Yafo Houmous Cafe

Middle Eastern restaurants that focus on freshness and quality of ingredients have been proliferating in places like London (Ottolenghi and Honey & Co.) and in the U.S. (Glasserie and Zahav) over the last few years. And now, we’ve got a spate of new ones arriving in Paris.

The foods of the Middle East had mostly been relegated to kebab and falafel stands, but new places are showcasing the variety of foods and cuisines found in the Moyen-Orient, focusing on casual, shared dining experiences, with fresh ingredients (often with an emphasis on grains and vegetables), at places that include Liza, Miznon, and Mokonuts, as well as newcomers like Balagan, Salatim, Ibrik, Café Oberkampf (for shakshuka), Tavline, and Yafo.

The owner of Yafo houmous café is Lotan Lahmi, who spent most of his career baking, working at Ladurée and in the pastry kitchen of the Prince de Galles hotel, before going over to the savory side. He told me that he used to have to get up at 4:30am every morning, which I’m sure is one part of baking professionally that he doesn’t miss!

His architecturally simple, yet functional café is a welcoming place to pull up a stool, with a friend or two, which I did when my pal Romina (of Les Madeleines bakery) came to town. She was taking a break from making macarons and her famous Kouign amanns, and I’d been meaning to check out a few of the newcomers I had on my “Restaurants I Want to Visit” list (which are actually a series of scribbled on post-it notes scattered around my apartment, and in my pockets, wallet, and messenger bag). Her visit gave me the opportunity to head to Yafo for lunch.

It’s a good thing I had company. Not just because I enjoy Romina so much, but because the bowl of hummus was so big, both of us working together on it, couldn’t make it to the bottom of the bowl. Made from tahini imported from Israel, Lotan had two giant bowls of just-made hummus on the counter, waiting for his guests that day. Hummus isn’t usually pureed with other things in the Middle East, like vegetables or other stuff; it varies by what’s strewn over the top.

At Yafo, one is topped with chickpeas, sumac, and za’atar. There’s a vegetable/grain version with marinated and pickled vegetables du jour, and a meat-based one. That day, the topping was poulet rôti (roast chicken) with fresh herbs, but we stuck with the standard. Because that’s how we bakers sometimes roll.

The hummus was spectacularly creamy with a nutty, buttery sesame flavor. Being in the midst of a heatwave (it was 93ºF/34ºC), the hummus was especially soft due to the withering weather, so we did our best scooping it up, while all three of us did our best holding our own against the heat.

The concept of “bowls” has taken off in Paris, mostly with the twentysomething crowd, which Middle Eastern food lends itself well to. I’ve seen a number of sad, undressed and unseasoned piles of quinoa and grated carrots in some of the bowls at the new, hip cafés around town, which make me want to run over to the nearest market and grab a bunch of fresh herbs for them to chop into everything, and drizzle a nice dressing over it all. So if you want a bowl with a little more zip to it, this is the place to get it.

We went with the cauliflower taboule (above), which was delightfully crunchy, well-dressed (yay!) and excellent, as well as a variation on the classic raw vegetable salad of diced cucumbers, radishes, tomatoes, and radishes, tossed together with za’atar-rubbed croutons.

To spice things up, Lotam leaves out a big jar of homemade spicy green sauce, a blend of chile peppers, garlic, and lemon, as well as jars of dried peppers and za’atar, to help yourself to. We found ourselves making liberal use of them, including the salt, which we both felt the hummus needed a few extra shakes of. The pickled cabbage with amba spices was used to great effect here, seasoning up the crunchy cabbage, which was help-yourself, too.

I don’t love rosewater, but it was subtly added to the ice-cold limonade in just the right amount. It wasn’t overpowering – too much rosewater can make you feel like you’re stuck in a small space with a lot of grandmothers, but just enough so that you knew something was up. However what really sent us out of there happy was the outstanding poppy seed cake iced with chocolate ganache, made from dark chocolate blended with tangy Greek yogurt and a hint of coconut. The tahini-chocolate sablé cookies had a lovely flavor (tahini in cookies may be the best innovation of the decade), and the coffee had a curious hint of cardamom added, which had us leaving the café with a extra spice in our step.

