Toast is a culinary epidemic in L.A. that provides a platform for avocado, nut butters, and jams to express themselves in occasionally curious ways. Somehow, the word also managed to infiltrate Toast Café, a Sherman Oaks restaurant. Rest assured that owner Yael Tal has no time for toast, preferring to focus her attention on Israeli breakfast gems, some of which would bring fellow Tel Aviv natives to tears.
Malawach ($13) is one of the more memorable dishes that Tal grew up eating in Tel Aviv, a Middle Eastern melting pot. She bakes a flaky, Yemeni-influenced disc, griddled on the plancha until shiny, and serves it with shredded tomato, hard-boiled egg, and salty green olives. Tear or cut the bread and mix-and-match with savory accompaniments. This is a great, simple plate, but at Toast Café, malawach dough is just a starting point.
Angelenos have become more familiar with migas, the Tex-Mex mix of corn tortilla strips, egg, and cheese, thanks to restaurants like HomeState and Bar Amá. If you like migas, you’ll love La Fatut ($15). This dish reminded me of Middle Eastern migas featuring malawach strips scrambled with egg and green olives and sprinkled with crumbled feta. Tal says, “Malawach makes everything better.” So does her hot sauce, a fire red, but not especially spicy blend of dried chilies, garlic, salt, pepper, and cumin.
Tal takes the same dough, rolls it thinner, and fills a flaky, sesame-studded horseshoe called ziva with a molten mix of cream cheese, feta, and mozzarella. This savory pastry is on the heavy side, and even pickles, hard-boiled egg, and the aforementioned tomato slurry can’t bring total balance, but you’ll keep eating anyway. Her sister runs a chain of coffee houses in Israel called Cacao. “She won’t put ziva on the menu because everybody knows it,” Tal says. “Here, people really miss it.” It’s easy to see why.
Yael Tal is a pastry chef by trade and has lived in L.A. for 13 years. She was a caterer once she first arrived and worked as pastry chef at Bocca Steakhouse in Encino before transitioning to Toast Café. She started as Toast Café’s pastry chef and later trained the crew to cook so she could run the front of house. Now she’s become owner of the five-year-old restaurant with glass-topped tables and pleasant covered patio. Her repertoire has expanded to include a large menu that spans far beyond baking.
Shakshuka has been the breakout star among Israeli breakfast dishes in L.A., and Toast Café’s version ($13) is especially good. To make shakshuka, Tal stews fresh tomatoes with salted onion, green bell pepper, cumin, onion, and both sweet and hot paprika. The piquant stew is pan-fried to order with two eggs and dusted with parsley. Tal recently changed plating so shakshuka appears in a pan, but you can still order shakshuka over knockout hummus (add $3) with fluffy toasted pita if you ask nicely.
“You make a cake with flour, eggs, and sugar, but there are a lot of ways to bake a cake,” says Tal. The same holds true for hummus. Toast Café’s version is especially good, creamy and tangy. She blends garbanzo beans, garlic, and tahini. She substitutes lemon salt for traditional lemon juice, which takes far less product to achieve tang.
Creamy green shakshuka ($14) is far less conventional, but is still another destination dish. In this case, Tal cooks eggs in a stainless steel skillet with a brighter, more aromatic mix of sautéed spinach, onion, cilantro, pesto, green onion and cream.
You can also get scrambles, omelets, and pizza bagels at Toast Café, but to truly get a taste of Israel, and to dial up flavor, the five aforementioned dishes are imperative.
Toast Café, 15001 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, 818.461.9020, www.toast-coffee.com