Food for Thought

“Is that mint or parsley?” I said as I smelled the salad when it was placed on the table. This was just one example of the aromas, as well as clean, fresh tastes that we experienced in our dishes at the recently opened Mishmish in Montclair. Do not get confused and say mish-mash. It is Mishmish, which means apricot in Hebrew and Arabic.

Executive chef/owner, Meny Vaknin has brought his distinct and exceptional cuisine to Montclair. He studied at the French Culinary Institute, was executive chef at Grata and sous-chef for Daniel Boulud, both in NYC. His food is fantastic and since the restaurant is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

We were there for dinner. When seated a large bottle of water was placed on the table along with warm, house-made pita bread, very spicy harissa, pickled vegetables and olive oil. The menu is divided into soups and salads, small plates—not your traditional tacos—mains and sides. The four apps that were shared all had delightfully different twists. Charred, fork-tender Spanish baby octopus was served with a smooth puree made with fennel, marinated chickpeas, blood orange and Marcona almonds. A housemade “masbacha” hummus, a gourmet version of hummus, was unique as it was served topped with warm, marinated whole chickpeas, piece of cooked tomato, six-minute boiled egg and olive oil. Smoked eggplant, which was similar to baba ghanoush, was distinctive not only because of its smoky flavor, but from the feta cheese, za’atar (combination of Middle Eastern herbs) and lemon confit that it contained. Marcona almonds were also present in the olive, tomato and chickpea sauce served with the grilled and charred head-on shrimp.

Spanish baby octopus.

One entree was a combination of a Shepherd’s salad—this is the one that smelled of fresh herbs—made with grape tomatoes, cucumbers, walnuts, parsley and feta cheese. It was exceptional. A kebab of chopped lamb, Jerusalem style—two to an order—found in the tacos section of the menu, reminded us of sliders except they were presented on pita bread with a goat-yogurt sauce, pickled onions and fresh mint. Wrap the pita around the meat and bite. These are impressive; you will not want to share them. The Middle Eastern influence was also found in the use of labne in the oxtail and garlic confit ragu, which accompanied the fresh noodle open lasagna. It can be ordered in a half or whole portion. Also recommended is the grilled hanger steak, which was perfectly cooked and paired with rustic potatoes, salsa verde and watercress. Slow-roasted local chicken with Romanesco and whipped potatoes was flawlessly executed and extremely juicy. While there were only six main dishes listed on the menu, one of them was a seasonal vegetable chef’s plate that along with the vegetable small plates give vegetarians options.

Dessert reminded us of either kataifi, the Greek dessert made with shredded phyllo, or a cheese blintze. It was a disc of crisp shredded phyllo that was filled with goat cheese, topped with lemon zest and surrounded by pistachios. Everyone at the table loved it but agreed that it was more of a savory dish and a drizzle of honey would have made the difference.

Mishmish is open from Monday through Friday from 9 AM to 9 PM; Saturday and Sunday, brunch from 10 AM to 4 PM; Saturday, dinner from 5 to 10 PM. Make a reservation; the place is small and was packed on a Monday night.

Barukh haba, welcome, chef Vaknin. You are a very gifted chef and we are fond of your cuisine.

Grilled shrimp.
Photos courtesy of Lowell Saferstein

215 Glenridge Avenue

Avoid the waiting list as tickets are now available for the Montclair Food & Wine Festival that will be on June 8. Our favorite chefs, Mitchell Altholz, Highlawn Pavilion; Michael Carrino, Pig & Prince; Ryan DePersio, Fascino, Battello, NICO Kitchen + Bar; Ariane Duarte, Ariane Kitchen + Bar; Francesco Palmieri, Orange Squirrel and a guest chef to be announced will create a gourmet feast at the Gala Dinner at The Manor, West Orange. Wines will be curated by Sharon Sevrens of Amanti Vino. 6:30 to 10 PM; $175.

On June 13, The Grand Tasting hosted at the Montclair Art Museum, 3 South Mountain Ave, Montclair will feature diverse dishes from NJ restaurants. Amanti Vino will be presenting wines and spirits from around the world. 7 to 9 PM; $95. A VIP experience is available which allows access to the museum at 6 PM for $135.

For information and tickets to either event visit the event website.

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