REVIEW: When chef treats you like family, Nur Kitchen really shines

You’ll need plenty of space for your many dishes of eggplant, falafel and chopped salad; your hummus, tahini and pita; your chicken shawarma with fries and yet another dipping condiment; and — an absolute must — a cornucopia of locally grown vegetables that are roasted to peak caramelization point, for maximum sweetness and char.

ExploreMetro Atlanta restaurant reviews

Credit: Mia Yakel

Credit: Mia Yakel

Since its quiet June opening, the 35-seat dining room has become a destination for lovers of the Israeli-born chef’s soulful cooking, which is profoundly influenced by his Turkish mother and Libyan grandmother.

You can stop by this all-day restaurant anytime for a stuffed pita, hummus plate, or burger — delicious by-the-book offerings that are more dependable than revelatory. Or you can come in for dinner, when Lavi and team create what plays like an improvisational family-style spread, meant to be shared and sopped in good company.

ExploreDeKalb County dining news

Credit: Mia Yakel

Credit: Mia Yakel

It’s been my observation that if you’re in Lavi’s orb of personal acquaintances, you’ll get lavish treatment and a cup that runneth over. If you’re an anonymous customer outside the fold, you may walk away feeling just a little bit underwhelmed. As I researched this review (and to some degree when I stopped by for takeout shortly after opening), I experienced both sides of the coin.

Full disclosure: I got to know Lavi when he contributed recipes for an AJC article on vegetable cookery in September. Nonetheless, I managed to slip in for a late Friday lunch, and leave unrecognized. No such luck on my second pseudonymous visit: I got busted before I could place my order, and that, I believe, made all the difference.

Credit: Mia Yakel

Credit: Mia Yakel

Our early afternoon mezze platter was fresh and flavorful, if a bit eggplant heavy. Dishes of olives, pickled onions, olive oil-drizzled labneh, baba ghanoush, sour eggplant, and a smash made from burnt eggplant skins kept us happy while we waited for the mains. A chopped salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, bell peppers and parsley, simply dressed with lemon and olive oil — a go-with-anything staple found on tables from Iran to Israel — was a perky accompaniment to the luscious spreads. No wow moments here, but no complaints either. My guest sipped her strong Turkish coffee, and the conversation percolated.

The best thing about our steak plate were the veggies that surrounded strips of still pink but somewhat chewy rib-eye: tender cauliflower, dazzling sweet potato with shockingly blackened skin, a small butternut, and a tangle of oyster mushrooms — all perched atop a bed of lovely moist freekeh, all divine. And yet, the second I got a whiff of our bowl of mussels, I sensed a problem: A pungent smell signaled these were not the freshest of bivalves, though the broth and strips of crispy pita for dipping were nice touches.

Alas, this was not the Nur that draws worshipful throngs and Instagram raves. A follow-up dinner proved to be a different story, however.

From starter to dessert, we were smitten. Creamy whipped hummus topped with falafel was near perfect. The chickpea fritters were aggressively brown on the exterior, wonderfully herbaceous and green at the center. Lavi pranced by to tell me that was the only dish he touched. He aced it, too.

Credit: Mia Yakel

Credit: Mia Yakel

While the schnitzel — crunchy coated chicken cutlets — was good (though just a tad dry), the chicken shawarma platter was excellent. You may get either of these dishes with hand-cut za’atar fries or rice. A tough call, but I’ll go for the fries every time, mainly because I get to drag them around in the exquisite mango aioli condiment, made with Shay’s own pickled green mango (amba).

Credit: Mia Yakel

Credit: Mia Yakel

By this point, our small two-top is full to the brim, but we must make way for the show-stopping veggie plate. What exactly is on this piece de resistance? Cauliflower, grape tomatoes, a hasselback butternut, sweet potato, mushrooms, perhaps the best Brussels sprouts of the season, all swimming in a buttery sauce more evocative of France than Israel. This right here is why I rank Lavi’s veggies among Atlanta’s best.

Credit: Mia Yakel

Credit: Mia Yakel

Turns out his knafeh isn’t bad, either. A honey-soaked pastry of thin crispy noodles (kadaif) with mozzarella cheese curd, this Middle Eastern classic is new to the menu and quite a knockout. No matter how cluttered our table might be, we can always make room for it.

NUR KITCHEN

Food: Mediterranean

Service: by turns ministering and goofy (e.g., no lids for the plastic to-go containers)

Best dishes: hummus, falafel, chopped salad, mezze platter, chicken shawarma, veggie plate, fries with mango aioli, knafeh

Vegetarian selections: many choices

Alcohol: beer and wine

Price range: $$

Credit cards: all major credit cards accepted

Hours: 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays

Children: yes

Parking: free in lot

MARTA station: no

Reservations: recommended

Wheelchair access: yes

Noise level: low to moderate

Takeout: yes

Address, phone: 7130 Buford Highway NE, Suite C-100, Atlanta; 678-691-3821

Website: nurkitchenusa.com

ExploreOur favorite dishes in Atlanta right now

Sign up for the AJC Food and Dining Newsletter

Read more stories like this by liking Atlanta Restaurant Scene on Facebook, following @ATLDiningNews on Twitter and @ajcdining on Instagram.