Yafo
96, rue d’Hauteville (10th)
Métro:
Open Monday through Friday, 12 to 2:30pm (no reservations)


Related Links and Recipes

Hummus

Tahini and Almond Cookies

Salted Chocolate Chip Tahini Cookies

Hummus with Spiced Lamb

Maoz Falafel in Paris

Cauliflower Tabbouleh (Not Without Salt)

Labneh

Tabbouleh

A Visit to a Za’atar Farm


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31 comments

  • July 21, 2017 9:34am

    That hummus! Thanks for the recommendation…I think I’ll be making a trip across town soon!

  • July 21, 2017 10:10am

    I do miss a good middle Eastern meal. Not too many in the Dordogne unfortunately. I will have to plan a trip to Paris soon.

  • Gavrielle
    July 21, 2017 2:56pm

    Mmm! Delicious hummus is so easy to make at home that it wouldn’t occur to me to go to a hummus restaurant, although I understand that in Israel at least and perhaps elsewhere in the Middle East everybody goes out for it. This post makes me think that I should be seeking it out.

    • July 21, 2017 3:01pm
      David Lebovitz

      Hi Gavrielle: There was a thread on my Facebook page about how much is spent annually on avocado toast and many people chimed in that it was something that could be made at home. That’s true of a lot of things (coffee, a steak, a two-egg-over-easy breakfast, most cocktails, and hummus) but it’s fun to go out and have fun with friends sometimes, too. You’re definitely right that in the Middle East, people dine out (usually communally) and it was fun to eat here, and meet the owner, too! : )

  • July 21, 2017 2:58pm

    Sounds heavenly. I’d love to make that cauliflower tabouli. As for Tahini in cookies, well, my not-such-a-great-baker sister is justly famous in our bake-crazy family for her sesame sandies, using pure sesame oil. But I like to skew the idea, and instead make sesame biscotti with toasted sesame oil. It’s fantastic.

  • Elle
    July 21, 2017 2:59pm

    Tahini in cookies is not a new invention of the last decade (I have 2 excellent recipes that I use – one vegan and one with plenty of butter) and it is wonderful but you really have to have an excellent Tahini for that: not too salty, not too bitter.
    The best Tahini I ever tasted is Karawan from Nablus in the Palestinian authority. Wish I could get it here in Europe.

    • Cris S.
      July 24, 2017 4:44pm

      Amazon carries it. Not sure where they ship though.

  • Nicole
    July 21, 2017 3:29pm

    Those bowls of food you mention, David, are called “Buddha Bowls” in the food magazines i read. you can put anything in them so long as it’s reasonably healthy, and looks good.

  • alice n.
    July 21, 2017 4:08pm

    You said: “Too much rosewater can make you feel like you’re stuck in a small space with a lot of grandmothers.” Hilarious David! Your comment brought back memories for me remembering little old Lebanese ladies growing up in NYC.

  • Maureen Sutton
    July 21, 2017 5:54pm

    Would love any recipes from this establshment — they all look swoon worthy! Love your blog and your books. Have most of them.

  • TMJ
    July 21, 2017 5:57pm

    sounds like you had coffee with hawajj, a Yemenite spice blend that is very popular in Israel and very tasty (not to be confused with hawajj for soup which will also elevate chicken soup to a whole new world).

  • July 21, 2017 8:21pm

    I just ate dinner yet these photos make my mouth water.
    Your posts, even the resto ones that I can’t get to (too far), are so inspiring. The resto ones might actually be even more inspiring–knowing I can’t go there, I want to try to recreate the dishes myself. Thank you for this blog/work-of-art.

  • Joanna
    July 21, 2017 10:18pm

    looks so good! I love it when you feature Mid Eastern food/restaurants on your blog. Would be interested in your take on a recipe for one of those bowls, especially that wonderful sounding spicy green sauce!

  • July 21, 2017 10:51pm

    Oh dear, I’ll be crossing my fingers that they have a cookbook in the near future.

  • Lynn
    July 21, 2017 11:49pm

    I guess I’ll have to make the cherry poppy seed cake you blogged about last year

    • Kath
      July 25, 2017 3:55pm

      Thanks for this comment which alerted me to the existence of this delicious looking cake, and thank you David for the recipe. I have it in the oven half an hour after finding out about it.

  • Sara Malone
    July 21, 2017 11:58pm

    David, I have a question about cherries-in season in Cleveland, and cardamom-sometime used in Middle Eastern cooking. I’m trying to make this relevant to your post. Have made your cherries in wine syrup several times now, and want to know-Would a couple cardamom pods simmering with the cherries be a good mix? Haven’t tried it, and don’t want to waste all my “pitting energy” on a total fail. I’d love your advice. Thanks!

