(New York Jewish Week) — Following a long period of back-and-forth, my friends and I had finally agreed on a date for a group dinner: Tuesday, Nov. 7. With the date scheduled two months in advance, babysitters were booked, spouses were alerted, no work conferences were scheduled — a true miracle for busy New Yorkers.
The next hurdle was securing a reservation. Thankfully, we all agreed that, following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, dining at an Israeli restaurant was a top priority — not only did we want to support an Israeli business, we wanted to enjoy some Israeli comfort food during this fraught time.
That is how the five of us ended on Tuesday night at Shmoné, a Greenwich Village restaurant from Israeli celebrity chef Eyal Shani that opened in May 2022. Truth be told, none of us knew much about this particular establishment, but what could be bad? Shani is a well-known TV personality in Israel and the chef behind the popular fast-casual chain Miznon, which boasts three outposts in New York City. He operates more than 40 restaurants worldwide, including New York City’s well-regarded HaSalon and Port Sa’id.
Shmoné landed Shani in the Michelin guide for the first time ever this spring — meaning it was in the running for a coveted star status. According to the Michelin Guide, the restaurant, whose menu changes daily, “punches way above its weight with dazzling Neo-Levantine cuisine.”
Little did we know, however, that our long-anticipated group dinner was set to coincide with the Michelin awards ceremony, held Tuesday at Spring Studios in Tribeca. There, 13 New York City restaurants received one or more Michelin stars — including, yes, one star for Shmoné, Shani’s first.
This news had yet to break as we kicked off our meal with appetizers: a Jerusalem bagel that came to the table piping hot and accompanied by za’atar to dip in, carefully cut cylinders of cucumber and tiny green olives — as well as figs with stracciatella, a creamy, stretchy cheese that tastes similar to burrata.
For our mains, we enjoyed a creamy lasagna also made with stracciatella; a deconstructed version of sabich, with half a roasted eggplant sitting atop a golden yogurt sauce; vegan mashed potatoes; spinach rigatoni and, finally, lamb kebab with roasted tomato and rice that, as the menu says, “reminds me of Jerusalem.”
Sated and happy, we finished our meal with the burnt Basque cheesecake, and shots of arak.
As dinner was winding down and our group was figuring out our best routes home and how to split the bill, we heard a bell ring out from the open kitchen and a loud commotion. We all looked around, confused. One of my friends suggested, “I think it’s a sports thing?”
But then, the news was shouted to the restaurant from within the kitchen: “We got a Michelin star!” Absolute joy burst forth from the staff: Chefs hugged each other, waiters and managers stopped in their tracks to take in the moment. About 10 minutes later, Executive Chef Nadav Greenberg returned from the ceremony, and more celebratory clapping, singing and shouts ensued.
A bottle of champagne was opened for the restaurant’s employees and customers cheered as they took selfies. It was quite a thing to witness, with everyone taking videos, shouting “mazal tov” and clapping.
Back in May, Shani had told the New York Jewish Week he was honored to be included in the Michelin guide, but that he was “not focusing on getting Michelin stars.” Whether or not that’s true, it’s clear that his staff and his customers were overjoyed by the outcome: Shmoné, along with seven other establishments, joined the list of only 55 out of New York’s 24,000 restaurants with a single Michelin star.
In a moment in which the news out of Israel is so abysmal, the experience of being in a packed Israeli restaurant amidst a night of accolades and celebration was a much-needed balm for the soul. And belly.