There has been a surge of Mediterranean and Israeli restaurants lately in Miami. A new one to add to this list is Branja, which opened in December of 2022, located at 5910 NE 2nd Avenue in Upper Buena Vista. Chef Tom Aviv, a Master Chef Israel winner in 2016, is the executive chef and owner. He told me Israel is a melting pot of different influences and cultures, and he has used this mosaic of influences from North Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Turkey, and Greece to create his menu of winning combinations of fresh ingredients and spices with modern updates and innovative and unconventional twists to traditional dishes.
The decor of this 3,000-square-foot restaurant is more attractive in its outdoor setting, which is quite large, and covered with a stained glass peaked ceiling. However, I enjoy sitting indoors at the bar and interacting with the chefs in the open kitchen. This bar came from an auction sale at the Delano hotel and was designed by the infamous Lenny Kravitz. In about six months, after the restaurant has been open for a while, they are considering an Omakase-style dinner at the counter twice a night.
Chef Aviv’s menu is kosher style and is for sharing. His menu will change with the seasons, but for now he offers some interesting things like Krouv cabbage, a slow-cooked ‘short rib style’ with creme fraiche and brave sauce. A standout for me was the fish and bread, a ceviche-style dish with cilantro, mint, balsamic glaze, basil oil, and aioli on top of grilled sourdough bread. Another not to be missed item was the fish shwarma, a melange of fish dusted with Jerusalem spices, pine nuts, paprika oil, labneh tahini, and mango amba syrup. I would pass on the Falafish, a take on falafel made with fish and fire water dip. I guess, I’m a purist when it comes to falafel, but it was unique. The crispy kosher chicken was a flattened chicken thigh, served with roasted tomatoes, onions, and peppers, topped with a fresh za’atar salsa. Although tasty, a more memorable dish was the sweet corn polenta with caramelized leeks, truffle slices, and Parmesan cheese.
There are several craft cocktails, beers, and wines, and they also have a reasonable corkage fee of $25 and you can bring in your favourite wine. For dessert, 4 options were offered and we went with the halva crack pie, made with pistachio, tahini, and crème fraiche. It was a little too rich for me.
I like the words at the top of the menu: Israel & Elsewhere Gusto. That about sums up the chef’s mantra, using flavours from his upbringing as well as his travels to bring some Global inspiration, bold flavours, and new interpretations of Israeli food.
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I find it fascinating how Mediterranean and Israeli cuisines are becoming increasingly popular in Miami, and Branja seems like a great addition to the list. It’s intriguing to learn about Chef Tom Aviv’s approach to using a mosaic of influences to create his menu. The stained glass peaked ceiling in the outdoor setting also sounds like a beautiful touch. I’m curious to know if Branja has any standout dishes that incorporate unexpected ingredients or flavor combinations.
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