The shawarma is spinning inside an Art Deco restaurant jewel box in East Hollywood. The meat glistens and glints through the window, directing speckles of sunlight at passing drivers, drawing them in and temporarily blinding them simultaneously. The busy crew, clad in light pink, learns to finesse a new style of casual daytime LA service — something that Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis have never tried before. The rumors are past, the future is now. Say hello to Saffy’s.
Menashe and Gergis are no newlyweds (literally, and in the restaurant sense). Together they’ve managed to marry big flavors and disparate tastes from across the Middle East and Italy at their two endlessly popular restaurants Bestia and Bavel, both located in the Arts District. They’ve shaped the careers of a generation of line cooks, wine professionals, and front-of-house staff who spent years at either restaurant (or both), and along the way, they even managed to have a daughter named Saffron. It’s all converged on this busy block of Fountain, and it’s all hands on deck for the family’s first new opening in four years.
Sitting inside the former Five Leaves, it’s easy to tell that this is a Menashe/Gergis production. The line cooks are stout and energetic, while Menashe wanders the room to inspect and approve, his eyes looking everywhere at once from beneath his signature bandana headband. This place cuts to the heart of Menashe and Gergis — an ode to their broad cross-cultural upbringing, pulling in flavors from Israel, Palestine, Egypt, and Los Angeles. The golden tile, the deep red hues, the muted pinks, light wood, and tall ceilings, it’s all from Gergis and Nicky Kaplan Interiors, and recalls a ‘70s-era Morocco. The food, a casual and flavorful collection of grilled meats and warm breads, is almost all Menashe (Gergis still does the desserts, and don’t you forget it).
Saffy’s will open for dinner to start, meaning mellow nights under low lights as the warm waft of wood-fired, spit-roasted meat permeates the dining areas. There are actually views directly into a portion of the kitchen where diners can watch the sparks fly — as they do at Bavel — as well as a curvy bar and long banquettes for groups to mingle. A big sidewalk patio, complete with awning, is coming soon, allowing diners to enjoy the LA breezes as a stained glass glow pours out into the night.
Lunch will follow soon and with it a whole new menu format for Gergis and Menashe. There will be shawarma sandwiches and salads and other easy-eating items, some pulled from the dinner menu and others made just for the sunlight crowd. Menashe says that he’s looking forward to the challenge of creating some of LA’s best shawarma and hummus, no small feat with the city’s rich Israeli, Lebanese, Armenian, and Persian heritage. The opening dinner menu, including turmeric mussels and large-format group meals, like a red snapper tagine, is below.
Along with the patio and lunch menu, the pair is also planning a small next-door cafe called Saffy’s Coffee & Tea Shop, which will provide espresso drinks and a variety of well-steeped teas. There will be pastries as well, made right behind the ordering counter, and long, boxy bread loaves to take home. With the rise in foot traffic along this block that has been made famous over the years by the Scientology Center, neighborhood stalwarts Square One Dining, Melrose Cafe, Sabor Latino’s, the newer Found Oyster, plus numerous Thai, Armenian, Filipino, and Salvadoran restaurants dotting the area to the north and south, more coffee and bread still seems like a good idea — though again, it’s a first for the family and for director of operations/partner Leah Bunch, who oversees the group’s now-trio of projects.
Ori, Genevieve, and Saffron’s new Saffy’s opens June 1 at 4845 Fountain Avenue, keeping hours from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday. Reservations are available via OpenTable.