When Taka Taka, a restaurant serving Mexican and Japanese fusion (Japanese-Cantina as their neon sign said), I was a bit disappointed: I liked the concept and the conveyor belt sushi. But then, I saw Combina, a Spanish and Israeli fusion restaurant from Chef Einat Admony who opened the wonderful Taim many years ago. I was intrigued and really looking forward to try it. Combina opened mid-November 2015 and thus far, has been successful. We went on a Tuesday night and were surprised to see this place so packed. Too packed I would say, the tables really being close to each other (at this point, let's just have communal tables). We arrived a bit earlier than our reservation and they asked us to sit at the bar for few minutes. Well, we decided to eat at the bar, the seats being more comfortable in term of noise and space. I believe that it might also help us get our food quicker and service better considering the proximity to the wait staff that was running around like bees in a beehive.
Food wise, it is tapas style and the menu is fairly small, with lots of dishes that are unusual, maybe not because of the main ingredient, but because of the way they are prepared and the spices used. We started off out meal with eggplant escabeche, a vegetarian dish made of eggplant, garlic, dill and yogurt.
Escabeche can be found in many Mediterranean and Latin American dishes. The only version of it I know well was sardines escabeche that my mom use to cook when I was a kid. This one was very good, either with or without the bread it came with, but I admit there was a lot of garlic (so, not a dish to order on a first date; maybe not on a second or third either).
Then, Jodi wanted to eat their sabich tostada. The reason is that the sabich sandwich at Taim is phenomenal. This is also a dish made with eggplant, sitting on a crispy corn tortilla and topped with an egg and aioli.
It was very good, but small considering that we paid $16 for it. As it was on the right side of the menu and thinking about the dish at Taim, we though it would be bigger, more of an entrée than an appetizer. Fortunately, I got the dish I came for: a merguez burger.
I never had merguez served this way. I love merguez, these lamb sausages that can be spicy and that are deliciously greasy. When I was a kid, we use to eat merguez very often, either in couscous, sandwiches (they were grilled on a barbecue and we were either putting ketchup or mustard on a delicious baguette). You can usually find them in kebab restaurants in France and I remember that, when I was living in Paris, we often went to eat a merguez sandwich with fries with my friend Caroline and Arnaud, after seeing a movie. The fries were not the best, but the sandwich was divine. In New York, you can find merguez served in different ways in French restaurants like Felix or Marseille, or in Middle Eastern places like Barbes.
At Combina, the merguez burger was served with some pickles and peppers. I should mention that I stopped eating the peppers when I realized that they were squirting on my neighbor's side of the bar each time I was cutting a piece of it...Anyway, that burger was fantastic! The first bite was divine: not only you get the bold flavor of the merguez, that had a nice char on top and complemented very well with the sauce that I think was made with feta. They kept the grease that in fact oozes on your fingers, giving to this patty some juiciness that enhances even more the taste and the whole experience. I devoured it and imagine that Jodi, who does not really liked lamb, told me later that she could have eaten a whole one.
Last was dessert. We decided to go for the Malawah churros. These churros did not have the usual shape and were very airy, but delightfully crispy with or without the Israeli chocolate they were served with that was sublime. I am not sure how this chocolate is made or mixed with, but it was so good that we did not leave any trace of it...This is, with the burger, a dish I definitely recommend.
I really liked my dinner at Combina: the food was delicious and unusual. No wonder why people rave about this place. It is a bit pricey, but you also pay for the location in the posh TriBeCa. Would I go back? For sure, and I would have again that merguez burger, although they have other dishes such as the lamb chop and belly served with harissa that looks yummy.
Enjoy (I did)!
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