Thank you for supporting our journalism. This article is available exclusively for our subscribers, who help fund our work at the Sun Sentinel.
The dream began in 2018 with a test kitchen and a fan-favorite dish – turmeric-roasted cauliflower – in the MIA Market food hall in Miami’s Design District. Now chef Yaniv Cohen’s kosher-style restaurant, Jaffa Israeli Kitchen and Wine Bar, is opening in Hallandale Beach’s lofty Atlantic Village plaza.
Debuting with limited hours starting Feb. 7, Cohen’s modern Mediterranean restaurant at 701 N. Federal Highway is a project three years in the making, a love letter to two things that always appeared around the family dinner table in his native Israel: fresh vegetables and Middle Eastern spices.
Picture deconstructed baba ghanoush with halved eggplant stuffed with tahini and lemon cumin. Or: turmeric chicken tajine spiced with paprika and dried red peppers on a bed of ptitim, or Israeli cous-cous. Even Middle Eastern-style brisket marinated in tomato sauce and date honey.
“My grandmother used to pickle cauliflower with other dishes, and my mother did fried cauliflower florets, so it was always on our table,” he says. “They taught me that spices aren’t just flavors and aromas, but they’re also health compounds.”
Even the dining room is a reflection of home and family. The 65-seat restaurant calls to mind Jaffa, an ancient port city in southern Tel Aviv, with brass Moroccan lanterns and walls adorned with weathered white paint and classic Israeli posters from the 1960s and ‘70s. Mismatched olive-green chairs and distressed maple-wood tables are everywhere, and a thin gray banquette along one wall is topped with a rainbow of cushions. Behind the 12-seat bar, “Home is where the hummus is” is emblazoned in blue neon above the order window.
Cohen, 47, is a handsome cookbook author with eyes that resemble blue whirlpools. He learned everything he knows about cooking from his mother, grandmother and father, a Tunisian Jew who taught him to make dishes with roasted beets and red pepper-tomato chutney. Where he grew up, near Jaffa, vegetables are main entrees, not a side dish served with protein, he says.
Which is why Cohen, known to friends and fans as “The Spice Detective,” has turned herbs and Middle Eastern spices into a career. He published a cookbook, “My Spiced Kitchen: A Middle Eastern Cookbook,” (Page Street Publishing, 2019) – where he links spices to their wellness benefits, particularly paprika (vitamin A), turmeric (anti-inflammatory), cumin (digestion) and Baharat (antioxidant), a blend containing allspice, ground black pepper, cloves and cinnamon.
“It all started at the markets [in Tel-Aviv],” Cohen says. “We would pick out spices and my grandmother – she was the queen of Shabbat – worked in this 12-by-4-foot kitchen and would never use recipes or measurements. It was, ‘I’ll add a pinch of this, add a pinch of that!’ and so that made me trust my instincts. I don’t strictly cook what my family cooked, and I add some modern twists, but the foundation is always family.”
Modernizing the food of his youth is the philosophy Cohen brought to MIA Market when he opened his Jaffa stall in 2018. The booth became an Instagram hit, drawing hundreds of customers – many from Hallandale Beach and Aventura – to try one photogenic dish: whole turmeric-roasted cauliflower drizzled with tahini and punched with za’atar and cilantro salsa.
The Eat Beat – Restaurants, Bars and Recipes Newsletter
Dining out, cooking in and all the South Florida restaurant news and information you need.
“I didn’t know I was going to have a hit dish,” says Cohen, who in another life catered private shindigs for Prada, Dior, and celebrities including Cindy Crawford and David Bowie. “I just do things that are different and delicious and healthy. Lots of restaurants don’t serve the whole cauliflower, but people see this gorgeous flower, and they have to try it, they have to share it.”
At 1,700 square feet, Cohen’s new Hallandale restaurant gives him what he lacked at his tiny MIA Market booth – a grill – enabling him to fire dishes such as rosemary-scented ribeye steak kebabs with onions, tomatoes and peppers. (He plans to keep his Miami stall open.) Also on his new menu: honey mustard-marinated lamb chops dusted with sage, thyme and garlic, along with beef short ribs topped with pomegranate molasses. For dessert, there’s apple-walnut-maple strudel, tropical sorbet and basboosa, a honey-soaked semolina cake infused with orange blossom and dairy-free banana ice cream.
While his meats will be glatt kosher and his kitchen will offer kosher wine, Jaffa is really “kosher-style,” intending to serve dinners on Friday instead of closing for Shabbat.
“I’m more of a modern Jew, not orthodox,” says Cohen, who lives in Miami. “I didn’t want to be limited by kosher certification or by other people deciding what’s on my menu.”
Cohen says that current staffing shortages and supply-chain woes delayed his opening by at least a year. He’s still firming up his operating hours but – for now – plans to open three days a week for dinner, followed by brunch and lunch service over the next two months.
Yaffa Israeli Kitchen, at 801 N. Federal Highway, in Hallandale Beach, will debut Feb. 7. Call 954-391-9430 for opening hours or go to JaffaMiami.com