Enjoy Elevated Middle Eastern Eats

By Anne Raso

Frena is a cutting-edge Middle Eastern restaurant in the heart of Hell’s Kitchen that is quite the foodie hotspot of the moment. This restaurant is set in a renovated all-glass storefront that gives a light and airy feeling- and is perfect for people-watching while you dine. Keeping your eyes off the gorgeous, authentic cuisine that includes some hard-to-find Israeli and Moroccan dishes will be hard. (Executive Chef Efi Naon is a native Israeli who brings some of these favorites to the Frena menu, much to his fans’ delight).

Frena rose from the ashes of Naon’s previous Hell’s Kitchen eatery, Taboon, which was sadly lost in a fire three years ago. His regular customers were devastated; they now comprise many of Frena’s clientele. The excitement of Naon’s return resulted in lines around the block when Frena opened in March. This dedicated chef is a 1995 graduate of the Tadmor Institute in Tel Aviv and staffed the kitchen not only at Taboon but at Oceana at the Club Hotel Loutraki in Greece and at Barbounia and 
Bustan in NYC.

Says Naon, “The excitement of our return has been incredibly heartwarming. I have been touched to see many familiar faces who loved dining at Taboon quickly becoming Frena regulars. This has truly been a homecoming experience. While a new concept with a completely different feel, Frena maintains the heart of Taboon with a menu inspired by previous favorites, coming from the same oven seasoned from years of feeding hungry New Yorkers.”  

Frena takes pride in being well-priced and offering modern updates on the best Middle Eastern fare, including amazing fresh-out-of-the-oven bread served on beautiful handmade wood cutting boards and dips (including what is the city’s best Tzatziki). Just for the record, a traditional Middle Eastern oven is called a taboon (resulting in the name of Naon’s last eatery).

Explains Naon, “Our modern dishes draw inspirations from across the Middle Eastern region, with strong influences coming from my Jewish-Moroccan upbringing. My French culinary training further adds to the modernization of the dishes. The seasonings and focus on fresh ingredients will be familiar to anyone who regularly enjoys Middle Eastern cooking, while its application often features a more contemporary twist.”

Speaking of fresh ingredients, one of the ways Frena achieves culinary greatness is via the executive chef’s firsthand approach to selecting ingredients from local farms. He tells New York Lifestyles Magazine, “I do all the sourcing, and most items are from local farms, but there are big vendors I have been working with for many years, and they source for me.”

When we visited Frena, we were thrilled to taste the fantastic golden-crusted puffy bread from the clay “taboon” oven. The most popular was the Frena Bread (made with wild dry za-atar, Maldon salt, and olive oil). 

Dips are served in sets of three and five; choices include Matbucha (tomato, garlic, and olive oil), Labne (strained yogurt nigella seeds and sweet pepper chutney), and Cauliflower Hummus (tahini, Aleppo peppers, and sunflower seeds). Most guests utilize the Frena Bread with dips as appetizers (the bread is large enough to serve four guests), but there are many small plates to share. We tried the fantastic golden Moroccan Cigars (made with Wagyu, Ras-el-Hanour, and tahini) and the very filling and fresh Chatzil Frena (Frena-roasted eggplant, tomato, and Stracciatella) 

Several lovely, farm-fresh salads are offered to fill out your meal, including a Roasted Beet Salad (made with Frena roasted beets, saffron skordalia, and black currants) and a Baby Gem Salad (made with root vegetables, Jerusalem stone yogurt, and champagne vinaigrette). 

Our delightful and generous large plates included the Prime NY Strip (braised and topped with gratin potatoes and a huge bone filled with marrow) and Latke Crusted Sea Bass (served with Swiss chard sabzi and rice bean). The steak weighed over twelve ounces, and the sea bass dish included two filets.

Frena has a list of exotic desserts that you can’t go without trying, including Knaffe (Kadayif, sweet cheese, glazed orange syrup, and honey-lavender gelato) and Sutlac Chou (Turkish rice pudding, seasonal berry salad, and passionfruit crème anglaise)! We shared the Sticky Date Toffee Cake (made with Medjool dates, dark rum caramel, and tiramisu Chantilly cream) and slowly savored every sweet bite!

What is Chef Naon’s favorite item on the menu, and what are the most popular with the guests? He remarks, “It’s impossible to say you’ve been to Frena if you are not enjoying the dips. If the meal doesn’t start with Hummus, Matbucha, or Spicy Feta, you have not had the true experience. Guests love the Lamb Terra Cotta because of its unique presentation under a covering of Frena Bread and for its spicy flavoring. This and our Grilled Spanish Octopus, Moroccan Cigars, Falafel, Shish Barak, and Braised Oxtail Tortellini are among the most popular dishes and personal favorites. My favorites are the Crab ‘Schwarma’ Toast, Fresh Squid Hamachi, Wagyu Beef Cheeks, and Latke Crusted Sea Bass.”

We naturally had to get Chef Naon’s summer “specials” menu. He remarked, “We’re excited to announce the start of our brunch service and outdoor dining this summer. The brunch will include an entire Shakshuka (eggs poached in a tomato sauce) menu, among other twists on regional classics.” 

For more information on Frena, visit