With the recent opening of Shook in the city’s Entertainment District, Toronto’s gaining traction as a hub of next-generation, Israeli-inspired cuisine. The airy, sprawling Shook joins over-the-top Semitic palace Fat Pasha and industrial-chic Parallel as Hebrew-accented hotspots on the city’s polyglot dining scene. Toronto’s also where Cafe Landwer, the Israeli-owned “Middle Easter diner,” opened its third North American outpost last summer.
No Israelis work in the kitchen at Shook, whose name comes from the Hebrew for “market”. And no Israelis were involved in creating its vegetarian menu, Chef Ben Heaton told the Forward.
But a meal there, on a busy recent Wednesday, was all it took to overcome doubts about the cuisine or its authenticity.
Rather than straight-up Israeli cooking, Shook’s is a kind of modernist spin - not as radical as New York’s Nur, but elevated enough to make traditional staples feel fresh.
Start with Shook’s pita — plump and compact, drizzled with olive oil and spiky with zaatar, the bread is light years from the beige, bland discs many Mediterranean restaurants try to palm off. Heaton has said he experimented for weeks before settling on an Ontario red fife flour blend; turns out it’s a masterful choice.
The pita’s an ideal partner for Shook’s small plates, like an exemplary hummus made of lightly fermented, soaked local chickpeas that impart a more acidic flavour, Heaton told me. It’s nutty, slightly tangy, and rich, with amplification from pickled chilis, red onions, and sumac on top.
Kibbeh here translates as fried orbs filled with pickled mushrooms on a bed on faintly tart labneh, with a drizzle of truffle honey for contrast. It’s complex, earthy, and elemental.
Cabbage, labneh, red onions, and zhug - along with a sprinkling of edible flower petals - complicate Shook’s falafel in the best possible way. The refined little balls are dense but fluffy, with subtle spice and a just-right chew.
Even Shook’s drinks nail it; non-alcoholic beverages include the Mahane Yehuda, with lemon, muddled mint, and simple syrup, and the TLV AC, fizzing with sparkling strawberry, rhubarb, and sumac shrub. Among signature cocktails: the Sabra Cadabra, a potent potion of gin, vodka, wine, and eucalyptus, and the Yofi Tofi, with rum, matcha, sesame, pineapple, lime, and orange blossom.
The high-ceilinged room, in blonde wood and light blues, is intended to evoke an all-day cafe in Tel Aviv. In a little corridor before you enter Shook, shelves offer a mishmash of items to buy, from Shook’s own custom-blended coffee beans and spice blends to jars of sesame butter from Parallel.
In a tip of the toque, Shook also sells cookbooks by Alon Shaya and Yotam Ottolenghi. “These are chefs who have greatly inspired us and our style of food,” Heaton said. Shook’s a fitting tribute.