A Falafel Master Turns to Couscous with Kish-Kash

The magic of couscous, the North African staple, is that it seems as though it occurs in nature, as perfectly as rice, when in fact it is born of...


The magic of couscous, the North African staple, is that it seems as though it occurs in nature, as perfectly as rice, when in fact it is born of human ingenuity. Its grains are the result of a labor-intensive process that involves moistening semolina flour with water and rolling it to form chewy little specks, which are then seasoned with oil and salt, steamed, and sifted through a specialized sieve called a kish kash. It’s not easy to find fresh couscous in New York (the dried version is readily available in grocery stores), but in June the chef Einat Admony—of Bar Bolonat and the falafel mini-empire Taïm—opened Kish-Kash, a new restaurant devoted to it. (Though Admony was born in Tel Aviv, her couscous, which she makes by hand in ten-pound batches, is not what’s known as “Israeli couscous,” which is made of wheat flour and better categorized as an orzo-like pasta.)

A casual diner would be forgiven for missing the distinction between Admony’s couscous and the supermarket stuff, though hers is finer and a bit fluffier. But, then, couscous is not meant to stand out. It’s meant to be comfortingly bland and filling, an expansive, starchy pedestal for stretching a modest scoop of aggressively spiced meat or vegetable stew into a meal; a complete dish built around couscous is also called couscous. At Kish-Kash, the stews sit in big, colorful Le Creuset Dutch ovens on the counter of the tiny open kitchen, waiting to be portioned onto metal camp plates. Lamb shank, falling apart into shiny panels and sweetened with dried apricot, is nestled with tender peeled potatoes. Whitefish is blanketed in spicy, jammy tomatoes and red peppers for a classic Sephardic dish called chraime. On a recent evening, a white-haired gentleman guzzled peach-and-rosewater white-wine sangria and waved the steam coming off his plate of Jewish-Libyan mafrum, potatoes stuffed with ground beef, toward his nose, inhaling deeply. “Cinnamon!” he declared. An Israeli enjoying the chicken tagine, heavy on meaty green olives and bracingly bitter preserved lemon, dismissed the other Israeli-owned restaurants he’d tried in New York. “Everyone wants to be special,” he scoffed. Kish-Kash, though, passed muster. “It’s home cooking,” he said.

A bit too much of the compact, tile-covered dining room is taken up by a communal table, and high ceilings make for problematic acoustics. But, if you’re looking for the most cheerful person in New York, you may have found him: Charles Washington, the bright-eyed manager and host, who could teach a master class in hospitality. And, if you’re looking for New York’s best harissa, the classic North African chile paste, you may have found that, too, served here upon request. Thick, crimson, nutty, it tastes like a slow-burning spark has taken hold of your tongue, like black-and-white turning to color. (455 Hudson St. 646-609-5298. Couscous, $12-$21.) ♦



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