Atlanta Orders In: Busy chef Shay Lavi is back cooking for public at Nur Kitchen

This takeout spread from Nur Kitchen includes chicken schnitzel, house-baked pita bread, a fried mussel sandwich with fries, a mezze platter, chopped salad and hummus. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Caption
This takeout spread from Nur Kitchen includes chicken schnitzel, house-baked pita bread, a fried mussel sandwich with fries, a mezze platter, chopped salad and hummus. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

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.

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Chef Shay Lavi’s fried mussel sandwich (shown with fries) is a tribute to a dish he enjoyed on summer visits to the Turkish seaside as a youngster. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Chef Shay Lavi’s fried mussel sandwich (shown with fries) is a tribute to a dish he enjoyed on summer visits to the Turkish seaside as a youngster. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Caption
Chef Shay Lavi’s fried mussel sandwich (shown with fries) is a tribute to a dish he enjoyed on summer visits to the Turkish seaside as a youngster. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

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.

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Nur Kitchen is in the Global Forum Shopping Center on Buford Highway. Wendell Brock for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Nur Kitchen is in the Global Forum Shopping Center on Buford Highway. Wendell Brock for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Caption
Nur Kitchen is in the Global Forum Shopping Center on Buford Highway. Wendell Brock for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

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.”

Is there a restaurant you want to see featured? Send your suggestions to ligaya.figueras@ajc.com.

Caption
Shay Lavi catches a private moment at Nur Kitchen, his restaurant on Buford Highway. The modern Mediterranean spot bakes its own pita in the brick oven to the right. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Shay Lavi catches a private moment at Nur Kitchen, his restaurant on Buford Highway. The modern Mediterranean spot bakes its own pita in the brick oven to the right. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Caption
Shay Lavi catches a private moment at Nur Kitchen, his restaurant on Buford Highway. The modern Mediterranean spot bakes its own pita in the brick oven to the right. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

NUR KITCHEN

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

Website: nurkitchenusa.com

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