Shay Lavi always has thrived on multi-tasking. Before he decided to follow his passion to cook for a living, he owned three separate businesses: a toy store, a media company and a firm that matched startups with investors.
“I’m always on the go,” the 37-year-old, Israel-born chef said. “I don’t really have time off. It’s because I don’t really need it.”
When he ran the now-shuttered Rozina Bakehouse and & Coffee downtown, he supervised a kitchen that served breakfast and lunch while producing an ambitious menu of sweet and savory baked goods. Since parting ways with Rozina about a year and half ago, Lavi has immersed himself once again in a variety of projects.
His Let’s Eat catering company stages one-of-a-kind events and offers chef-prepared meals to eat at home. Let’s Eat also has spawned a side business that makes hummus and pita for commercial clients. Lavi has been working with photographer Sharif Hassan on shots for a potential cookbook. And, just recently, he became executive chef of Nur Kitchen, a 35-seat modern Mediterranean spot on Buford Highway, previously managed by friends who asked him for help.
For the first time since exiting Rozina, Lavi, who was influenced profoundly by his family matriarchs, has a public venue for showing what he can do.
When it came to writing the menu for Nur, Lavi didn’t have to start from scratch. At his disposal was a repository of dishes he learned from his Turkish mother and his Libyan grandmother. “It’s a part of me,” Lavi said of his list of simple appetizers, salads, sandwiches, hummus plates, and meat and seafood entrees. The pita is baked on-site in a brick oven.
Lavi’s fried mussel sandwich is his interpretation of a snack he used to enjoy on the Turkish island of Buyukada: fried mollusks threaded on a skewer and paired with a garlic-almond sauce (skordalia). “That’s Turkey in summer,” he said. “I just turned it into a sandwich.”
His whole fried mullet mirrors the fare found at Jaffa Port, a seaside town adjacent to Lavi’s hometown of Tel Aviv. His breaded and fried chicken schnitzel, served as an entree with rice and a chopped salad, or tucked into a pita with hummus and tahini, is the kind of everyday diner food you can find all over Israel, where it is beloved, especially by kids.
Lavi left Israel in 2015, when his American-born wife, Karen, became pregnant with their first child, Gabriel. “I decided I would like to give my kids different opportunities than I had,” he said. “I want them to be raised and grow without any labels, being sweet and knowing people.”
By the same token, he resists labeling his food Israeli or Middle Eastern, “because it’s more.”
“The influences are much more,” he said. “I don’t really want to use any label, to be honest. I just want to say delicious. Done! ‘What cuisines are you cooking?’ Delicious! You like delicious food? Come sit at my table.”
True to form, Lavi’s to-do list for Nur continues to grow. Though he opened with a straightforward, approachable, all-purpose menu, he plans to unveil a dinner service in about two weeks that’s “a little bit more elevated.”
“Hopefully down the line,” he said, “I’m going to do a little bit of bakery and a little bit of brunch. That’s what I want for this place.”
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Menu: modern Mediterranean
Alcohol: no; working on it
What I ordered: mezze platter, hummus with favas, fried mussel sandwich, fries, schnitzel platter. The food generally was good, though there were a couple of disappointments. The schnitzel was overcooked and dry; the hummus was naked — no favas. Though the takeout was nicely packaged, a bit of labeling, or some direction from the cashier, would have helped. Five different mezze items, plus condiments to go with other dishes, were packed in small plastic cups, so it took a minute to figure out what was what. I would have loved to have tried the falafel and shawarma, but, when I called in my order, I was told they were out of both.
Service options: dine-in or takeout; call ahead or order in person; no delivery
Outdoor dining: a couple of tables on the sidewalk; a larger outdoor space is in the works
Mask policy: staff is fully vaccinated and does not wear masks; fully vaccinated patrons can skip masks, too; for the unvaccinated, masks are required
Address, phone: 7130 Buford Highway NE, Atlanta; 678-91-3821
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Mondays-Wednesdays. 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; closed Sundays
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