Beef Tartare is served at Hamsa with a soft boiled egg with a Shata aioli and toasted challah. (Photo by Kirsten Gilliam)
A view of the Moorish-inspired bar at the new Mediterranean restaurant Hamsa, in Rice Village. (Photo by Kirsten Gilliam)
This is the Hummus Complet, one of three varieties of silky smooth hummus on the menu at the new Hamsa. (This one is studded with chick peas, too) (Photo by Kirsten Gilliam)
Traditionally in Israel, you start the meal with small dips, salads, and pickles called Salatim, several pictured here, surround their house made Falafel. (Photo by Kirsten Gilliam)
A close-up of the Hamsa Restaurant's Bar. Located at 5555 Morningside, it's named for the five fingered hand symbol that brings protection, peace and prosperity. (Photo by Kirsten Gilliam)
Hamsa features a champagne wall featuring some of vintage bottles of the famed sparkler. (Photo by Kirsten Gilliam)
Hamsa's menu features skewers including chicken (shown here), king oyster mushroom, shrimp, lamb, and beef. (Photo by Kirsten Gilliam)
An view of the interior of the new Hamsa eatery in Rice Village. (Photo by Kirsten Gilliam)
Direct from Tel Aviv to Houston, the exciting new Middle Eastern restaurant Hamsa is the brainchild of the trio who founded Sof Hospitality — Itai Ben Eli, Sash Kurgan and Itamar Levy. The modern Mediterranean spot, which just opened in Rice Village, is next door to Sof’s wildly popular bakery Badolina and not far from their first meaty endeavor in Houston — the chophouse Doris Metropolitan on Shepherd.
Hamsa is named for the palm-shaped talisman of protection, peace and prosperity that’s seen here on small plates, presumably as a sign of the tasty things to come. Hamsa also means 5 in Arabic (see the new restaurant’s address). Lindsay Madrigal of LM Designs designed the chic dining room, where warmth envelops with terracotta-hued walls and upholstery that casts a flattering glow.
The tables are set upon a scattering of Turkish rugs, while one wall is papered with bright blue-and-white Ikat and displays a collection of hand-thrown Moroccan pottery. Moorish arches, which call to mind those found in Jerusalem, anchor the bar, while a row of olive trees delineates the dining and cocktail-drinking areas.
Chefs Kurgan and Yotam Dolev serve elevated classics that blend the fare from Middle Eastern and North African countries such as Morocco and Tunisia into a cohesive, approachably priced menu. Begin your feast with salatim, a selection of small, cool salads and dips meant to be shared (five for $15, seven for $20, all 11 for $25). Standouts include the squash tahini, baba ganoush (eggplant), cool labneh (a soft cheese made from strained yogurt, spiced and drizzled with olive oil) and Amba pickled vegetables. All are served with pita warm from the hearth.
Then there are the hummus selections.
“Hummus is to the Israeli people what barbecue is to Texans,” Ben Eli says. “We will drive for miles and stand in line for hours to get what is reputed to be the best hummus anywhere, and when they run out, they don’t make more until the next day.”
Hamsa offers three hummus varieties, each served with olives, pickles, fresh white onion and house-made pita.
Choose from lamb hummus with caramelized onions and pine nuts ($16); Shakshuka hummus with spiced tomato, egg and Merguez sausage ($18); or hummus complet, a silky, smooth dip studded with chickpeas and topped with half a hard-boiled egg — one of the best renditions I’ve ever tried ($14).
Exploring the Hamsa Menu
Small plates at Hamsa include Baladi eggplant, an heirloom variety that’s roasted and served with tahini sauce, pine nuts and jewel-like pomegranate seeds ($12) and cauliflower couscous on a bed of labneh with dried cranberries, chopped almonds and fresh mint ($14). Hamsa also offers traditional falafel ($12), beef tartar with Shata aioli and challah spears ($16), as well as Arak mussels bathed in an herbaceous garlic butter ($18).
Char-grilled skewered meats and seafood that slide off long metal skewers tableside include curry-yogurt-marinated dark-meat chicken ($22), shrimp napped with preserved lemon chimichurri ($26), and tenderloin basted in Za’Tar Sumac butter ($28). Each includes a side dish, such as turmeric potatoes or the signature Israeli salad made with a brunoise cut of cucumber, tomato, red onion and parsley.
The big plates, of which there are three, are grilled branzino ($36), lamb spare ribs ($36) and a deconstructed chicken shawarma comprised of a conical hunk of roasted meat that slowly rotates to cook over a grilled vertical rotisserie ($28).