First came a Moroccan chef. He lasted 17 months. Then 11 months of a Portuguese chef, a 13-month stint with an Ivorian chef, a 26-month stretch with a second Portuguese chef — the first woman — followed by a 29-month stay by an American chef and a comparatively epic 44 months of Mexican chef work. Now, since November 2017, for the first time since opening in 2006, Nomad, an Algerian restaurant in the East Village, has had an Algerian chef, Karim Lahcene. At a pace beyond rush hour or month-to-month rent, it took 11 years’ worth of New York minutes — even longer than Odysseus’ famous trek homeward.
Over those years, Mehenni Zebentout, Nomad’s owner — more of a constant gardener — has fine-tuned his immersive postcard of a restaurant for both the homesick diners and those pursuing their wanderlust. Amid the pandemic, he has made the deliveries himself (including to stranded tourists) and has served over 2,000 meals a week to hospital workers. His curbside to-go drinks of Algerian iced mint tea (with date sugar) and watermelon sangria are the one thing better than liquid courage: liquid calm. His wife, Salima, tested recipes while Lahcene was trapped in France. All the while, Zebentout soldiered on as the city’s unofficial Algerian ambassador.
“Google Maps still doesn’t have a category for Algerian food,” Zebentout said. “I want to put it on the map.” He built Nomad on an Algerian idiom — كي تشبع الكرش اتقول لرأس غنيلي — that a full stomach asks the head to sing, or that joy first requires a great meal.
Nomad is not just everything diners say they want — affordable, authentic, delicious, unique, romantic— but also everything food writers and editors say they know like the backs of their hands.
Nomad is indeed a joyful dining paradox, offering the platonic ideal of a great night out to a city that refuses to acknowledge its existence in one of Manhattan’s most-trafficked neighborhoods. It is not just everything diners say they want — affordable, authentic, delicious, unique, romantic, and generally a resonant moment of…