The ever changing Chefs Club has been one of the joys of the culinary journey that I have been undertaking with my wife Jun. Jun and I are always open to new ideas and eager to check out how other chefs who do not have permanent restaurants in the city are projecting their culinary philosophy. For the month of February 2019 only (a rather short one-month stint compared to at least three months that each residency typically occupies the space), Chefs Club hosted two Israeli chefs, Loren Abramovitch and Daniel Soskoline, under the name Lev, exploring their vision of Levantine cuisine. Jun and I can never say no to good Mediterranean/Middle Eastern food, so I was very excited to look for a booking online through Resy, only to discover that all the regular dinner hours were fully booked the entire month and only late night spots starting at 10 p.m. were available. Now married and no longer going out that much, Jun and I couldn’t handle eating outside at 8 p.m. and beyond, so I initially tried for a bar seating which was available on firs come, first served basis. On the day of our visit, I checked Resy again and remarkably there was an open table at 6 p.m. so I quickly grabbed that. When we got seated at the counter, however, we could barely see any other diners. It was only toward the end of our meal around 7:30 p.m. that the dining space was just around 80% occupied. What could explain this bizarre situation? Did the reservationist totally blow it by not opening enough tables at early dinner hours? Notwithstanding the weirdly empty restaurant, we were still very glad we came for Lev’s dishes were all consistently excellent.
As with any Mediterranean/Middle Eastern cuisine, Jun and I went for some dips by ordering sesame flatbread with tahini and sheep’s yogurt. The flatbread was rather hot for my fingers when it came out, but its soft texture when combined with the yogurt was exactly what we needed to kick off our meal. We also ordered Jerusalem burekas, a type of pastry with thin dough that is popular in Levantine cuisine. Lev’s kitchen brought one with roasted eggplant, tahini, tomato, boiled egg and harissa made of hot peppers. The way these ingredients beneath the dough worked together in my mouth was quite marvelous and made me wonder what kind of trick the kitchen pulled off to make these relatively simple ingredients shine, and it helped that the kitchen brought the harissa paste on the side that brought a nice spicy kick.
The consensus best dish that Jun and I had was the yakitori lamb with smoked sage and tahini chopped salad. The way the kitchen brought the meat initially on two skewers full of smoke was impressive, but even more sensational was the consistency of the meat’s texture and the way fire added flavor to the meat that was simply remarkable. I couldn’t think of a restaurant in New York City that grilled the lamb to perfection the way Lev’s kitchen has done. The other entrée dish we ordered, black sea bass in slow cooked chickpea hraime broth and tahini, was also very delicious. Jun and I both really enjoyed the earthy flavor of the broth from tomato that gave vibrancy to the delicately prepared fish. For dessert, the broken strudel (a type of layered pastry) with burnt sage ice cream and poached apple was outstanding with its complexity of sweet flavor, and the bonet dish of crème caramel and toasted hazelnut was also good.
There was full bar at the dinner available with a wide selection of wine lists. Jun and I shared a surprisingly nice bottle of red from southwest France that worked well with the smoky and spicy dishes we had tried. Whenever we visit Chefs Club, we try to get a seat at the counter area to get a look at the kitchen. It was fun to see the kitchen in full action in front of a big oven doing magical things. Occasionally, members of the kitchen kindly approached us to explain the background behind the food we were eating. I am not sure what the next journey for this duo will be (I checked their website http://www.levvv.co/ and there was no mention of where, if ever, they will set up a permanent establishment), but if they do decide to settle down in NYC, I can’t wait to visit again with Jun. The Lev residency demonstrated how versatile Levantine cuisine can be if the right ingredients are used and the fire is used properly to bring life to these ingredients.
KenScale: 8.5/10 (Jun’s Score: 8.5/10)
- Creativity: 8.0/10
- Execution: 9.0/10
- Ingredients: 8.5/10
- Flavor: 8.5/10
- Texture: 8.5/10
- Value: 8.0/10
Address: 275 Mulberry Street, New York, NY 10012
Telephone: (212) 941-1100