Fourth part of 4 parts, please start here with Part 1
Chef Ori Menashe brings his own style of Italian cuisine to Bestia. Thus one may define the style of his food as “chef driven Italian”. Many elements are authentic, but those elements are combined in ways that aren’t traditional. Spices are also introduced from Ori’s upbringing that you wouldn’t normally associate with Italian food. Plus the menu is very seasonal. Bestia doesn’t serve anything that’s not in season unless those non seasonal ingredients have been preserved.
The veal tartar dish on Ori’s menu has a tonnnato sauce on it. The tonnato sauce is very authentic. Though having that sauce with raw veal is not something one would find in a traditional Italian restaurant. The whole orata is stuffed with bitter greens, and topped with chilies, chili paste and lemon zest. Plus Ori uses a lot of dill which Ori hasn’t seen many Italians do. Ori also uses all spice, cinnamon, fennel seed, marjoram, clove, and turmeric in his food. There’s turmeric in his pickled cauliflower, beets and Jerusalem artichokes. But the turmeric isn’t over powering so none of his dishes taste like Middle Eastern dishes. Thus a lot of the food reflects what Ori likes and enjoys as well as food he has in his fridge back home or his father use to make. So Ori emphasized that his restaurant is “definitely an Italian restaurant but my flavor of Italian” as well as one that adds extra layers of depth to the food. Ori stated “a lot of people eat here and say the food is so flavorful.”
That doesn’t mean Ori doesn’t love more traditional Italian cooking. He loves Bollito Misto from Northern Italy. It is amazing but that’s not what he’s trying to do at Bestia. He’s trying to bring something new that’s not something you’d find in every Italian restaurant. Ori believes a lot of Italian restaurants are doing the same thing. A lot have a carbonara. But Ori rhetorically asks why people would come here to Bestia for those kind of dishes? He said even if his version is really good no one will drive to the Arts District down this alley to eat that. When Ori built the menu for Bestia the first item he put on the menu on was the chicken gizzards and then he worked around that dish. Ori remembers his business partners Bill and Genevieve telling him that this dish was a little too aggressive. Ori also put beef tongue and tripe dishes on the opening menu. Ori’s response to his partners was let’s just do it, and see if people like it. If they don’t we’ll take these items off the menu. It wasn’t like they were losing a lot of money on these items. So he took a chance and his team put eight offal items on the menu including items with beef heart, chicken gizzards, livers, beef oxtail, tripe, pig face and lamb tongue.
In Israel they eat all of these parts. In Jerusalem they have a dish called the Jerusalem mix. It has boiled chicken gizzards, livers and hearts with turmeric and chilies plus some other spices. This dish is served with burnt onions or on rice or couscous and this dish according to Ori is amazing. In Israel Ori said you can go to any normal skewer place and you can order chicken hearts, sweet breads, lamb balls or turkey testicles on skewers. All those things are on the menu there. Ori remembered one time he went with his family to eat some meat at one of those grill places and his dad ordered lamb balls without telling anyone. Ori looked at his dad since Ori knew it was lamb balls. His dad looked back at him and they smiled at each other. Everyone had the lamb balls and no one complained though if someone else knew they might not have eaten these lamb testicles. So being raised this way, Ori had no inhibitions about putting these food items on the menu, but Bill was concerned that customers might not be so open minded.
Though not only have customers been open-minded, but many other restaurants have been putting offal onto their menus. When Ori opened Bestia, he was getting everything he wanted from everyone. Now some of these offal items aren’t as easy to get. There are actually shortages of some. Plus prices have gone up. Bestia goes through one hundred pounds of chicken gizzards a week. The last thing his supplier wants to deal with are these gizzards because his supplier has to peel them. But now he pays his supplier more money so he’s still getting these gizzards without any interruptions. With beef heart that he’s serving raw people sometimes come to Bestia especially for this item only to be disappointed that it isn’t on the menu. But Ori will only serve that item when it is super fresh. So when he gets hearts on Thursday, that were slaughtered the day before, there is only a shelf life of two days on the heart. After the second day he won’t use the heart any more. After the second day if there is any heart left he’ll use it for family meal and grill it. The heart use to be much easier to procure because other restaurants weren’t using it. Now other restaurants are using a lot of this and other organ meats.
