I am of Syrian sephardic descent, and while growing up in Brooklyn my mother and aunts cooked incredible Syrian delicacies by hand. I had not been able to find a Syrian restaurant that even holds a candle to their exquisite dishes, until recently. In the summer of 2019, I discovered Ayadi Gourmet, a tiny restaurant with a takeout counter on a quiet street in the Latin Quarter. I met the owner Ghena, and told her about our shared heritage and about the food I grew up with. I also told her about a special dish my mother used to make called mihshi, which is dried eggplant shells stuffed with ground meat and spices, and stewed for hours in a pot with prunes, dried apricots, and a dab of prune butter. Ghena invited me to taste her version of minshi a few days later, prepared slightly different, with zucchini shells instead of eggplant. My taste buds were flooded with the flavors and textures reminding me of the sorely missed minshi my mother used to make. I have returned many times to Ayadi Gourmet, indulging in my childhood favorites along with inventive dishes I haven’t had before. The main specialty of Ayadi Gourmet is Fattah, a traditional dish with a base of grilled pita slices or french fries, with yogurt, tahini, and garnished with almonds or roasted pine nuts. Varieties of Fattah include braised lamb with vinegar and onion, roasted eggplant stuffed with ground beef steeped in tomato sauce, and hummus with pomegranate seeds. Seasonal dishes include hummus topped with spiced ground meat and toasted nuts served with toasted pita triangles, stewed broad beans with special spices, and a warm bulgur salad served with tomatoes and onions. The beautifully appointed interior of Ayadi Gourmet is sparkling white with elaborately carved chairs, marble white floors, a wood beamed ceiling, and a wall sculpture of gold branches, all custom made in Syria. 17 Rue Frédéric Sauton. Tel: +33-1- 4203-3452. www.ayadigourmet.com/en
Practically hidden on a street in the upper Marais, 404 is a Moroccan restaurant in a nightclub-like setting. Housed in an ancient 17th century former mansion, the interior has exposed rock walls with high ceilings with dark wood beams, long wood tables, and perforated metal Moroccan lamps. An open kitchen has stacks of tagine pots and ceramic Morrocan plates. The mezze/small plate menu has an extensive selection of appetizing dishes such as stuffed sardines with cumin, lemon, and coriander, Harira soup with lamb, lentils, and chickpeas, baked soft cheese and shrimp wrapped in phyllo dough and a salad of grilled peppers and charred tomatoes. For a main course, there’s a long list of enticing tagines (Morrocan stews) to choose from including some exotic choices such as a pear and farm raised chicken, duck with apple and cinnamon, quail with figs and almonds, and a seven vegetable tagine. 404 does a great version of pastilla, a traditional Morrocan delicacy prepared with pigeon, raisins, and couscous, then wrapped in phyllo dough. 404 also offers a fun brunch menu on Saturday and Sunday, from 12 P.M. to 4 P.M. that includes sweet couscous with raisins and almonds, that includes Berbere pancakes with honey, a kefta hamburger, and a cinnamon, orange salad.
Next door to 404, and run by the same team, is Andy Wahloo, a Morrocan inspired cocktail bar and lounge, serving signature cocktails with clever names such as a Silky Smash with pisco, grapefruit, and basil; South Witch made with Mescal, sumac, Triple Sec, and lime; or Serenity, made with Tanqueray gin, lemongrass, lime, and egg white. In addition to the cocktails, there’s a full bar menu with beer, wine, Champagne, and spirits. 69 Rue des Gravilliers. Tel. +33-1-4274-5781. www.404-resto.com
Balagan set the bar for the influx of Israeli chefs and restaurants bringing a culinary shot in the arm to Paris. Three French businessmen collaborated with two super star Israeli chefs who already had established restaurants in Jerusalem to open a new concept restaurant, which brought the yet-undiscovered Israeli cuisine to Paris. Located in the tony Renaissance Vendome Hotel, near the Tuileries and rue Saint Honore, Balagan became an instant hit, especially with the fashion crowd and celebrities with reservations as hard to come by as tickets for Hamilton (On two separate occasions while dining there, magician David Blaine was sitting next to me, and Cindy Crawford had a private dining cove with her entourage). Balagan means a joyful bazar in Hebrew, and the owners strive to create a fun, lively atmosphere with the focus on a long counter in front of an open kitchen where the chefs can entertain and dazzle diners. Tapestries, stone, ceramics, and a special shade of blue, decorate the other parts of the restaurant. Before you dive into the delectable food menu, savor an original cocktail like Sassy Frenchie with tequila, cider, a dash of naughty absinthe, lemon and celery; a Dill Dong mixed with white vermouth, Granny Smith apple, dill, soda water, and lemon; or a mocktail of Granny Smith apple, ginger beer, cucumber.
Eggplant carpaccio, a deconstructed kebab, tuna tartare with nectarines, dates, and yogurt mixed with cucumbers, are just a few of the innovative small plates. The main courses are a fusion of Mediterranean and Middle-East flavors and ingredients, and include a smoked chicken crepe piled with fresh herbs, a gyoza dumpling filled with cashews, mushrooms, sumak, and arugula, gnocchi with octopus in red wine, and crab bisque alongside a bone marrow crumble. Top your meal off with a dessert of crushed Snickers bars or Jerusalem cheesecake. 9 rue d’Alger. Tel. +33-1-4020- 7214. www.balagan-paris.com