April 14, 2024

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Williamsburg Israeli restaurant Mesiba lives up to its name, which means ‘party’ in Hebrew

7 min read

(New York Jewish Week) — When Eli Buliskeria opened an Israeli restaurant in Williamsburg last March, he had some idea what next year had in store for him —  with a new restaurant and a new baby, he knew he was going to be busy. But an unexpected war in his home country presented more challenges — and also opportunity. 

“It’s definitely been the most exciting project that I’ve ever done and the most exciting year I’ve ever had,” Buliskeria, 33, told the New York Jewish Week. “Everything together is very emotional.”

Buliskeria is the head chef at Mesiba, opening the restaurant after seven years as a chef in New York, including stints working at Tamam Falafel, a vegan falafel counter on the Upper East Side, and Bustan, an upscale Israeli restaurant on the Upper West Side. Before moving to New York, he was the sous chef at Herbert Samuel Restaurant at the Ritz Carlton in Herzliya.

“I really think it’s a milestone in my career,” he said of Mesiba, which just celebrated its one-year anniversary. “I’m taking it very seriously.”

Found inside Williamsburg’s Moxy Hotel on Bedford and South 4th St., Mesiba certainly lives up to its name, which means “party” in Hebrew. Music flows through the low-lit “Bauhaus-inspired” dining room, which is filled with large tables and comfortable booths that can accommodate large groups. The restaurant often hosts Israeli DJs and musicians, and it is attached to several venues where the party can continue: Jolene, a popular, retro-themed “sound room,” as well as Bar Bedford, a cocktail bar with a garden, and Lillistar, a rooftop bar. 

“This combination of the good music, good food and drinks makes people come and feel the party energy,” Buliskeria told the New York Jewish Week. “The food is meant to be shared, no one is sitting there having his dish and that’s it. The idea is that it’s all together, it’s sharing together, singing together and showing up together.”

Mesiba is owned by the Miami-based hospitality group Bar Lab, known for its upscale Broken Shaker cocktail bars in Miami, Manhattan and elsewhere. 

“In my opinion, the best place in the world to have a restaurant is in New York, so I was very proud about it,” Elad Zvi, one of Bar Lab’s founders, said of Mesiba, which is the group’s first signature restaurant in New York. “Doing this project, I was scared — a Miami guy doing a restaurant in New York sounds like it could be bad. Seeing the success of the restaurant is such a proud moment for me and for the team.”

Zvi said he knew he wanted to hire an Israeli chef for the job and had been hearing about Buliskeria for years through mutual friends and colleagues. “From our first meeting, before even tasting his food, I was already sold,” Zvi said of Buliskeria. “He’s a really nice guy, he’s a family guy, he’s honest, he’s sweet, he gets it — he’s worked for the best chefs in Israel.” 

Mesiba’s cuisine is “Tel Avivian,” according to Zvi, who is Israeli. “It’s a melting pot — there’s a lot of elements of Ashkenazi Jews and a lot of elements of Palestinian and Syrian food,” he said. “It’s a love letter to the Levant region.” 

Diners enjoy the crispy whole fish and frena bread at Mesiba. (Justin Oppus)

This diversity is found throughout Mesiba’s menu, with sections demarcated by Hebrew words, including nishnushim, or “small bites,” and gadol, meaning “big.” Dishes include fluffy frena, a Moroccan focaccia-like flatbread; kreplach, or Eastern European dumplings, and musakhan chicken, a Palestinian dish. 

Buliskeria said the inspiration for his menu is rooted in his childhood growing up in Holon, a city just outside of Tel Aviv, which was also a “melting pot” of sorts. “My menu is my childhood,” he said. “It’s the food that I was sharing with my friends and family, the food that I grew up on.”

“As a child, I’d have lunch at my Polish friend’s house and then at my Yemenite friend’s house.  I grew up in an eight-floor building and each floor had a different smell of food. Just walking up and down the stairs, you could smell what each house was making. It was so beautiful, with all the strong smells coming out from the door,” he said. 

Buliskeria is passionate about bringing his love of Jewish holidays to the restaurant, too. During Hanukkah, he developed a mobile latke cart, complete with elaborate fixings of lox, zaatar and caviar; the chef wheeled it around the dining room and prepared the potato pancakes tableside. More recently, for Purim, Buliskeria hosted a hamantaschen-baking class at the restaurant, in addition to a party featuring specialty food and cocktail items, free hamantaschen and a DJ. 

Mesiba also recently launched a Shabbat dinner series, in which Buliskeria partners up with Jewish and Israeli chefs to create a prix-fixe Shabbat menu. This month, Buliskeria worked with Eden Grinshpan, the Israeli-Canadian host of “Top Chef Canada,” to highlight dishes from her cookbook. 

The Shabbat with Grinshpan was “the thing I’m most proud of so far,” Zvi said. “It was amazing music. Everybody had cocktails, there was a bunch of food on the table, the vibe was so good. It was the first time I realized, wow, we created a really special restaurant.”

“The Shabbat dinners are for everyone and anyone,” Buliskeria said. “I hope people take away a memorable feeling from the food, the music, the environment and connecting with the people around them. I want them to have a positive feeling around the experience as more than just a meal.”

In Israel, “everybody is very focused on Shabbat — what you’re making for dinner and who you are seeing,” he continued. “To have Fridays come and to make everything about Shabbat and to have guests coming for Shabbat, it always takes me back home. I love it.” 

israeli restaurant

The dining room at Mesiba. (Courtesy Bar Lab Hospitality)

Of course, not everything in the past year has been easy, especially for an Israeli — ahem, Tel Avivian — restaurant. When Hamas invaded Israel last October, it was hard to convince people to go out and enjoy a restaurant whose name is literally “party” amidst so much devastation. 

“A lot of people were coming in and asking how we were doing. So the support was there. At the same time, Israeli people didn’t really feel like celebrating. It was hard days,” Buliskeria said. “We didn’t have the right name and the right timing. As some time has passed now, they feel like they can celebrate a little bit more and they can come and show support little by little.”

For Zvi, who had a policy in his professional life to avoid discussing his political and personal views, Oct. 7 has changed that.

“Since Oct. 7, it was very, very important for me to highlight the fact that, yes, this is an Israeli restaurant, with Israeli music and food,” he said. “It’s not that I was hiding it before — I cannot hide it from it, my name is Israeli and so is the restaurant’s. But it is even more important for me now.”

According to Zvi, embracing their Jewish and Israeli identities has meant inviting Israeli DJs to play sets and encouraging holiday and Shabbat specials with Israeli chefs. There’s a fundraising component, too: Zvi said some of the proceeds of Grinshpan’s dinner went to Beit HaLochem, an organization supporting wounded veterans in Israel.

Still, Zvi said he doesn’t talk about politics in his restaurant, and added that Mesiba has not experienced the type of harassment faced by other Israeli establishments across the city. “The reaction I’ve gotten from people since Oct. 7 is zero reaction because I don’t open this door. Somebody will start to talk with me about it, but I don’t give them the energy,” he said. 

While Bar Lab manages over 20 establishments across the country, Zvi admitted Mesiba has been one of his favorite projects so far. “There are so many creative people. That’s what I really, really love about this place,” he said, naming the latke cart, the DJ sets and the Shabbat dinner series as the most exciting, innovating elements. 

“It’s very dynamic. It’s always moving,” he said. Just like every good party should.


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