    • Nicole
      July 22, 2017 7:40am

      Star anise tastes better with cherries I think

    • July 22, 2017 10:42am
      David Lebovitz

      I like cardamom with cherries. Rather than pods, I might crush a few seeds in, and use those. If you’re not sure if you’d like it, why not do a couple of batches – one with spice, and another without? :)

  • Annie
    July 22, 2017 2:05am

    A Lebanese guy I knew taught me to toss a couple of cardamom pods into the pot when making coffee, and I love it. And in my student days our eat out places were the Lebanese and Turkish restaurants along Sydney Rd in Melbourne, which provided fresh, varied, delicious and cheap meals. They’re still there, and they’re still excellent, without being in any way trendy.

  • sillygirl
    July 22, 2017 2:35am

    I shouldn’t have read this just before dinner time!!! Can hardly wait to get to Paris in September – this will be at the top of my list.

  • July 22, 2017 2:39am

    Now this is the kind of savory food I’ve been missing in Paris except at Mizon. A must-visit toute suite. Thanks David!

  • July 22, 2017 6:26am

    You are such an excellent writer and story teller, transporting the reader across the city or world to your meal and experiences. I have been checking your site almost daily for years now to see if you have anything new and delicious to share, as I love reading about restaurants you visit and of course your amazing recipes! Your site helped inspire me to make a site of my own as an outlet for my passion. Just want to say thank you for all you do!

  • July 22, 2017 10:47am
    David Lebovitz

    Parisbreakfast: I like Miznon, although it’s somewhat chaotic. But the quality of ingredients is quite good.

    Stephanie M: So glad you like the blog, including the stories and recipes. Thanks!

    Joanna: You might enjoy checking out the various “bowls” on my friend Heidi’s site, 101 Cookbooks. She’s got some really good ones on there.

    Dana: There are lots of great Middle Eastern cookbooks out there, including (but not limited to…) Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, Anissa Helou, Bethany Kehdy, Claudia Rodin, and others that are worth checking out. I also have a lot of Middle Eastern recipes here on the site (I’ve linked to a few at the end of the post).

  • annette
    July 23, 2017 7:23pm

    I’ll be checking out Yafo soon. Thanks for the recommendation.

    BTW, in case you haven’t heard, Moissonnier is closing permanently on July 27 :(

    Thanks for letting me know. I’ll update my post on them with that information. – dl

  • Helen
    July 23, 2017 7:42pm

    Way back in the late 60’s or early 70’s I read a philosophical book named (I think) The One Bowl Revolution that changed forever my diet and eating habits. The book’s premise was eating a healthy meal in one bowl that met nutritional requirements while satisfying the soul. I have many meals/dishes that are a bowl of deliciousness and especially enjoy trying your ideas and suggestions. Thanks David for being you and sharing the world with us.
    P.S. My family thought then, and still thinks, that I’m crazy to carry a bowl everywhere but especially to a huge family dinner!

  • Jill
    July 24, 2017 5:27pm

    I’m not sure how popular Yelp is in Paris and the area, but I’ve corralled my ‘restaurants I want to visit’ into the bookmarks section of the app/website. I wish there was a spot to make notes (dishes to try, etc) but it’s been super helpful when I’m looking for a place to go in any specific neighborhood, and it’s a lot better than my old system, which was very similar to yours – post-its, torn out pages of a newspaper or magazine, random lists on my phone…

    • July 25, 2017 8:56am
      David Lebovitz

      Thanks for the suggestion. Yes, Yelp is in France, but I find that if I use an app, or Evernote (or use Notes on my phone), I never refer to them again. So I need to write them down where I can see them. I’m sort of old-fashioned about that : )

  • July 26, 2017 9:23pm

    That hummus looks amazing! I love hummus, especially homemade hummus. My daughter loves it as well! Looks so appetizing

  • Anne Marie
    July 27, 2017 3:12am

    Hello, I am also finding that I can not get to the second page of your newsletter. I am getting a message that the link doesn’t work.

    Thanks for all the wonderful writing and photos.

  • annette
    July 27, 2017 12:17pm

    Hi David…I’m sure you’re working on whatever happened to your Vietnamese Caramel Chicken post that was sent out yesterday. It sounds delicious and I can’t wait to read it! I’ve never heard of it before, and I’m so curious!