When you walk into Ezov, the latest concept from the Emmer & Rye restaurant group, the graffiti motif on the walls (the lyrics to Britney Spears’ “Toxic” in Hebrew), on the paper lanterns, and the light fixtures that look like floating squiggles all lend the space energy and verve. You have the sense of having entered a party just in time for the good shit to happen.
Named after the Hebrew word for the garden herb hyssop, Ezov is chef Berty Richter’s love letter to his home country of Israel, with the decor and cocktails gesturing to the nightlife and street art of Tel Aviv and the menu nodding to the diverse culinary influences of the Galilee region.
As with many restaurants these days, the format is shared plates, and you’re encouraged to order all at once (except for dessert), with a suggested number of plates based on how many people are in your party. On our first visit, we cast as wide a net as possible, adhering to the suggestion of 8-10 plates. Nine plates wound up being too much food for our hungry party of four, but we enjoyed nearly every morsel.
From the smaller-plates portion of the menu, we loved the smashed cucumber, falafel, hummus, and frena (a thicker version of pita) with lamb butter. The cucumber was a glorious tangle of greenery atop rich smoked labna, adorned with green herbs and dressed with a tangy amba sauce. Even my cucumber-hating spouse went back for a second bite.
The hummus and falafel were truly glorious. Spooned into a deep divot in the hummus was a pool of roasted pattypan squash and tatbila sauce. We used the earthy frena – which came with a lamb butter, molded into a hamsa, and shredded beet horseradish – as a hummus delivery mechanism. (Some people may grouse that the hummus doesn’t come with pita. To those folks, I say grow up and eat it with a spoon.) The falafel was crunchy and rustic; make sure to drag it through the spicy green schug to give it a little kick.
We leaned into the animal proteins for the larger-format dishes, choosing tilefish, chicken shawarma, and kofta. The tilefish was lightly breaded and fried, reminiscent of fish and chips, and came with a pile of fresh greens and sliced radishes to balance the oil; it was light and refreshing. The standout here was the shawarma, served speared in a tidy vertical round, a personal spit from which to carve a small portion. It was served with a mess of pickled vegetables and sautéed onions and herbs, as well as a large piece of laffa (a large, thin flatbread). The chicken was tender and juicy; the flavors of the chicken, pickles, and flatbread combined truly popped. I was too full to register the kofta, sadly, but it did come with an assortment of sauces including an extra-spicy red schug that made our eyes water.
We ended the meal with the Turkish coffee cake, which was the only dish of the night that didn’t blow our collective skirts up. The flavor was deep and almost savory, with strong cardamom notes. Despite its petite size, it was far too heavy to consume on a scorching July night, the restaurant’s HVAC struggling to combat the triple-digit heat, although the mascarpone helped lighten it up a bit.
When we returned a few weeks later, we brought our vegetarian friends; I’d noticed on our previous visit that there was only one vegetarian entrée on the menu and I was curious whether the 8-10 plate guideline would suit a meatless context. We revisited some of the previous dishes we’d tried; they were consistently good, although the falafel was a bit overcooked this time around.
If you’re lucky enough to vibe with your waitstaff, you may very well enjoy one of the best dining experiences on offer in Austin.
We added the roasted cabbage to the roster, unsure of what to expect. What arrived was roughly a quarter of a head of cabbage, charred on the outside and increasingly tender on the inside. It was salty and briny, and as we moved toward the core, it tasted more and more like sauerkraut. It was an interesting dish, if not entirely successful.
We also ordered the sabich sandwich, which arrived much, much later than the rest of our food (perhaps 20-30 minutes after our smaller plates had been cleared). It was an enormous riot of vegetables, truly a showcase piece. Two halves of a loaf of frena were stuffed with eggplant, thinly sliced yellow squash, cucumber, and egg, drizzled with tahini and schug and topped with a generous mound of parsley. It was delicious, but I question the choice to serve a large, unwieldy sandwich within a shared-plates context.
We ended the meal with an order of baklava, which my companions devoured enthusiastically, while noting that it was more like a pistachio cobbler than a traditional layered baklava. The scoop of tahini ice cream that accompanied the dish was very nice, not too sweet and perfectly creamy. In all, we ordered seven plates (plus an extra side of frena that was cleared before we were done with it) for four people; despite it being an all-veg meal, the richness of the sauces meant that we were satisfied without feeling overfull. I suggest that, rather than adhere to the two to three plates per person guideline, order based on your personal appetite to avoid spending or eating too much. You can always order more food if you need to.
My spouse and I both fell in love with a cocktail at Ezov. For him, it was the Tom Selek, a mezcal-based drink with beet, pineapple, lemon, and chile. Mine was the Take Me Out, with Cappelletti (an Aperol-adjacent aperitivo), pomegranate, tonic, and lime. My teetotaling friend got the Curcumada zero-proof cocktail; the flavors of ginger and turmeric harmonized beautifully in this refreshing summer beverage. We were so enamored with our cocktails that we didn’t even register the extensive wine list, which features wines from Greece, Lebanon, and other parts of the Mediterranean.
A few words about service: Our first visit to Ezov was on a very busy Friday night. Yet everyone who served us was pleasant and personable, rather than harried and frantic. We left in high spirits, having had a really wonderful time due in large part to the quality of service we experienced.
The service during our second visit was adequate but not as stellar as the first. Our server was polite but seemed irritated by our (very few) questions. Despite the very long gap between courses, we started to feel unwelcome the moment my friend set down her spoon after taking the last bite of dessert. It was a rather disappointing way to end our dining experience.
I’m not an expert in Israeli food and I’ve never been to Israel, but I do know what dishes excite me and which ones I’m okay with limiting to just a bite or two. At Ezov, almost all the dishes we tried fell into the former category. My impression is that Ezov is a thoughtful, creative, loving tribute to the varied culinary traditions in Israel, presented in a lively and inviting space. If you’re lucky enough to vibe with your waitstaff, you may very well enjoy one of the best dining experiences on offer in Austin.
2708 E. Cesar Chavez, 512/305-1118
Sun.-Thu., 5-10pm; Fri.-Sat., 5-11pm
Read More: Restaurant Review: Ezov