Bill Chait’s concerns about the accessibility of the menu was quickly ameliorated since Bestia was able to build up its client base in only three weeks. Those first three weeks Ori recalls that they did only eighty to one hundred and ten covers a night. But word of mouth and an early favorable review from LA Weekly’s Bescha Rodell quickly helped fill the seats. Ori attributes some of this success to knowing what the neighborhood wanted. When Bestia opened they hardly had any reservations. People just walked in. They didn’t want to make a reservation. Ori stated, “That’s why they live here and not in Beverly Hills.” When your concept includes a tasting menu, that’s when you need reservations Ori further asserted.
Ori also stated that of the three hundred and sixty they serve on a slow week day they have about 300 reservations. Sixty of those people don’t show. Why? Because they made the reservation two months in advance and people don’t know where they’re going to be two months ahead of time. Some people don’t show up. Some people don’t even answer their phones. So then they have tables that are marked as “might not show” and if that party indeed doesn’t show, then that party’s table is just given to walk-ins. Bestia has such a flow of walk-ins that they never have a problem getting rid of those “might not show” seats. Many of those walk-ins still come from the neighborhood all the time and that’s what makes this restaurant always busy. Ori estimates seventy percent of his guests come from all over, but the thirty percent that gave us the push in the beginning are still the thirty percent that pack the restaurant every night
Ori didn’t anticipate being as busy as he is so the kitchen is undersized for the amount of covers his team puts out. The back of house team in the kitchen currently has thirty four people. Ori says they have extra staff now at Bestia because of the new have a baby which makes it more difficult for him to work his normal seventeen or eighteen hour days. For Ori’s next project in the neighborhood a few blocks away from Bestia, Ori will take his top two line cooks from his current staff and promote them to sous chefs in that new kitchen. He also wants to bring someone in from the outside to get some fresh perspective. The seat count of one hundred and fifty seats at this new restaurant will be similar to Bestia’s number, but the restaurant will be larger because the kitchen will be larger
The new restaurant will serve Middle Eastern food though the food will be Ori’s take on this cuisine. There will be some authentic food from his time growing up and living in the Middle East but Ori said it’s boring for him to cook just authentic dishes. According to Ori, there is no such thing as Israeli food. The food in Israel contains influences from of Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey, Russia, Romania, Yeman, Hungary and other places that the citizens of Israeli have emigrated from to come to the small country of Israel that’s really too small to have different regions of cuisine.
At the new place, he is going to have a charcoal grill for skewers, a wood burning grill, a horizontal rotisserie fired with oak, and another vertical rotisserie for shawarma. The shawarma is going to be served from a stand connected to the kitchen but not served in the restaurant. The stand will also serve falafel and maybe sabich. Sabich is a sandwich with fried eggplant and hard boiled eggs. The stand will be opened for lunch and dinner from noon to midnight. All sandwiches are going to be finished with amba, a fermented mango sauce.
The kitchen is also going to include a tabun oven for laffa bread. There’s wood on the bottom of this oven and the bread sticks to and cooks on the walls. None of Ori’s ovens will use gas. All of this equipment is in the process of being bought for the new restaurant, which is also another partnership with Bill Chait. Ori has also been working on pita bread for nine months, so the restaurant is going to have a nice pita you won’t find anywhere else. It’s going to be a yellow pita bread made mainly with semolina. This pita will absorb the juices of the skewers and roasted meats on the menu better than any other pita available. All the cheeses including the feta will be made in house from the best milk possible to get the best flavor. Plus there is going to be family style of service. So when guests order a meze they will get fifteen different small salads.
In describing his new place Ori concluded, “There is going to be a lot of me in the food.”
Chef Ori Menashe puts a lot of himself into all of his cooking. His food is a reflection of where he comes from, how he was raised, who he has worked with and how hard he has worked. His passion, dedication, discipline, and love are apparent in every plate that comes out of the kitchen at Bestia, and the places he has previously worked. Thus it should come as no surprise that any of his forthcoming and future locations would be any different than what the lucky patrons of Los Angeles have learned to expect and respect.
What some of those other future locations will be, we will all have to wait to see.
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