It might come as a surprise to learn that the cuisine currently drawing foodies to New Orleans is Israeli, rather than Creole or Cajun. No disrespect to the everlasting appeal of gumbo, but the dish on everyone’s lips is hummus. And homemade wood-fired pita. And creamy Baba Ganoush. In fact, the entire menu at Shaya, the modern Israeli restaurant from chef Alon Shaya and restaurateur-extraordinaire John Besh, has lit up New Orleans’ culinary scene and won it the accolade of 2015 Best New Restaurant in America at the James Beard Awards.
The lunch and dinner menus are replete with familiar Middle Eastern dishes, from falafel to shakshouka, but executed in such a way that diners come away with the sure and certain knowledge that Alon Shaya’s version was the best they’ve ever tasted. Think you’ve had hummus? Think again. Here, the humble chickpeas receive superstar treatment. Whether diners choose to have it unadorned (still a luxurious indulgence, drenched in olive oil and tahini, and bespeckled with Aleppo pepper), studded with curried fried cauliflower, or topped with a perfectly soft-cooked egg perched on a puddle of harissa, the dip itself is smooth and utterly tantalising. And the gleaming turquoise wood-fired oven, a favourite cooking tool of Shaya’s that occupies pride of place in the stylish, all-cream dining room, lends a subtle smokiness to the food, from fish to pita.
With small dishes and sharing plates, there’s plenty to tuck into at Shaya. But be sure to save room for dessert. “Milk and Honey”, a dish of labneh cheesecake served with mixed nut granola and burnt honey ice cream, is a popular choice. But if there’s one thing to remember: make a reservation. With James Beard Awards for both the restaurant and the chef and some superlative word-of-mouth, Shaya is proving to be the hottest culinary spot in town.