Hang around the restaurant business enough and “authenticity” is a word you’ll hear plenty. The authentic cuisine of Country A is, for many chefs and restaurateurs, primary to the mission.
At Ya Mas, they’re happy to say they take inspiration from cultures and cuisines. But theirs isn’t the authentic cuisine of any one place. Nor is it trying to be. At Ya Mas, they like traditions – but they also like trying new things.
“It’s modern Mediterranean,” restaurant president and operating partner Jake Zamore says. “We’re drawing inspiration from the region rather than making the same hummus that’s been made for 200 years.
“The original inspiration for Ya Mas was, we were looking for a different style of dining than what we saw in town. We started looking at different regions of the world and the one that came back was the Mediterranean.” If anything, the menu is pan-Mediterranean, with flourishes from executive chef Austin Blake and his team. The name Ya Mas is Greek, but in addition to Greek influences the menu draws from North African, Israeli, southern Italian and more.
“It frees us up to pick some of the best of the different areas,” Zamore says. “We’re trying to be a really healthy, chef-driven cuisine.”
It helps that this food skews to the lighter side and “works in the Florida sun,” he says.
One Mediterranean dining trait Ya Mas really promotes involves encouraging communal dining with smaller shared plates. The restaurant layout features larger tables more than smaller ones. Parties that aren’t together will sit at a massive table in the middle. It’s a way of dining that makes you put down your phone and talk.
“We feel that gets lost in today’s world,” Zamore says. “That … is extremely important to us. It’s something that maybe needs to be explained when (diners) first come in. It’s going to be something that sets us apart.”
It seems to be working so far, Zamore says. Guests have embraced the shared plates concept – and the general idea of sitting down with strangers who might become friends.
“We found that our favorites and what are turning into our guests’ favorites are the small dishes meant to be shared,” he says. Shared plates. Hummus and tzatziki. Octopus is popular. A rotating butchers’ cut – frequently a tomahawk with microgreens on top – is a more indulgent favorite. The lamb meatballs are another favorite. As with many dishes, it’s done in its own way – in this case, the traditional Greek dish is done with a more north African red lentil sauce.
“It really just draws on different areas,” Zamore says. “This is food we like to eat. This is how we like to eat. We wanted to create places that we’d want to eat in.”
The Dish: Whipped Feta and Labneh
- 1 cup labneh
- ½ cup feta
- ¼ teaspoon za’atar
- 1/2 lemon, zested
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tbsp roasted garlic oil
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1/4 cup crumbled pistachios, toasted
- Pickled onions to taste
- Local honey to taste
Cut feta into small cubes. Combine with heavy cream, za’atar and garlic oil in a blender and blend till feta is just smoothed. Be careful not to overwhip! Pass through a fine mesh strainer. Combine remaining ingredients in a stand mixer with whisk attachment. Whip on medium speed until light and fluffy, again being careful not to overwhip. Spread thinly into a bowl, top lightly with toasted pistachio, pickled onions and local honey. Serve with pita and enjoy!