Walking into Timna, a chic Israeli restaurant, on a rainy day, the Manhattan Sideways team and I immediately felt at ease in the exposed brick space with a long bar lit with candles and a central herb garden built into the dividing wall. Amir, the general manager, met us and told us that the brick structure that gives the restaurant so much of its character is the original wall, found after peeling away bits of paint and paper during construction. Graffiti can still be seen on part of the original sections. Amir also pointed out that the lanterns that decorate the space are made of woks and mixing bowls. The clever design made with simple materials is just one way in which Timna is steeped in culture.
Since opening, Amir has had customers come back for a variety of dining experiences, whether it be a full dinner, a casual snack, or a glass of wine. “During the weekend, we get a real party scene,” he said with a smile. Amir introduced us to Nir, the head chef, who told us a little more about the menu. He explained that the idea of “farm to table” is already firmly ingrained in Israeli food culture, and so they have been welcomed by New Yorkers who also embrace local, fresh foods. Nir began his career in Tel Aviv before moving to Milan to open a kosher restaurant. He then worked at Catit and Mizlala, two acclaimed Israeli restaurants from renowned chef Meir Adoni, before moving to New York to start Zizi Limona in Brooklyn. In April of 2015, he opened Timna in an effort to bring Israeli food to Manhattan. The word “Timna” refers to a national park in Israel that sits on ancient mines, but it is also known for having been a stop on the old Spice Road. As Amir said, “Timna is a fork in the road – it represents the fact that we all come from different places.” Nir explained that many people only think of hummus and falafel when they think of Israeli food, but that since Israel represents a mix of so many different cultures, the cuisine is far more colorful and complicated.
Having spent time in Israel, I was pleased to now have Olivia, Sophie, and Tom get to experience first-hand how varied their food can be. Standing by as Nir brought out a Bedouin octopus and Mediterranean sashimi for them to try, Amir affectionately commented that “Nir is like a grandmother – he wants to feed you.” The roasted octopus came with a series of flavorful sauces, including roasted eggplant and sesame paste. Sophie, whose father is from Israel, reflected that these were the flavors of her childhood, as she visited Israel often. The sashimi was deemed extremely fresh and perfectly paired with quinoa and more creamy flavor-filled sauces. When we paid our visit, Timna had not received its full liquor license, and so Amir showed us the clever list of fortified wine cocktails, made using innovative ingredients like juniper and star anise syrup. The wines themselves represent a wide geographic range, from California to Lebanon.
Both the food and the drinks menu are seasonal – they change almost daily. Nir showed us a pile of zucchini blossoms that he had purchased from the market that morning and was piping with cream, basil and shrimp. This item was making its debut that evening. As he guided us past a mouth watering table of traditional Yemeni breads baked in flower pots, Nir went on to say that he would really like to put Israeli food on the map. Amir added that they have gotten really good feedback from Israelis who have come to dine at Timna, but that the restaurant has also become popular with the locals. “I feel like we’re a good fit for the neighborhood. We are creating a restaurant where people want to come back over and over again.” He added that since so many people only know Israel from its role in world news, he hopes that Timna will highlight the creative side of Israel, rather than the political side. In closing, Amir sweetly stated, “We’re here to make people happy in a humble, genuine way.”