Chef Nir Mesika comes from something like bread-baking royalty. As an orphan in Morocco, Mesika’s grandfather was taken in by a French family that baked for the country’s king. They schooled him in the ways of bread and, after immigrating to Israel and opening his own bakery in the north, he eventually taught those same lessons to Mesika. The young prodigy must have taken to it, because at Timna, his brand-new modern Israeli restaurant on St. Marks Place, he’s serving a fantastic Yemenite yeast bread, kubaneh, which is almost unheard of in the five boroughs.
“It reminds me of brioche, but much more fluffy and soft,” Mesika, who was a 2013 Cheap Eats honoree for his cooking at Zizi Limona, says. Back home in Israel, kubaneh is typically cooked over low heat through the night for Shabbat, as Mesika’s mother would for their Saturday lunches. But at Timna, it’s served every day, baked in a clay planter’s pot, so that it rises upward, at a higher temperature, a technique Mesika learned from his mentor, Meir Adoni. Topped with Korean sesame seeds, the result is delicate and a hint sweet — “like a doughnut,” Mesika says — and served with a side of crushed, spiced tomatoes. But don’t be thrown off by the dip: The bread is absolutely the star, and Grub recommends you just tear it off and eat it all by itself.
From the time they decided to open a restaurant together, Mesika and his partner, Amir Nathan, envisioned Timna — named for a city in Yemen — as a place that would expand New Yorkers’ ideas of what Israeli food can be. So in addition to the great bread, you’ll find dishes that blend traditional techniques with an idiosyncratic, fushion-y approach to Mediterranean cooking, like a lamb saddle with preserved-lemon dust and freekeh, bruschetta with sweetbreads and Tunisian tomato stew, and Bedouin octopus, a reference to the traditional technique of cooking a protein — usually chicken — in a pile of charcoal. Take a look at the space, and some more dishes, below:
Timna, 109 St Marks Pl., 646-964-5181