Einat Admony, the reigning queen of the Israeli food movement in New York, is the ultimate balaboosta, and not just because her signature restaurant of the same name was recently reopened in a new location.
The Yiddish term describes a good homemaker, but it’s derived from the Hebrew term ba’alat habayit, which means mistress of the house. And Admony is most certainly the boss of her expansive mini-empire.
The Israeli-born Admony (originally from Bnei Brak) has spent the last 20 years introducing and constantly redefining Israeli cuisine to the New York City restaurant scene.
She and her husband, Stefan Nafziger, started out in 2005 with the first branch of their falafel stand, Taim, in the West Village. Admony often talks about how she used to feel embarrassed to be an Israeli in New York making falafel, but her plan was to move from simple cuisine to something more complicated, and by 2010, they had opened Balaboosta, her ode to fine Israeli dining.
Now there are four branches of Taim, aided by last year’s financial investment and new management hailing originally from Chipotle, the Mexican fast-casual chain, and the recent addition of Kish-Kash, a North African eatery devoted to everything couscous — the hand-rolled and sieved version, of course.
The restaurant basically serves up a Moroccan meal, including braised meats, fish, salads, challah, pickled vegetables and Israeli and North African wines. (They cater, too.) It’s probably a lot like what Admony serves at her own Friday night dinners at home, which she reportedly still likes to make every week.
(The meat, by the way, is kosher, but there is no kosher certification.)
And finally, there was the September reintroduction of Balaboosta, the beloved bistro now relocated in the space most recently used for Bar Bolonat, Admony’s West Village version of a stylish Tel Aviv eatery.
There’s also a “Balaboosta” cookbook, TV appearances, foodie events and lectures, and the upcoming publication of “Shuk, The New Israeli Cooking,” co-written by Admony with Israeli food doyenne Janna Gur.
Yet on this weekday morning, Admony, speaking on the phone from New York, said she was spending most of her time thinking about her son, the older of her two children, who recently switched schools.
“It starts getting difficult when you’re juggling family and kids and the rest,” said Admony. “I’m very fortunate, I’m very happy with what I’ve got, and with a number-one husband who is my partner in everything.”
It’s a pretty typical response for this multi-tasking mama, who introduced New Yorkers to dishes like fried cauliflower with lemon, pine nuts, currants and crushed Bamba; halva creme brulee; and her famed fried olives with labane and harissa oil served as a bar snack at Bolonat, which will continue to be served at Balaboosta. She also has new dishes, like short ribs with couscous, herbs and almonds, or red snapper served with pickled okra tempura.
Beyond the flavors and innovations is also a sharp, practical mind, as Admony watches and notes the popularization of Israeli flavors in many New York restaurants — “everyone is using tahini!” — and thinks about where it’s all heading.
“I would never have believed that Israeli food is where it is now,” she said. “When I opened Balaboosta, it was the first time anyone was trying any of these foods. It was the first time they were trying labane, or tahini or any of these dishes. Now everyone uses these ingredients.”
“The thing is, these foods are the foods I’ve been eating my whole life,” she continued. “I grew up with these cultures, with Iranian and Iraqi and Yemenite and Moroccan food. I didn’t follow any trends; this is my comfort zone and what I do best.”
Change, however, is still necessary in order to keep things relevant.
Admony may have brought labane to New York, but now she’s trying things like dried yogurt, sourced from Bedouin cooking and grated on top of pasta.
She also doesn’t much care what anyone else is doing.
“My focus is on what I do best, and making the customers happy,” she said.
Still, there’s a need to pay close attention to the New York dining scene and what makes sense in this economy. With minimum wage costs rising, as well as the severe prices of New York real estate, Admony is fairly sure that the fine dining scene in Manhattan is going to suffer.
“It’s the time for places like Kish Kash and Taim,” said Admony.
Kish Kash’s main dishes range in price from $12 to $21, while a falafel at Taim ranges from $6 to $7.25. The popularity of each place reflects the trend in fast casual dining, added Admony.
Reopening Balaboosta, a kind of love child for Admony, made sense right now.
“It’s my brand,” said Admony. “It’s who I really am.”