The name derives from an Arabic phrase for hospitality, which Assil said succinctly embodies the spirit of her new concept. At Dyafa, customers will get treated like family, she said.
Conceptually it’s a notable departure from her year-old bakery Reem’s California. The popular East Bay spot specializes in “street food” like man’oushe, while Dyafa, Assil said, will use the lens of fine dining to take a deeper dive into the oft-misunderstood nuances of Arab cuisine and culture.
“With Reem’s, I tried to put Arab street food on the map. I don’t think you’ve seen any place that describes food as Arab really except us out here,” she said. “Dyafa is a continuation of that concept. Arab food is so simple, yet complex and flexible, that it can be interpreted in so many different ways.”
It’s still very early in the development process so the menu at Dyafa has yet to solidify, but early details are that its foundation will be shared plates. Assil said to expect cold dips, braised meats with yogurt sauce, and spiced fish. The bread at Dyafa will come from Reem’s California, and the dessert menu will “have dishes people have never seen.”
Assil said she plans to appoint a chef de cuisine at Dyafa to run the day-to-day operations. The freedom will allow her to split her time between Reem’s and the new venture. In reality, it will also give her time to spend at home with her baby. Assil is pregnant and said she’s only a few weeks from her due date. Amid some mandatory bed rest and restaurant planning, Assil said she’s readying herself for the role of mom.
“There’s definitely a lot going on in my life,” she said with a laugh.
Dyafa will court the happy-hour crowd at Jack London Square with wines from Palestine and Lebanon and beer from the rising number of microbreweries in Lebanon and on the West Bank.
And while her support of terrorist Rasmea Odeh is mentioned in the piece, Odeh is described as an “activist”, and Assil as a victim of nasty behavior, in fear for her life.
Assil also navigated controversy in 2017, much of it stemming from the mural inside Reem’s California of Palestinian activist Rasmea Odeh, who in 1970 was convicted by the Israeli government for her connection to a deadly grocery-store bombing in Jerusalem.
While Assil said she knew that making Reem’s a bastion for all political commentary would leave her open to criticism, she was still alarmed by the severity of the online backlash. She said she received death threats because of the image. Yelp commenters hoped her business would burn down, she said. Bay Area residents boycotted her location.
“I wasn’t super naive about having her on the wall, but I was naive to an extent,” Assil said of the Odeh mural. “But this woman to me was an organizer. She was civically engaged and she was in it for the people. That’s why we put her on the wall,” Assil said. “We need to normalize struggle and understand people are complex. I think if you ask me like five times if I would do it all again, four out of those five times I would.”
Note her words: “We need to normalize struggle.” She is trying to normalize terrorism. And I hate to say it – she seems to be doing this with some success. The fact Reems is so popular – notwithstanding the huge mural of a murderous terrorist defiantly hanging on the wall – that she is now opening another restaurant, is a testament to this.
And speaking of this new restaurant
Assil said Dyafa will have the same spirit, just in a more refined setting. Politics, race, the intricacies of Arab food and culture, social justice issues, it will all be on the table at Dyafa, she said.
I wonder who she will be hanging up on the wall there – my money’s on Leila Khaled.
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