Chefs fine-tune Middle Eastern cuisine at Kismet
Things really came together for chefs Sarah Hymanson and Sara Kramer to open Kismet restaurant in Los Feliz.
The New York City transplants, included in the Jewish Journal’s 2017 “30 Under 30” list, made a name for themselves, first by cooking a pop-up dinner at Animal on Fairfax and later opening Madcapra, an updated take on a falafel stand, located in downtown’s Grand Central Market.
Now, local enthusiasm is turning to Kismet, an all-day Middle Eastern-inspired restaurant they opened in January on Hollywood Boulevard. Their business partners are vaunted local chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo of the mini restaurant empire that started with Animal. Before Hymanson and Kramer, Shook and Dotolo were partners with Ludovic Lefebvre, running the hugely popular Trois Mec, Petit Trois and Trois Familia restaurants.
Kismet is a chance for Hymanson and Kramer to continue the work they began in 2013 at Brooklyn’s Glasserie restaurant when “there wasn’t a lot happening with new Middle Eastern food and updating it,” Kramer said in a recent interview inside the casual, bright and airy, blond-wood-clad dining room. She cited Michael Solomonov of Zahav in Philadelphia and Alon Shaya in New Orleans as chefs “doing a great job” and helping move the genre forward.
Hymanson and Kramer were raised in secular Jewish households — Kramer in Nyack, N.Y., and Hymanson in Chicago — but their new project hews closer to Kramer’s personal experiences and heritage. “All the food traditions got handed down to me through my mother,” Kramer said of her mother, who was reared in Lima, Peru, “but I do remember making boreks with my grandmother when I was a kid.”
Her mother, she said, would make shakshuka on Saturdays “as a breakfast treat and we’d all be stoked.” Rest assured, the version of eggs poached in spiced tomatoes and onions at Kismet uses top-notch Southern California produce to create a fresh and bright dish. Kramer “never had pork or shellfish in the house,” but her family did not keep strict kosher, and neither did Hymanson’s.
That said, Kramer and Hymanson share similar training and skills, having both spent time in the upstate New York and Manhattan kitchens of influential Blue Hill founder and chef Dan Barber.
Hymanson began cooking seriously in college at Oberlin in Ohio. Kramer took longer to find her way, after a stint in the touring and Broadway companies of “Mamma Mia!,” the Abba musical. Their paths crossed when Kramer worked at the Brooklyn Kitchen, a high-end cooking supply shop that shared a space with the Meat Hook, a gourmet butcher shop where Hymanson was on staff. They later became colleagues at Glasserie.
Here in Los Angeles, they have honed a sensibility that honors tradition yet feels contemporary, capturing a keen sense of the local culinary zeitgeist. The same can be said of Shook and Dotolo, who reached out to Hymanson and Kramer via Instagram of all things, before the women had even moved to Los Angeles.
The new partnership makes perfect sense. “We knew it would be helpful to have some infrastructural support going into a larger project. They’re amazing,” Hymanson said of Shook and Dotolo.
As for what’s coming out of the kitchen at Kismet, “we want it to be approachable, but introduce these kinds of flavors and this cuisine, but bring it into the modern era,” Kramer explained. “It’s important to me to have the food match the space, and the tone and the ambience.”
It is also important that the food matches the chefs’ worldview and personalities. “I’m not coming from a traditional background, so that wouldn’t make sense for me to have a very traditional sounding menu,” Kramer said. Components associated with Mideast cuisine — tahini, za’tar, feta cheese, flat breads — meet fresh, seasonal ingredients from local California farms and producers and are transformed with exacting cooking techniques.
Poached chicken is combined with Moroccan olives and even coconut in an arugula salad for an adventurous touch. The “magic Myrna” potatoes blend Old and New Worlds with Meyer lemon, fennel, dill and Aleppo pepper. You can choose to go light with the Persian cucumber side salad and its delicate rosewater-infused labneh, or be decadent with the Turkish breakfast spread.
Encouraging diners to get a little adventurous isn’t too hard in L.A. But at Kismet, it also means playing with some terminology. Take the “flaky bread,” for instance. “If someone were to ask, we’d say absolutely, it’s 100 percent melawech. On the menu, it’s ‘flaky bread,’ ” Kramer said. The rich, flat bread meant to be torn by hand comes with either sweet-ish (preserved lemon and honey) or savory (tomato and spice) sides.
“If someone wants more information, the whole staff knows where the inspirations are coming from,” Kramer said. “But we mean everything to be inspired by that cuisine as opposed to everything being traditional versions of that cuisine.”
In addition to perks that make it feel more like a formal restaurant, with a wine director and pastry chef, Kismet serves all three daily meals, along with a dedicated afternoon snacks menu. The constraints of a compact Grand Central Market stall no longer apply, giving the chefs “a space where we can be creative and play,” Hymanson said. They can move from house-made sesame walnut granola early in the day to a sumptuous rabbit-for-two feast that costs $80 on the dinner menu.
It’s a dream made in L.A. “The chef and culinary community has been very welcoming here,” Hymanson said. “Not that it’s not competitive, but it definitely has a supportive quality to it that I really appreciate.”
They’ve also befriended owners of Armenian and Persian food businesses, who have helped them source ingredients, such as barberries and spices.
“L.A.” Kramer said, “is treating us really well.”
4648 Hollywood Blvd.