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Silver Lake's Mh Zh Is The Israeli Sidewalk Cafe That L.A. Didn't Know It Was Missing
The richness and complexity of a city's dining scene can be determined by two factors. First, look at its singular and novelty vendors. Think of Bia Coffee in Koreatown, which just sells flower-based coffees, or Kawaba Rice Ball on Melrose, which sells nothing but stuffed rice balls. For Los Angeles' culinary landscape to support such shops, a foundation has to be in place that gives them context, and the groundwork to deviate from what already exists. For Bia, a strong coffee scene in the city is key. For Kawaba, it's the already diverse representation of Japanese cuisine throughout L.A. that makes an eatery solely selling rice balls sustainable.
The second metric for judging a city's overall culinary robustness is counterintuitively granular. Look at the strength of individual chef's voices. A chef that isn't afraid to play to his or her own tastes, rather than what the public is used to, requires a base (re: a dining public) that is experienced enough to enjoy such tastes. Much like the auteur-dominated Golden Age of film in the 1960s and into the '70s, the nuances and idiosyncrasies of each chef brings new heights and depth to L.A.'s many restaurants.
Mh Zh, a new Israeli restaurant opened in Silver Lake this Spring, fits into the second of these two metrics. Co-owner Conor Shemtov may be a native Angeleno, but he has spent years in kitchens near and far, including time in the central Israeli city of Ramla.
The Israeli influence remains. The restaurant's name itself is a Hebrew play on words. Mh Zh, pronounced "mAH zeh" means "what is this" in Hebrew, but could just as easily be read as mezze, a Middle Eastern version of tapas. The aesthetic of the restaurant borrows heavily from the rustic appeal of Jaffa or Jerusalem (the numbers writing out the address on the side of the building were bought in Israel, Shemtov says), and the turntable inside spins a constant stream of '80s post-punk and new wave classics.
While Mh Zh's fellow Middle Eastern newcomers Kismet and Botanica keep their flavors familiar and accessible, Shemtov and his chef, Jayro Martinez, skew towards what tastes good to them. There is the lamb ragu (spelled "Ragoooo" on the menu) served on a bed of tahini with pickled beet stocks, which already feels like a classic. Or a potato served with hard-charred skin, some olive oil, and a sprig or two of rosemary.
For Mh Zh's ful, an Egyptian fava bean stew, mayocoba beans take the place of fava. The dish uses the spiked tartness of preserved lemons to balance the meatiness of the beans along with some heat packed into the traditional Middle Eastern stew. Most dishes here are served with a thin, charred slice of hard-crusted bread. And expect the labneh to be runnier and more vibrant than you are used to at other restaurants.
For the time being, Mh Zh is B.Y.O.B. (we are directed to the Yummy across the street, when we arrive), but Shemtov is looking to have a beer and wine license soon, along with a weekend brunch option to be added.
Mh Zh is located at 3536 Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. (323) 636-7598. Hours are 5 p.m. to 10 pm Sunday, and Tuesday through Thursday, and until 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Mh Zh is closed on Mondays.