Montclair, NJ 07042
- Cost: $$
- Credit Cards: All Major
- Alcohol: BYO
- Parking: Street, Metered
June 30, 2016
An apricot is the logo at Mishmish, the casual Montclair restaurant where Chef/Owner Meny Vaknin is earning praise for his bright and inviting Israeli-Moroccan food.
The road to Mishmish, which means “apricot” in Arabic and Hebrew, runs from North Africa, through Israel and Brooklyn, to Jersey. Vaknin grew up in Israel, the son of Jewish-Moroccan parents. After emigrating to the United States 12 years ago, he graduated with honors from the French Culinary Institute and cooked in New York restaurants including Boulud Sud and most recently, Williamsburg’s Eastwick. Chef Meny opened his own place, Mishmish, in December 2014, where the menu showcases his diverse culinary journey.
Vaknin’s Israeli-Moroccan “Mediterranean” cuisine has gained a loyal following. More than a few Montclair residents had urged me to try Mishmish ASAP. My wife and I finally ate there recently, and I’m glad we did. Chef Meny’s food tastes as good as Yotam Ottolenghi’s food looks in his popular Jerusalem cookbook.
From small plates and salads, to mains, specials and desserts, many of Mishmish’s dishes have elements that distinguish them, in taste or technique, from similarly named dishes you might find at other Middle Eastern/Mediterranean restaurants, whether Greek, Turkish or Lebanese. Grilled octopus, for example, arrives on a bed of radishes, grapefruit and sunchokes. A smoked trout salad features thinly sliced, cured fish with basil pesto and walnuts.
Mishmish serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Small plates on the menu include charred shishito peppers, shawarma “tacos,” and a Mediterranean dip trifecta: hummus, smoked eggplant with feta, and labne (thick yogurt drizzled with olive oil and a dusting of a Moroccan za’atar spice blend). We happily finished two baskets of handy grilled pitas enjoying these fresh homemade dips.
Everything we tried for dinner was excellent, including spiced lamb meatballs in a tomato sauce alongside a poached egg, and the “Grandmother’s Fish” – perfectly cooked cod with potatoes, lemon and sage. Specials on the blackboard change often. The standout dish for us was a seasonal risotto layered with just-sweet carrots and creamy, fresh, oyster mushrooms. Oh, and a spectacular dessert – berry compote topped with flaky shreds of sweet tahini-based halvah – unlike anything we had tried before.
The warmly colored space, in orange hues, seats about thirty people, with stools available at an open kitchen counter where you can watch Chef Meny in action. You may recognize him, in fact, as a two-time winner of the Food Network’s Chopped.
Look for the apricot on Montclair’s Glenridge Avenue to enjoy Chef Meny Vaknin’s distinct, perfectly executed, Mediterranean flavors, at EthnicNJ’s now favorite Israeli-Moroccan spot.