executive chef Anjuman (Angie) Hossain, previously a sous chef at Le Crocodile and a pastry cook at Del Posto. The menu begins with dates with cinnamon and paprika, carrot salad with golden raisins, cucumbers with chamomile, grapes with tahini, as well as batata horra, a Lebanese potato dish with chile and labne. There’s also kibbe naya, the raw meat dish with chopped tenderloin, bulgur, harissa, and parsley. Shish barak, here is a ground beef stuffed tortellini served with a yogurt sauce — “This is something I ate growing up a lot and is generally considered more of a home-style dish.” There’s also gnudi with lemon and garlic sauce. “We wanted to highlight some pasta dishes from the region, which generally are not so common here in New York.”
Bigger entrees also include the lamb poivre with fava beans and watercress; as well as a baked branzino with muhammara. Overall the menu’s items range from $6 to $42.
A lot of the recipes are direct translations of Hadidi’s family cooking. “Through the R&D process it was a lot of Whatsapping my aunt in Syria or asking my sister to give me her trade secrets,” he said. “My whole family is super involved and constantly sending me things, I have to put [my phone] on silent sometimes.” Certain ingredients — like fermented labne — were sourced from Damascus Bread and Pastry on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn.
Booza, the stretchy ice cream that had a moment in New York at the Republic of Booza (currently closed), is one of three desserts that anchors the end of the meal and will come in flavors like orange blossom with pistachio butter.
General manager and beverage director Yaz Saloom (who worked at the sceney spots the Nines in Noho and, before that, the Beatrice Inn the Greenwich Village) has designed a drinks list with culturally relevant flavors: “Bunny Be Good” uses mezcal, ginger, carrot cordial, and sumac salt; the “Damascus” Reposado tequila, jasmine cordial, and plum bitters; plus, the “Beet It” with rye whiskey with a beet-rosemary cordial. Others dip into savory ingredients like a vodka soda with harissa “A doudou shot is at basically every single bar in Beirut — it’s vodka, olive juice, lemon, brine, and Tabasco — it’s super simple and easy to drink so we wanted to put that on here; it’s been a long time since I’ve been able to order one.” Likewise, the anise drink arak, prepared with mint, also has a home at Huda.
The 64-seat dining room (with a private dining room at the back used for events or service overflow) was designed by Post Company, who also worked on Raf’s in Nolita from the Musket Room team.