Lior Hillel grew up in Israel and cooks in Los Angeles, so he serves a superb chopped salad with both crispy kale and kale tahini. That salad at Bacari GDL, executive chef/owner Hillel’s new restaurant on Glendale’s booming Brand Boulevard, pops with the bold flavors of za’atar and sumac as well as the creaminess of feta cheese and the freshness and textures of Persian cucumber, heirloom cherry tomatoes, scallions and especially that crispy kale.
It’s a salad that’s a statement of purpose. The goal of this restaurant is to transport you to a Mediterranean escape. And if you feel like lingering, well, please do. An 90-minute open bar starts at $25.
Bacari GDL is the third restaurant/wine bar from Hillel and his partners Robert and Danny Kronfli, who also run Bacaro LA around USC and Bacari PDR in Playa Del Rey. Bacari GDL’s location, part of the fancy Americana at Brand shopping center and a restaurant row (The Tsujita, Din Tai Fung, Bourbon Steak, Shake Shack, Mainland Poke and much more), has allowed Hillel to add many new dishes and cook with more premium ingredients.
He’s got a big wood-fired stone oven that he uses to make pizzas, including one with smoked cremini mushrooms and another with chorizo, housemade tomatillo salsa and queso fresco. The oven also comes in handy for over-the-top pastas like foie gras cresto di gallo and lobster-and-crab macaroni and cheese.
Hillel, who previously worked at Jean-Georges in New York, is all about elevating bar food. The Bacari fries might look like poutine, but that’s not gravy on top along with the fried egg. Instead, Hillel makes his sauce with sunflower, roasted garlic, lemon and smoked peppers.
A splendid short rib is braised for 24 hours and served atop zucchini slaw. Caramelized cauliflower comes with smoked chipotle sauce, part of the Kronfli Brothers line of sauces that are also sold in select supermarkets. Brussel sprouts, also caramelized, burst with the brightness of pomegranate seeds and pomegranate molasses.
Bacari GDL is about taking diners on a wide-ranging journey, but it’s also about Hillel never forgetting where he came from and how a formative taste memory can mean everything. So for dessert, there’s malabi, a rosewater custard with shaved coconut, hibiscus flower syrup and candied pistachios. Hillel remembers how his father would take him to eat this special dessert in Israel.
After his father passed away seven years ago, Hillel spent years trying to reproduce the perfect malabi. When he finally nailed it, he drove over to see his brother, dessert in hand.
“I didn’t say a word to him, just put it in front of him,” Hillel says. “It took him back. He goes, ‘You remember how Dad would take us to that place?’”
Tears ensued. Hillel thought about Israel and his father and going to a restaurant where they sat amid eucalyptus and ate an amazing dessert. It’s a memory he’ll always savor.