For six years, the Jerusalem-born chef Mimi Kitani resisted putting falafel on the menu at Mimi’s Hummus, her namesake restaurant on Cortelyou Road in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn. She wanted people to try other dishes, drawn from her family’s roots in Morocco and Iraq, and to stop thinking of falafel as the epitome of Middle Eastern cuisine.
But last fall, when she and her boyfriend, Avi Shuker, opened two outposts of Mimi’s in Manhattan — a stand at the Midtown food hall UrbanSpace Vanderbilt and a restaurant in the East Village — she relented. Both locations offer falafel, although Brooklyn remains bereft. (Her kitchen there is smaller and not fully equipped.)
Here they are, in the new, slightly more expansive dining room on East 14th Street: impeccable orbs with dark, thin shells that are crisp for an instant and then disintegrate. The insides are moist without density, nearly half air and herbs. You can ask for them tucked into a pita or, better, arranged in a neat X over the hummus that made the chef’s name.
I first tasted Ms. Kitani’s hummus in 2009, when writing about the proliferation of hummus parlors in New York City. At the time, I thought it was the best in town. I still do.
Asked for her secrets, Ms. Kitani said simply, “You need good chickpeas.” She soaks them overnight, then cooks them until they fall apart and turn almost sweet.
A pulse with the requisite tahini, garlic and lemon: The recipe is straightforward, yet somehow the result is more grounded than the over-whipped and lemon-sharp versions often found elsewhere. The texture is a little thicker, more velvet than silk. There is a satisfying near-bitter undertone, an unmasked earthiness, with lemon as contour, not dominant note. (Add zhug, a crush of jalapeños and herbs, if you would like a burn.)
But Mimi’s was never just a hummus joint. As at the Brooklyn original, it’s easy to be distracted by dishes like mujaddara, a mess of black lentils, fat raisins and bulgur wheat, lapped by sheep’s milk yogurt. This, tradition has it, was the “pottage of lentils” in Genesis, for which a famished Esau relinquished his birthright.
He should have held out for the pottage that accompanies (and overshadows) a narrow pan-fried fillet of branzino. Here the lentils are obscured in a verdant overlay of greens and herbs, heady with the musk of Persian dried limes, which have been boiled in brine and parched by the sun until they half implode. They deliver as much smoke as sweet-sour tang.
The menu at East 14th Street mostly follows its counterpart in Brooklyn: blackened beef kebabs with a touch of pink at the center; shakshuka, a cinnamon-streaked tomato stew in a cast-iron skillet, with snowcaps of eggs cracked directly over it; roasted cauliflower, its sugars just starting to bloom, veiled in tahini and garlic.
Chicken shawarma is approximated without a turning spit, the thigh meat grilled and roughly shredded, bearing a whiff of Indian curry powder. This is even better anointed with amba, an Iraqi take on mango chutney, the fruit pickled almost beyond sweetness, flaring hot and sour.
Kebabs, shawarma and falafel may all be configured as sandwiches, so stuffed that they’re hard to eat without getting your nose involved. The superlatively fluffy pita is imported from Israel. (In Brooklyn, Ms. Kitani has started fermenting her dough and baking it in a wood oven at Lea, the Italian restaurant that she and Mr. Shuker opened in 2013, down the street from Mimi’s. They don’t yet have the capacity to supply it to their Manhattan locations.)
There are proper endings to the meal, too: malabi, a panna-cotta-like milk pudding scented with rosewater, and punchim, a treat from Ms. Kitani’s childhood, balls of dark chocolate seamed with shattered tea biscuits.
Like its Brooklyn predecessor, the restaurant on East 14th Street has walls clad in perforated wood panels, like a minimalist lattice. Tables, under a chandelier, are set with jars of flowers. Still, the space, once a dollar pizzeria, seems less cozy and anchored to the neighborhood than Mimi’s on Cortelyou Road.Turn the lights low, and the mood could change. For those of us not so fortunate to live in Ditmas, it is a boon to finally have Mimi’s close by.