Cleveland Park experienced a taste of international culinary synergy on October 16, when Adeena Sussman, famed food writer and author of the new Israeli cookbook Sababa, took to the plates of Sababa, famed DC restaurateur Ashok Bajaj’s Israeli restaurant. Beyond sharing the name (and sharing Instagram hashtag confusion), the two institutions have plenty in common.
“I had heard of the restaurant,” says Sussman, “but it’s very exciting to finally be here.”
No event of this magnitude could take place without another culinary star: Joan Nathan, the city’s doyenne of Jewish cooking. Nathan helped bring together Sussman and Sababa chef Ryan Moore, and co-hosted the dinner.
A sold-out crowd gathered on the chilly October evening at the restaurant, filling both Sababa and sister next-door restaurant Bindaas for a multi-course meal that Moore thoughtfully designed to bring together his strengths on the foundation of Sussman’s recipes.
“I received an advance copy of the book,” Moore said, “and took to the pages to find out what would pair well with our classic dishes and what I could make that’s in season.”
For example, Moore took out the apricots from a chicken dish that calls for them, as the fruit wasn’t in season. Moore also served a creamy chard-wrapped fish dish of Sussman’s that mirrors a whole sea bass dish that arrives wrapped in grape leaves on his menu.
The meal began with golden, puffy pitas surrounded by salatim (small shared dips) like turmeric-flecked tahini. Moore then served roasted halloumi over charred lemon glaze (using lemon scraps in his quest to oversee a more sustainable restaurant) alongside tahini-glazed carrots and harissa-honey chicken; the entrees included the fish and schmaltz-braised lamb.
For dessert, Moore plated a tahini caramel tart. “I use 140 pounds of tahini a week, so if I see a new tahini recipe, I have to try it,” he said. He also made fluffy sesame seed-topped challah.
Sussman, who grew up in the US and recently moved to Israel, said that her dishes and recipes reflect modern, vibrant Israeli cuisine, influenced by being raised in the States.
“Israeli food is as much about attitude as ingredients,” she said, noting that as a young cuisine, it takes risks. “It can be simple in appearance but transportative complex flavors and influence. I also make sure to give credit where it’s due, whether to Yemeni, Iraqi or Palestinian influence.”
Sussman marveled at how Moore skillfully represented her dishes alongside his own at the dinner.
“From a linguistic sense, it’s a good pairing,” Sussman said, “But also, Sababa is run by an Indian restaurateur in DC who opened an Israeli place, which speaks to the international aspect of Israeli cuisine; the chef here is also amazing. This is really where Israeli food stands and shows that it’s made inroads into all kinds of community.”
“It’s also wonderful to see friends and family from DC, and of course, Joan Nathan.” Nathan and Sussman graced the room during the dinner, as Sussman took photos (for Instagram, surely), and signed copies of Sababa, right in the middle of Sababa.