Chef Ilan Hall Refines His Culinary Voice With ‘Esh'

In this “On Foodable Side Dish,” Foodable video correspondent Agnes Chung takes us into Chef Ilan Hall’s new concept in Williamsburg, called Esh, a recent transition from his first New American restaurant, The Gorbals, which had locations in first L.A. and then New York. The “Top Chef” Season 2 winner switched to an Israeli barbecue slant, with “esh” fittingly translating to “fire” in Hebrew.

The Location

The Williamsburg restaurant sits on the third, rooftop floor of the building, located above an Urban Outfitters. This wasn’t coincidental. “I’ve had a good relationship with Urban Outfitters for a while,” says Esh. “We’ve done…some charity work together, I’ve done some events for them, and we just started talking once about consulting here, and then I said, ‘Oh, that’d be a great place for a restaurant.’” Less than a month later, the ideation and design was put into motion.

The Transition

Of the re-concept from The Gorbals to Esh, Hall says, “We wanted to do food that was easier on the roof, and also I’ve had this thing inside of me for a while where, when we opened The Gorbals in L.A. for the first time, our food was…it was weirder, but it was way clearer as to what it was. It was a restaurant with Scottish and Israeli influences.”

Some of The Gorbals best dishes, he notes, were from the Israeli portion of the menu. Over time, he grew out of it, losing focus as to where the restaurant was going. “We have this wood-fire grill that we’ve had in here. It’s a beautiful grill and I feel like I wasn’t using it enough.”

The Menu

Hall uses a lot of inspiration from his heritage — he’s part Scottish, part Jewish — when creating dishes for Esh’s menu. “A lot of the new dishes…have a lot of flavor profiles from Israel. They remind me of times of when I went to Israel when I was younger. I still have a lot of family there, so I go back pretty frequently and it’s nice to be able to try and represent that now.”

He admits the cuisine they’re dishing out at Esh is not exactly traditional, but rather Hall’s point of view on it. 

So, what exactly is Israeli barbecue and how does it differ from American barbecue? “A lot of Israeli barbecue sort of focuses on live fire, cooking directly over it,” he says. “What we’re trying to do is give a taste of a little bit of both, where there’s certain things that we try and slow-smoke. We do a lot of cold smoking actually for some of our dishes. We’re taking a different approach. We’re not doing traditional barbecue on the Israeli side, we’re not doing traditional barbecue on the American side. We’re trying to take the best of both worlds and make it into something that’s delicious.”

In this episode, Hall shows us how to make Esh’s za’atar-crusted pork ribs. Seasoned with salt, the ribs are cooked overnight in a steam oven at 165-degrees for roughly 12 hours. “It breaks it down but doesn’t overcook it; it keeps a lot of the juice inside the rib,” notes Hall. Then, the product is sealed tightly so nothing can escape. After, it’s seasoned with two different types of za’atar, put in the oven for 7-8 minutes, put face-down on the grill for another 7-8 minutes, and doused with a lot of lemon juice. “Lemon and smoke — such a great combination together.” Date molasses is then drizzled on as a sweetener.

Once known for his unconventional twists on dishes (like matzo balls wrapped in bacon at The Gorbals), Hall says, at Esh, these “twists” can be found in the preparation itself. “I feel like my cooking has matured a little bit,” he says. “When you’re younger, you want to be crazy and you want to make your mark and you want to put as many things on a plate as possible, and really make it wild. But sometimes you need to really scale back to refine in its flavor and just really sort of clean and more developed.”

Meadowsweet: For Chef Polo Dobkin, a Culinary Journey Grows in Brooklyn

Let’s take things back to Brooklyn in the ‘90s for a second. The timestamp evokes visions of a raw, gritty borough filled with pockets of poverty. It represents rawness in all of its forms: an authentic, eclectic arts culture, a melting pot of diversity, and a time when Brooklyn was still the little sister on the block compared to “the” city, Manhattan. But during this time, before the cool, gentrified borough that we know BK as today, few people saw what Brooklyn was capable of, and embraced it early on. Michelin Starred chef Polo Dobkin is one of those people. And judging by the success of his restaurant Meadowsweet, which was awarded a Michelin Star in both 2015 and 2016, it was the right move.

“Rents were cheaper when I moved to Brooklyn,” says Dobkin. “I came out here in the early ’90s and kind of fell in love with it. A friend who lived down here said, ‘Trust me, once you move out here, you’ll never go back to Manhattan.’ And it turned out to be true.”

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Though Dobkin has worked in some of the most notable kitchens, moving his way up to executive chef, it wasn’t until recently that he opened up his own restaurant.

“My wife and my family both urged me to open a restaurant for years. Obviously, I’ve always wanted to, but taking that big step and taking that leap was always kind of daunting,” he says. After finally caving into the pressure a couple of years ago, they started looking for a restaurant space.

Thanks to being exposed to many different experiences while growing up, Dobkin knew from an early age that he wanted to cook for a living.

“The inspiration was definitely family, and also I was blessed enough to travel to Europe when I was younger, getting exposed to the cuisine of Austria, Italy, and Spain,” says Dobkin. “So between the home cooking and the home-cooked meals and cooking alongside my parents, also getting to travel and get a broad exposure to a number of different cuisines got me really excited about cooking at an early age.”

In this “Table 42” vignette, we bring viewers into Meadowsweet, Dobkin’s south Williamsburg, Brooklyn restaurant that specializes in contemporary seasonal American with a strong Mediterranean influence. Dobkin walks us through from-scratch squid ink fettuccine, a dish that begins with making hydrated squid ink pasta dough, which is then laminated and stretched repeatedly before being folded and cut into fettuccine. After the pasta is cooked, it’s married into a simmering sauce of deliciousness (red wine and tomato braised Spanish octopus) and met with chorizo, chiles, and topped with breadcrumbs.

The Plate, Brooklyn Edition

The Plate, Brooklyn Edition

Editorial by Jessica Bryant, Managing Editor

Brooklyn is no longer in the shadows of its posh older sister, Manhattan. Once primarily known as a hotbed of hipsters and creatives, the New York City neighborhood has matured — for better or for worse, depending on who you talk to. 

One thing is for sure though: Brooklyn’s culinary scene has transformed immensely within the past five years, showcasing talented chefs and innovative concepts. And now, Brooklyn is known to be one of the hottest emerging restaurant scenes in the country. Taking a nod from its hipster manifesto, the neighborhood is not littered with chains or celebrity chefs, but rather celebrates small operations. Kicking out some of the most creative and unique dishes, people are no longer asking, “Where Brooklyn at?” It’s already arrived.

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