November 16, 2018

Serving the People at Yossi’s Place

Yossi Shitrit’s Israeliness is so archetypal, it’s as if he’s a living, breathing stereotype of the Israeli male. His cockiness, his accent, his irreverence, his ambition, his total lack of fear, his doelike blue eyes and carefully groomed stubble, his tattoos, his confidence — he’s sexy, and he knows it.

Yossef (Yossi) Shitrit is the 34-year-old co-owner and chef, along with partner David (Dudu) Almakias, of David and Yossef, a wildly popular Tel Aviv dining destination with a “downtown” vibe. Luxury cars more at home in Beverly Hills than Tel Aviv’s Rothschild neighborhood pull up outside the restaurant on Montefiore Street. Since opening nine years ago, David and Yossef has attracted Israel’s fashionistas, politicians, high-tech entrepreneurs, glamourati and a lot of gorgeous young women. But although they may come to “see and be seen,” the majority of the restaurant’s returning clientele come back for the food — and for Dudu and Yossi.

Born in Haifa, Shitrit has a love for the Israeli kitchen almost as old as he is. He remembers his grandmother, of Iraqi descent, holding him as a baby while she cooked in her kitchen. And while he loves his mother’s sambusak and red rice, when asked what he likes best about his grandmother’s cooking, he replied: “Everything. I worship her cooking.” The Israeli stereotype deepens as Shitrit goes on about his grandmother: “She has magic in her hands.”

As much respect as Shitrit has for the “fancy, nice, high-end” food on his menu, the food, it seems, is just a conduit. Shitrit’s dining dogma is more holistic. “It’s not about cooking; it’s about people,” he said. “I like to host people. Connect with new people, make new relationships. Cooking is the way to connect, to sit around the table and talk.”

“I like to host people. Connect with new people, make new relationships. Cooking is the way to connect.” — Yossi Shitrit

The graffiti on the main wall of the restaurant intentionally tries to break down the barrier between the haute cuisine and the fun, casual vibe.

“The atmosphere is our atmosphere,” Shitrit said. We’re not trying to be like a Michelin three-star restaurant. We just want to see people having fun.”

David and Yossef opened after the two chefs met while working in the kitchen of one of the city’s more established fine dining restaurants. They instantly connected and decided to do something for themselves. This drive became the first David and Yossef, a 250-square-foot restaurant in a former sandwich bar in Tel Aviv’s old north neighborhood. From the start, the eatery was packed. When asked why they have been so successful in the increasingly competitive Tel Aviv dining scene for close to a decade, Yossi said adamantly: “We are hosting people in our home. We are here all day, every day.”

It’s the combination of sophistication and lack of pretense that continues to draw crowds. When asked about his favorite dish, Shitrit doesn’t choose the foie gras or the perfect egg, the tuna sashimi or the popcorn shrimp. He chooses, like the typical Israeli he is, the local dish: the shawarma. “The dish has been with us since the minute we started; it’s been on every menu we’ve had,” he said. “Nine years: the same dish, the same recipe, the same pita. The shawarma is us. The spices, the meat — it’s us, it’s our country, our neighborhood. Our story is in this dish.”

But he doesn’t want to talk about any of this, really. It’s history. He’s focused on the future: two new restaurants in Russia — Moscow and St. Petersburg. But what gets him the most excited is the medical cannabis vaporizer company in which he is a partner. Because, of course, any Israeli male archetype must also have a startup.