Taïm‘s (45 Spring Street; 212-219-0600) setup is pretty similar to that of a fast-food restaurant: You stand in line to order, and then sit to eat at one of the long, shared tables that line the walls. But this isn’t a slice of pizza or a burger and fries or even your standard falafel, for that matter; this is innovative Middle Eastern cuisine, and it’s all vegetarian.
Chef and owner Einat Admony opened the first Taïm in 2005; after much success, she opened a second Nolita branch in 2011. (She’s also behind two other full-service restaurants, Balaboosta and Bar Bolonat.)
In 2013, Admony wrote her first cookbook, Balaboosta, Yiddish for “perfect housewife.” Now she’s gearing up to write her second, which will be entirely vegetarian. “My next cookbook is going to only be vegetarian, so that’s how much I care,” she says. “The last few years, personally, besides the restaurant, I put a little bit more effort about vegetarian. Even in my own home, I give my kids much more veggies than I used to, and much less meat.”
She views her cuisine, especially her falafel, as a way to alleviate some of the criticism surrounding vegetarian food. “I think also there’s a problem, the rap that vegetarian has, it’s usually a side gig, it’s usually a side order, not like the main, and that’s the biggest problem that I found, a lot of time,” she says. “I think Taïm is a good example that vegetarian can be a thoroughly full meal. That’s my next goal for my book, for example, just to show that veggies does not necessarily mean vegetable-only — it can be grains, it can be many other things. You can create an all-delicious, filling meal without any animal protein inside.”
Admony initially chose to serve an all-vegetarian menu and falafel because she didn’t have enough space to cook meat in the first Taïm location. She also saw a void in vegetarian cooking and decided to fill it in a special way, with different falafel varieties. “I thought with falafel, we’re going to make a great three different falafels so it’s going to be much more unique than any other place in the city back then, and have a lot of different salads to accommodate the falafel,” she says. “It changed a lot of people’s minds, I think, Taïm, when I opened.” Taïm, by the way, means “tasty and delicious” in Hebrew.
Falafel is a regional cuisine, common throughout the Middle East: It can be found in Egypt, Palestine, Israel, Syria, Lebanon — basically, anywhere in the entire Levant region. Depending on the country, falafel is made with either chickpeas or fava beans. Since Admony is Israeli, she makes her falafel with chickpeas; Egyptians make their falafel with fava beans.
Taïm’s mixed falafel platter ($12) features a sampling of Admony’s three falafel flavors — green falafel, harissa falafel, and red falafel — with hummus, Israeli salad, tabouli, and pita.
The green falafel is Taïm’s traditional flavor; it’s seasoned with parsley, cilantro, and mint. The harissa flavor, which is seasoned with Tunisian spices, has a bit of a spicy kick at the end of each bite. The red falafel features roasted red peppers, which provide a hint of sweetness. All are fried and crunch as you bite into them.
Taïm’s hummus is smooth, with a nutty finish. The pita — which comes in either whole wheat or white — is smothered with za’atar spices, a combination of Middle Eastern herbs. The za’atar is simultaneously salty and sour; the pita is soft and served hot from the oven.
The Israeli salad is made of chopped tomato and cucumber, and dressed with lemon juice and olive oil. The vegetables are fresh and crisp, while the lemon adds a tangy sourness to the salad. The tart tabouli salad combines tomatoes, couscous, parsley, and mint. The couscous adds a nice chewy texture.
More:Vegetarian and Vegan