LA’s Hit-Making Bavel Team Opens a Casual Take on Middle Eastern Food

Credit: Joseph Weaver

Chef Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis’s names are synonymous with some of Los Angeles’s most beloved restaurants. Bavel introduced the city to a number of inventive ways that Middle Eastern food can be interpreted, while Bestia gave downtown a standout Italian restaurant that still keeps diners waiting for a table a decade later.

Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis

Now it’s time for them to perform their magic again. On June 1, the husband-wife team return with a new venture in East Hollywood. Called Saffy’s—named after Saffron, Ori and Genevieve’s daughter—the restaurant features traditional Middle Eastern dishes with the multi-layered flavors for which the chefs are known. And like the playful energy of their daughter, Saffy’s is meant to encourage diners to unwind in a casual setting over dishes that can be eaten with their hands, including kebabs, shawarma, and falafel wraps.

“With Bavel, we wanted to show people that Middle Eastern food could be more than falafel; that the flavors can be very developed. Saffy’s is more of the fun side of the cuisine,” Gergis says. “Saffy’s aesthetic is casual and encourages energetic dining. It still has beautiful elements of design, and we want to make sure the service is good with a high-end cocktail service, but it’s a little more playful.”

Simple and flavorful Middle Eastern comfort foods are the heart of Saffy’s menu. Both Gergis and Menashe were born in Southern California, but have roots in countries such as Israel, Turkey, Morocco, and Egypt, and the flavors of those countries, from turmeric to sumac, are wrapped into each bite of their creations.

Shawarma on the spit | Credit: Joseph Weaver

Appetizers at Saffy’s include a hummus tahini with smoked paprika, lebanese pine nuts, green zhoug, olive oil, and challah and Gergis’s favorite on the menu: turmeric mussels with a carrot, habanero, lime, coconut cream, scallions, and toasted flatbread. “These mussels rival Bestia’s andouille mussels, and those have been on the menu there forever. These are made in a coconut curry that is just so good,” she says.

On the large plates menu, a shawarma made with lamb and beef, lettuce, tomato, sumac onions, tahini, red ajika, and laffa is a testimony to Menashe’s dedication to executing authentic Middle Eastern classics. The cone-shaped creation is one that he’s been working on for years, even traveling to Turkey to visit the country’s most popular shawarma stands alongside Chef’s Table’s Musa Dağdeviren, an acclaimed chef based in Istanbul. A skewer section on the menu includes chicken, lamb, and beef options that are all accompanied with laffa, tahini chopped salad, grated tomato, and amba.

For dessert, Gergis’s range in pastry-making shines. Options include a bergamot chocolate cake and rose ganache as well as soft serve ice cream with a cherry and pineapple swirl.

Cherry limeade | Credit: Joseph Weaver

The cocktail menu executes creative concoctions without taking itself too seriously. One of Gergis’s favorite drinks is a cherry limeade made with tequila, calamansi, cherry-lime soda, lime sherbet, and a cherry on top. “The pastry team makes the lime sherbet for it in-house, and it has a soda fountain feel,” she says.

There’s also a creamy milk punch with rum and cognac, pineapple, lemon, and cinnamon, all topped with an umbrella. “The cocktail menu offers well done drinks that have a fun element. We wanted the restaurant to have a playful spirit to it, like our daughter Saffron,” Gergis explains. “You eat the skewers with your hands, you have cocktails with a sherbet in it. These are the kind of things that give Saffy’s its playfulness.”

In addition to cocktails, the wine list at Saffy’s features Mediterranean and island wines from small grower producers.

Credit: Joseph Weaver

Saffy’s sits on a busy corner in East Hollywood that’s become home to a number of the city’s most popular dining spots, including Found Oyster and Melrose Cafe. At Saffy’s, diners can pull up to a 16-seat curved bar or gold colored banquettes while viewing a wood-fired shawarma rotisserie, wood-burning oven, and hearth in an open-air kitchen. Gergis teamed up with Nicky Kaplan Interiors to transform the space into a design reminiscent of Morocco circa the 1970s, with tall ceilings, gold accents, and a layering of colors and textures.

“We didn’t want to do something as ornamental as art deco, so we built on top of that ornamental style that already existed. The space’s aesthetic matches the energy that we wanted,” says Gergis. A similarly vibey patio seating 50 people will open in front of the restaurant soon.

Saffy’s is currently only open for dinner, Wednesday through Sunday from 5 pm to 11 pm, but daytime hours will be announced soon. Come July, Gergis and Menashe will open a cafe next door called Saffy’s Coffee & Tea Shop where some of their most popular breads will be available to take home, including a whole wheat challah and buckwheat loaf.  Sweet and savory pastries created by Gergis and her pasty team will also be on deck. A curated tea list will include a housemade chai that’s steeped in oat milk for maximum richness and flavor.

Judging from their track record with Bavel and Bestia, it won’t be long before diners are lining up to see what Gergis and Menashe have created next.