The site of the former Plimpton's store, a West Hartford destination for stationery and office supplies, will soon be home to a new restaurant by the operators of two other popular town eateries.
Later this year, Dorjan Puka's DORO Restaurant Group will open Zohara, with a Mediterranean and Israeli-inspired menu, in the space at 991 Farmington Ave.
Zohara will be just steps from Puka's other restaurants in West Hartford Center: Treva at 980 Farmington Ave., which opened in late 2010 serving regional Italian dishes, and Àvert at 35 Lasalle Road, a classic French brasserie that debuted in 2013. (DORO also owns and operates Manchester's Artisanal Burger Company.)
Scott Miller, DORO's chief operations officer, confirmed that the group signed a lease for the restaurant space last week and plans to open the 220-seat establishment around the holiday season. The name Zohara is derived from Hebrew, meaning "brilliance," he said.
Zohara's cuisine will be based on the ingredients in the health-conscious Mediterranean diet: vegetables, grains, fish and lean meats, Miller said. He described the restaurant concept as "very approachable," particularly in price, with a variety of "salutim" or small plates priced at about $5 apiece.
A selection of medium and large plates like shakshuka - eggs poached in spicy tomato sauce - will be staples, along with kebabs of meat, seafood, halloumi cheese and vegetable choices. Miller estimates the larger dishes will range from $10 to $25, and sees an opportunity for more tasting and table-sharing options, where a party can sample a wide variety of items from the menu.
Zohara will feature an open European-style suite kitchen at the center of the restaurant, providing "chef's counter" seating for guests to see the action, Miller said. The space will also feature private dining rooms and communal tables. In the warmer months, Zohara will introduce a large patio.
Miller, a former managing partner with Max Catering & Events and a longtime executive chef at Max's Oyster Bar, says he and Puka find it "imperative" to source from local farms as much as possible.
"With this food, it’s part of the Mediterranean way of life," he said. "It will be very seasonal; the menu is going to change often."
A daily lunch menu will offer classic sandwiches like shawarma, falafel and sabich: Israeli pita sandwiches filled with fried eggplant, hard-boiled eggs and assorted vegetables and sauces. Miller said he also envisions opening for breakfast on weekends. On the beverage side, cocktails will incorporate Mediterranean influences, and a "diverse" wine list will include selections from across the region, including Israel.
Modern Israeli cuisine has been "picking up steam" as a concept in American dining, Miller said, pointing to chef Michael Solomonov's successful Zahav in Philadelphia and New Orleans' Shaya, which earned a 2016 James Beard Foundation award as the country's best new restaurant. He counts those restaurants among the inspiration for Zohara, along with Jose Andres' Zaytinya in Washington, D.C.
With the opening of its third location, DORO joins other well-known restaurant groups with multiple West Hartford eateries on Farmington Avenue and Lasalle Road. In August, Max Restaurant Group will debut its new pizzeria, Savoy, alongside Max Burger and Max's Oyster Bar. McLadden Restaurant Group announced in early June that it would open Noble & Co., a "speakeasy" style concept, next to its Irish gastropub on Lasalle. Billy Grant's establishments, Restaurant Bricco and Grant's, have been fixtures of the town's dining scene for years.
Miller said he believes West Hartford continues to be a good fit for the DORO group's concepts.
"We both live here with our families. Obviously [Puka has] had success with his two [town] restaurants, I was successful at the Oyster Bar for 11 years...The chefs of this area understand the clientele here."