Since he was very young, Haim Dadi knew what he wanted to do. His parents had a restaurant in Israel and whenever he visited their place – as a child – he loved the hustle and bustle, the aromas, the sounds of the patrons. He is currently Chef/Partner of 18 Restaurant on 81st Street and 2nd Avenue. I’ve watched and followed him through every area of his restaurant and – as amiable as he is outside the cooking area – it is in the kitchen that he truly comes alive as he cooks, as he talks to his staff, as he experiments with more delicious ways of preparing his fare.
I spoke to Chef Haim recently to find out what makes him tick, what it is that spurs him on. Twenty five years ago he opened his first restaurant in Beersheva with his brother, serving mostly shawarma and a few other grilled items. Three years later, he arrived in New York and opened his first venture in Forest Hills – Tel Aviv Haktanah, though very successful he did not get along with his partner.
He left for a place in Manhattan called Shelanu, which eventually evolved into Mr. Broadway. It started out with a limited Israeli menu, yet considering the demographics in and around its location, it did not work too well. Over a period of seven years they slowly introduced various new types: deli, Chinese, shawarma and sushi. With the addition of all those cuisines Mr. Broadway, soon had one of the largest menus in Manhattan. With very moderate prices and the rich selection they expanded over the years and became a very successful venture, a fixture of the New York kosher Scene.
About a year ago, Chef Dadi was ready for bigger challenges. Together with Sidney Cohen he opened up 18 Restaurant on the premises of what used to be the high end Turquoise. In spite of the high quality of its servings, Turquoise had become a victim of the new recession.
Walking into 18, with its turquoise wall and aquarium, opposite an antiqued stone wall and red fixtures, gives the impression of an upscale expensive place. A quick look, however, at the menu immediately dispels the notion of “expensive.” The food served here is of higher quality than at his former place and in the year since they’ve opened they managed to gather a faithful following that fills the restaurant every day at lunch and dinner. The sushi is superb, and coming from someone who never touched fish until two years ago, someone who never thought he’d ever taste sushi, you can take it as very high praise indeed. I can never resist ordering Chef Haim’s Yemenite Meat Soup, or his juicy hamburgers. He doesn’t serve exotic dishes, instead he specializes in a wholesome array including Eastern European, Mediterranean, sushi and deli selections. He envisions 18 as a purveyor of high quality food at reasonable prices and… the concept works!
As a young child, Haim Dadi had a dream; as a man, he’s made the dream concrete!