Getting a reservation at Bestia, one of the busiest restaurants in Los Angeles, is a little like scoring tickets to Hamilton; not impossible, but nowhere near likely, and something you’re definitely going to brag to your friends about. The Italian hotspot hosts at least 500 diners nightly, with the wise making their reservations months in advance. But it hasn’t always been that way.
“The corner of Crack and Murder” was how one Yelp reviewer described the location of the restaurant when it was still in its infancy. What was to become the LA arts district, which has now become so expensive it’s in danger of evicting the artists it was named for, was then full of strip clubs, littered condoms, needles, and garbage strewn on the street. Some investors even pulled out when they saw the location. Ori Menashe, who was opening the restaurant with his wife Genevieve Gergis, made her promise that if Bestia didn’t work out, they would move to Israel. “If this doesn’t work, it’s our last chance,” Menashe said. “The only place we could build something like this up again is Israel.” Luckily, Bestia was a smash success.
And if you can’t get what Zagat called “the hardest reservation in town” with a table at Bestia, whose well-reviewed delights certainly aren’t cheap, or if you’re nowhere near California, your next best option is the Bestia cookbook, in which Menashe and Gergis reveal the secrets that have tempted even the most avid-Soulcycle fan to order a Quince Crostata.
The couple behind Bestia met at La Terza, an Italian joint where Gergis was a hostess and Menashe was a cook with a mohawk. “Are you Jewish? Because you look like one of the beautiful women from my country,” Menashe shouted to Gergis, the day after meeting her. Gergis wasn’t Jewish, and it took Menashe six months to convince her to go out with him. Their daughter Saffron is now four.
The name Bestia, which is Italian for beast, came from a nickname Gino Angelini, Menashe’s ex-chef, used to call him in the kitchen. “The word in Italian can be a term of endearment but it can also be a swear word,” Menashe told the Forward. “I’d like to believe 99% of the time he used it as a term of endearment.”
Menashe and Gergis, neither of whom are Italian, decided to open an Italian restaurant because they’d fallen in love with the food - and Menashe had the ten years of Italian cooking experience he’d obtained on his post-IDF-service sojourns while Gergis became the self-taught pastry chef behind Bestia’s array of desserts. After six years of serving the City of Angels, Menashe decided it was time to venture into the publishing world. Because of the way Bestia works, in which dishes come and go with the seasons, often never to be seen again, he found himself amassing the pile of recipes that was to become Bestia, the cookbook.
Menashe tastes every piece of steak that leaves the Bestia kitchen. “Not great for my cholesterol, but necessary,” he writes in “Bestia.” And sometimes the influence of the years he spent growing up in Israel find their way onto Bestia’s menu. Whenever Menashe places the Lamb Belly Confit with Lime Yogurt on the menu, Gergis has to remind him that this is not his Middle Eastern restaurant.
But Bavel, newly opened in April 2018, which received one of the last reviews of renown food critic Jonathan Gold, is Menashe’s place to do that, because Menashe isn’t stopping with Bestia (restaurant or cookbook, you pick). Bavel is his newest baby, a place where he is completely free to cook the Middle Eastern dishes of his childhood.
And he isn’t opposed to another restaurant cookbook, even if nothing is currently set in stone. “We believe there will be a time and place to share our Middle Eastern recipes from Bavel,” he told the Forward. Just a little something for the rest of the food world to look forward to.
Shira Feder is a writer. She’s at firstname.lastname@example.org and @shirafeder