Once a city known for Thoroughbred racing and seaside residences, Hallandale is coming into its own thanks to the opening of Atlantic Village. This multiuse residential and retail development, situated between Aventura and Hollywood, is home to restaurants like Blues Burgers, Dr. Limon, Holi Vegan Kitchen, and Crema, with Miami's Drunken Dragon, Tamakase, and a rooftop bar from Juvia soon to come.
Yaniv Cohen, known in Miami as the Spice Detective, recently opened a sit-down version of the Jaffa food stand he operates in the Design District's Miami Market. The Atlantic Village location expands the concept to a full menu's worth of Israeli and Mediterranean fare.
The small restaurant is filled with color: Israeli ads and concert posters are plastered on the walls, and comfortable banquettes are filled with throw pillows of every hue. But all the decorations are no match for the vibrancy of the food. Cohen's creations are unfailingly bright and flavorful.
Michael Solomonov, who brought his Dizengoff humeseria to Wynwood for a brief, glorious period of time, and Sam Gorenstein, who opened Abbalé Telavivian Kitchen in Miami Beach, have compared the streets of Tel Aviv to Miami in weather and vibe. So it's no wonder that a menu of fresh fish, crisp salads, roasted vegetables, and fragrant dips should be perfect for the South Florida palate. Another plus is that Israeli and Mediterranean food is social — the simple act of tearing off a piece of Jerusalem bagel before passing it to your date or bestie is warm and convivial.
Jaffa's menu is concise: There are two mezze platters ($19 each) that come with either a Jerusalem bagel or fresh pita and a series of dips and pickled vegetables.
Be sure to order the deconstructed babaganoush ($16) — a whole roasted eggplant filled with tahini, chickpeas, and pomegranate seeds. Falafel balls ($12) are made lively with spicy green tahini. Other starters include hummus ($16), beef kibbeh with chutney ($12), and a whole roasted cauliflower served with tahini and cilantro sauce ($18).
Meats from the grill include a kofta kebab ($31), lamb skewers ($22), cedar-plank salmon ($34), and two tagines — turmeric chicken ($33) and short rib ($38).
Though the dishes are made from humble ingredients — eggplant, lamb, chicken, fish — Cohen's mastery of spices elevates them to another level. He imports the spices from Israel for authenticity.
"The turmeric, the paprika in the sauces — it's part of my cuisine. It's the way I've been cooking all my life," Cohen says. "I pay a lot of attention to which spices go in each dish. What makes sense in this particular sauce? It's part of my DNA as a chef."
He says Mediterranean cuisine is all about simply grilling or roasting fresh meats and vegetables. The restaurant, he adds, is kosher-style, which means there's no dairy — no creams or butter or cheese to enhance the flavors. "Here we use olive oil and spice. It's a little lighter, and it works for Miami."
On a recent Tuesday evening, the restaurant was filled to capacity. A party of six was drinking wine and laughing; at another table, two soccer dads were chatting while their kids dug into falafel balls and hummus.
That was before the belly dancer started gyrating her way through the dining room.
Yes, Jaffa is a party. Cohen says he wanted to re-create an Israeli taverna. "We have Israeli music and belly dancers a few times a week," he tells New Times. "It's a place for people to have good food and a good time."
The restaurateur says he was looking for a location for a restaurant when he was approached by Atlantic VIllage. Besides a favorable lease, Cohen was wooed by the opportunity to be part of the new wave of quality restaurants flocking to Hallandale.
"I feel this community is underserved. There's an amazing foodie community in Aventura and Hollywood and a great number of tourists but everyone is focused on Miami. There are other parts of South Florida that are just as exciting with locals who appreciate good food and a good experience."
There was also a personal reason. "My daughter lives in Hollywood with her mom and it's a big, beautiful plus that I'm closer to her," Cohen says. "God works in mysterious ways."
Like many restaurateurs, Cohen felt the squeeze of opening a restaurant amid a pandemic. "COVID set the opening back about eight months," he admits. "Luckily we have a great landlord and this is a beautiful development."
During dinner service at Jaffa, Cohen found himself working multiple duties: host, chef, server, and bartender. Apologizing for not having time to speak longer, he explained that he was short a server and a bartender. Yes, it caused a few minor snafus: A glass of wine took a few minutes longer to arrive than it should have, and the wrong check was dropped for a second before a waiter switched it out for the correct one.
But these are mere growing pains. Cohen's taverna serves wonderful food, and it's filled with the kind of happy energy we've sorely missed for the better part of two years.
Jaffa. 701 N. Federal Hwy., Ste. 101, Hallandale Beach; 954-391-9430; jaffamiami.com. Dinner is served nightly from 6:30 to 11 p.m.