“Happily, New Yorkers are more open-minded than ever,” Meir Adoni recently told a patron at Nur, his inaugural New York restaurant, which seeks to serve Middle Eastern flavors while avoiding the clichés of falafel and baba ghanoush. Adoni, who was born and raised in Israel, is one of that country’s best-known chefs: he owns two restaurants there and is a judge for a popular cooking-contest show called “Game of Chefs.” “Yes, I’m busy,” Adoni, who likes to don a New York Yankees cap, said. “But a restaurant in this city has been a thirteen-year-old dream, so I’m happy.”
Adoni’s partner is Gadi Peleg, an Israeli transplant and an owner of Breads Bakery, where Nur’s bagels and honey-and-garlic challah are made. You may not be used to paying twelve dollars for bread, but the Jewish Yemeni kubaneh, a golden, airy, brioche-esque bundle, the size of an imperial crown, traditionally cooked in the course of a Friday night, for Shabbat breakfast, is well worth it. Dense date doughnuts—inspired by sfenj, a spongy, springy Moroccan fritter—are made of date-and-almond batter, stuffed with smoked trout, and served with a zingy, palate-stimulating curry-citrus vinaigrette.
Adoni’s love of innovation, undergirded by an appreciation for Israel’s immigrant history, animates some of his best creations. The tuna-ceviche panipuri, an homage to the sizable community of Jewish Indians in Israel, is presented as a spectacular, thoughtful mosaic of yuzu-buttermilk foam, dried apricots, almonds, and habanero peppers. The smoked-eggplant carpaccio, a fire-roasted update of a salad found in almost every Israeli deli, introduces a more complex personality to the dish by layering it with pistachios and rose water.
Sometimes Adoni’s admirable passion for experimentation can carry him to excess. The seared scallops, glazed with porcini-macadamia butter, would have been terrific without the salty, overpowering blue-crab bisque they are served with. Similarly, the chickpea-fried octopus, which won a ten out of ten for its smooth, velvety texture, was overwhelmed by the deluge of yogurt and pastes that seemed more concerned with festive aesthetics than with taste.
The most refreshing item on the dessert menu is the majestic Pavlova, filled with citrus compote, yogurt crumble, sumac meringue, and blood-orange sorbet. It is called the New Middle East, and, when Adoni was asked how he came by the name, he answered, without skipping a beat, “Because I dream…