Laila Borokhim’s new restaurant, nuuNoosh, is nothing if not quirky.
The Regent Street restaurant’s exterior signs give no indication of the restaurant’s name. They just say “FOOD” and “EAT.”
At first, the restaurant’s hours were hard to find online. I showed up once for dinner and twice for lunch to find it closed.
Those frustrating experiences brought back memories about trying to go to Borokhim’s restaurants, Layla’s on Butler Street, and the original, but short-lived Noosh on Park Street, and having similar bad luck. Borokhim also runs a Noosh food cart.
However, it’s worth persevering because the Jewish-inspired world cuisine is almost across-the-board wonderful. What’s more, Borokhim is a jovial host who has done an amazing job transforming a little Regent Street Quonset hut into a charmingly attractive dining room.
Borokhim opened nuuNoosh in November. It’s named for her 6-year-old son, who she calls “Noosh” a Persian term of endearment. Nuu means “come along,” she told an older couple having lunch one recent weekday. It can also mean “Come on!”
There’s a big school portrait of Borokhim’s son on the desk when you walk into the restaurant. There’s also a good-sized lounge with a children’s play table. Borokhim’s personality fills the rest of the space as she takes orders, cooks and serves the food, often whistling as she works.
The menu is deceptively small, at first appearing to have only three choices. But on closer inspection each of the three menu items — dumplings, malawach and shakshuka — are categories with two or three appealing options. Everything is priced at $10 and Borokhim only takes cash.
Skip the one-note lentil soup ($2/$4) packed with lentils, and made slightly lemony with sumac. Many of Borokhim’s dishes are served with yogurt sauce, and the soup would have benefited from some, too.
Dumplings are a must, and the choices include chicken and mushroom pelmeni or cheese and potato pierogi. The pelmeni were shaped like tortellini and came in a deep bowl with onions and cubed beets, which took on a greenish-beige hue from the spices involved. Braised cabbage, yogurt sauce and fried onion added color, texture and flavor.
The malawach, an open-faced Yemeni sandwich made on a flat puff pastry, was remarkable because of its crispy base and tender, perfectly-marinated, slow-cooked lamb. Yogurt sauce and fried onion enhanced it. On the plate was a delightful spring salad with small cucumber slices, tomatoes and shredded carrot. It just needed a little salt.
When my friend raved about the fried flatbread, Borokhim told her it was “just flour and water.” Then she remembered the third ingredient: Oil. And that’s key. It’s what makes it taste so delicious.
The dish I could have done without was the shakshuka, as it’s called “in the land of milk and honey,” the menu says, referring to Israel. The stew, brought to Israel by Jewish immigrants from Tunisia, was made by Borokhim with tomatoes, peas and artichoke hearts. It had a strong flavor only its cook could love. The two poached eggs were also crying for salt.
We went with the more traditional version, but I wish we’d opted for the other: “buttery mushroom and onion.” I mainly just enjoyed the two thick slices of slightly-sweet toasted challah that came with it.
nuuNoosh is a fabulous reuse of a former electronics repair shop that has also been a tattoo parlor and escape room. Now, it’s a place where you linger and have discussions with Borokhim about her ingredients.
Borokhim decorated the restaurant’s exterior with colorful metal flowers. Inside, she plays jazz and old movie soundtracks on a portable suitcase record player.
And if the spices in Borokhim’s food aren’t bold enough, the restaurant’s atmosphere is certainly spirited. When my friend and I walked in one particularly chilly April day, Borokhim told us to sit wherever we wanted.
“Wherever is the least cold,” my friend replied.
“Then you want a different restaurant,” Borokhim said.