On the heels of his debut at Mission District natural wine bar Buddy earlier this month—a pop-up that was well worth the hype—the much-buzzed-about Spencer Horovitz is embarking on a traveling residency at three San Francisco bars. On June 4, he plans to bring his modern diasporic dishes to Birba in Hayes Valley in partnership with natural winemaker Stagiaire, followed by an evening at Habibi Bar on June 25 and a July 18 dinner at Bar Iris—both in Russian Hill.
To understand why people are so excited about the local chef's dishes, you need to go back to one of his earliest food memories, in his grandmother's kitchen.
There, Horovitz’s grandmother would pull out a can of dolmas she had secreted away in the cupboard to share with him. Memory can be as sharp as any chef’s knife, but Horovitz said he’s determined to merge the past with the present in his kitchen—not cleave it.
After years of working in fine-dining restaurants between Napa and San Francisco, Horovitz has finally struck out on his own with Hadeem—a pop-up that allows him to put his own stamp on traditional recipes of the Jewish Diaspora.
“My hope is that these dishes aren’t authentic but that they’re personal instead,” he said.
The idea for Hadeem materialized during a necessary pause in Horovitz’s career. Late last year, a back injury left him reassessing how to sustain a career spent on one’s feet. The Los Angeles native left his post as executive chef at posh natural wine spot Slug Bar in Oakland and began experimenting with the Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Eastern European food he grew up on.
“We were the kind of family that ate Chinese food on Christmas and sushi and hibachi on the weekends, so I had to figure out how to pull all of those things together,” he said.
Having originally moved to Northern California to attend cooking classes at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa, Horovitz completed a brief apprenticeship at Meadowood Resort. From there, he worked at now-closed Redd in Yountville, the Progress in San Francisco, served as sous-chef at the shuttered Michelin-starred stunner AL’s Place and helped open Itria in the Mission before taking the reins at Slug Bar.
A Hebrew word meaning “echoes,” Horovitz said Hadeem best communicates the sort of culinary reverberations he hopes to amplify through a reinterpretation of his grandmother’s spanakopita and a babka made with Chinese five spice.
Horovitz’s culinary point of view evolved, he said, over the course of developing Hadeem’s menu. For example, while experimenting with a Lebanese dish called kibbeh nayeh that’s made with bulgur wheat, ground meat and onions, he discovered that Levantine cooking had reached Mexico when a Yucatanean friend instantly recognized it.
Further influenced by his Lebanese great aunt, who lived in Syria, Horovitz serves his kibbeh with a savory and sweet black sesame hummus with brown butter, golden raisins and pine nuts he sources from a Middle Eastern grocery in the Mission called Samiramis Imports.
As with most pop-ups, Horovitz said his ultimate goal is to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant—either in San Francisco or another city.
“The last thing I want to be is a fine dining concept,” he said. “I’ve always dreamed of a neighborhood restaurant, so right now, I’m cooking and trying to find my neighborhood.”
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