New Hollywood-Backed Israeli Restaurant Opening at Fraught Moment Hopes to “Transcend Politics”

The dining room at Carmel restaurant on Melrose Avenue.

Opening an ambitious restaurant in L.A. is notoriously challenging. The gauntlet runs from permitting hassles and online critics to razor-thin profit margins. But Carmel, a new dining concept backed by entertainment insiders, faces a singular predicament. It debuts its inclusive, cosmopolitan ideal of Tel Aviv cuisine on Thursday, the day after a violent UCLA protest over the Gaza conflict ended in mass arrests and as the International Criminal Court is reported to be weighing warrants for senior Israeli leaders.

Carmel — named after Tel Aviv’s main century-old bazaar — was conceived a year ago by a group of hospitality veterans whose other endeavors include the kosher Nua in Beverly Hills as well as lower Manhattan’s Cleveland 19, a Mediterranean-minded lure for the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill. The restaurant’s investors include WME’s Brad Slater and Warner Music Group executive vp Aton Ben-Horin. It’s taken over the prominent corner Melrose Avenue address previously occupied by the Village Idiot.

Even prior to Oct. 7, the local dining scene has been marred by anti-Semitic acts. In 2021, a car caravan descended on a West L.A. sushi restaurant, hurling slurs and physically attacking patrons. In 2023, the exterior of iconic Canter’s Deli was defaced with pro-Palestinian graffiti.

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Carmel’s menu is meant to reflect Tel Aviv’s internationalism. “It’s a hub of different cultures,” explains operating partner Ronnie Benarie, whose career has included stints managing the songwriter Mickey Shiloh and the Israeli pop star Ninet Tayeb. “The perfect example is the chef himself, who’s half-Italian, half-Syrian. I’m Libyan and Bulgarian. We’re all from Israel. The dishes speak to that in a modern way: our version of Moroccan cigars, usually made with lamb, but we do wild mushrooms — or our crudo, where we use amba,” a mango pickle condiment traced to Baghdadi Jews.

Since the outbreak of the most recent cycle of hostilities began last fall, some detractors of Israel have sought to diminish the country’s legitimacy by, among other tactics, questioning the indigeneity of its cuisine. “It’s laughable and sad,” explains Benarie. “We’re a nation of people who’ve been thrown out of countries all over the world and created a home for ourselves and brought food with us from where we were. That’s the beauty of it.”

Benarie and his partners know they’re opening Carmel in an acutely troubling time. But they believe the restaurant, as an experience, can find success by committing to an inclusive, multicultural vision that was conceived before Oct. 7. “That should transcend the politics,” he says.

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