26 1st Avenue
New York, NY 10009
Reviewed & Photographed by Jennifer Baker
Food: Service: On the corner of 1st Avenue and 2nd Street, where the Lower East Side transforms into the East Village, you’ll find a new addition to the bars, restaurants, and Laundromats lining the block; Spiegel Restaurant. When entering Spiegel, the restaurant’s interior feels very open because of glass walls allowing diners to lookout at the street and of course the passersby’s can look in too. A white oak bar takes center stage accommodating up to 19 people. The rest of the restaurant is lined with tables and booths draped with red & green plaid fabric. Owner Shmulik Avital was very hands on as the designer, from attaining partial bricks for a side wall to painting lamp hoods a dark green, capturing a dining atmosphere that feels friendly and casual.
When Avital describes Spiegel’s menu he’s quick to classify it as “international.” Avital’s roots are from Israel and his parents are Moroccan. He has always lived in areas featuring a “melting pot” of cuisines, with food not necessarily distinctive of the Middle East but a reflection of the numerous cultures around him. So it is no surprise that items like schnitzel, fish tacos, burgers and fries are offered at Spiegel, along with dishes with a more Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavor.
Sixteen different spices can be found in the Crispy Cauliflower, while a wonderful tahini sauce is drizzled over a serving of warm, steamed Broccoli. For that Moroccan distinction in foods, cumin is an abundantly used spice, along with turmeric and paprika to name a few. The standout dishes at Spiegel tend to be items more focused on Avital’s heritage, such as Baked Feta in a smokytomato sauce served with warm pita bread, or the subtle and hearty aspects of an Israeli Couscous with small pearl grains, cooked with vegetable stock, and fresh vegetables. The Stuffed Mushrooms with smoked salmon and cream cheese is a comforting take on traditional bagels and lox, but deep fried with less carbohydrates.
Now that the chill of fall is officially in the air, root vegetables take over the menu in the form of side dishes like Sweet Squash with cinnamon, ginger, and toasted pepitas sprinkled on top enhancing the natural underlying sweetness of the squash. Moroccan
carrots, marinated beets, and mashed Potatoes all have unique flavors of their own. Avital’s mashed potatoes are an especially delectable dish that is very fluffy, yet still retains texture from the potato skins and a tanginess that raises it beyond the milky/buttery American style version. The Schnitzel, Grilled Salmon, and Pan Seared Tilapia are done well too. Crispy and thin for the veal in the Schnitzel, tender and flaky in the case of the seafood dishes, but there aren’t any defining flavors that put a stamp on these as Spiegel’s signature dishes, nor make these entrees cohesive enough to fit with the sides and appetizers that stand out so much with their variety of spices.
The sign outside reads Bar – Restaurant – Café and signifies what Spiegel is trying to be; an overall mix for all people. Check this out…in the mornings you can enjoy not only freshly made croissants and pastries but expresso and Turkish coffee as well, and there is a planned “wraparound” café coming to be built next spring. Serving lunch, brunch, and dinner has the restaurant part of the sign covered, and the bar is available for any that may only want to try some of the draft beers or wine available during the 4-8pm happy hour.
When dining at Spiegel, the highlights are that the tasty portions are generous with fair pricing. With a further expansion of the menu, I’d suggest zeroing in on the dishes that center on Avital’s heritage. Submit to your curiosity and partake in the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean offerings to get a true sense of where Spiegel shines. Visit Spiegel Restaurant soon and tell them that Jennifer from DinnerReviews.com© sent you!
A native New Yorker, Jennifer Baker has been writing since she entered the academic institution and continues to do so every moment she gets. Jennifer has a particular love for desserts (both eating and baking them) and while partaking in some of the sugary treats NYC has to offer, she has interviewed local bakeries such as Ivy Bakery, First Prize Pies, Hot Blondies, and Zugar Haus. Jennifer regularly posts about writing, books, baking, and food events in addition to reviews and hosting giveaways on her website: jennifernbaker.com. You can also follow Jennifer on Twitter at @jbakernyc and check out her site at www.jennifernbaker.com