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East meets Mediterranean at NOA Café

You might call Adi Kafri a pioneer in Wynwood’s burgeoning culinary scene. When she settled in Miami from her native Israel 14 years ago, the experienced restaurateur set up shop along 14th Street and N. Miami Ave., though at the time the area had not yet evolved into the trendy district it is today. “Although our shop was very nice, no one came,” Kafri admitted. “It was just too early for the area.”

But Kafri’s instinct told her not to give give up on Wynwood, and a few years later, she tried again. Six years ago, she opened a small catering facility in the neighborhood with the goal of making good on her original plan. “Once the area changed, I was able to open my restaurant,” she said. “I always had the intention of going back to having a restaurant — going back to what I believe in.”

For the last three years, Kafri has been serving a base of loyal customers out of NOA Café, a casual eatery serving creative, high-end food at sensible prices. A labor of love for the talented cook, named after her children Niv, Omar, and Amit, NOA Café is quite similar to the restaurants ran in her hometown, serving Mediterranean fare with Asian influences.

Globe-trotting flavor

The cuisine at NOA Café is is interwoven with the experiences Kafri’s gained from her frequent travels and her personal connection with Pan-Asian cuisine.

Kafri developed a taste for globe-trotting and fine dining at a young age. “My family traveled all over the world, and they had a passion for restaurants and food. And this was 40 years ago – before the Internet, when people had to go out of their way to look for food and restaurants,” Kafri said. “I was in the raised in that environment, and I followed it. I was adventurous, and I became completely exposed.”

Though eating was always a major part of her life, Kafri didn’t seek a formal education as a chef, originally foregoing culinary school. Yet her passion for experiencing new places and cuisines proved unavoidable, and Kafri found herself enrolling in cooking classes and seminars across continents – from Europe, Asia, and the Middle East – in order to master techniques native to each culture.

After compulsory service in the Israeli army, she set off to explore Asia in 1987, during what she fondly refers to as the final stage in her culinary development, one that permanently binded the chef to her East-meets-West influenced. “I visited Nepal, Thailand, Korea, the Philippines, Japan, and I really just fell in love. I felt like it was my type of food – from the creativity to the products, it all just really spoke to me,” she enthused. She took classes in Japan, making sushi and cooking miso soup, and also became a master of flavorful curries. For the last 30 years, Kafri has visited Asia for inspiration at least once a year.

Such an influence is quite evident at NOA Café, where Kafri serves simple, traditional dishes alongside creative daily specials that showcase her talent for cooking unpretentious yet sophisticated food, layered with flavors from every corner of the Earth. Take her wasabi salmon, blackened and subtly spiced with pungent wasabi, served alongside creamy coconut udon noodles tossed with water chestnuts, marinated artichokes, and hearts of palm, then topped with crunchy nori. It’s an unexpected mingling of ingredients that works surprisingly well – a layering of Asian flavors subtly fused with typical Mediterranean ingredients. Kafri’s hearty dishes are just as nuanced as they are familiar.

A lunch break favorite

Her singular style of comfort food has gotten the attention of neighborhood foodies, who flock to NOA Café for their mid-day meal. “Three years ago, we just opened the doors. We didn’t do a big promotion,” Kafri says. “The ingredients, the way we present, the way the colors come together on the plate — they know us and they know what they can expect.”

Though previously open only for lunch, NOA Café recently extended its hours for dinner, and Kafri’s signature dining style continues to reign. “This place is the same for dinner — fair price, good food, no pretentions,” she said. “You come down and we don’t care how you come in. We don’t care if you show up in pajamas.”

She attributes her success to her attention to detail. Kafri spends day and night in her kitchen, supervising her team and ensuring each and every one of her customers is more than satisfied. “I have a lot of knowledge and passion and I dedicate myself to every plate,” she says. “I’d never serve something that shouldn’t go out. I can’t just give you a sandwich. Even if its not fine dining, it has to be something beautiful.”

Visit NOA Café at 2711 NE 2nd Ave, Miami, FL 33137

 

 

 

 

By Nicole Martinez
Nicole is a freelance writer and crop top enthusiast based in Miami Beach. A lifelong 305-er, she loves finding new stuff to love in her city everyday.