Harlem’s Israel Café Silvana Offers Music and Community

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When Abdel and Sivan Baron Ouedraogo open a restaurant, it’s a lot more than a restaurant.

Their original space, Shrine, is a full-fledged attempt to diversify the live music scene of Harlem. And when they opened Yatenga next door a few years later, the bistro offered a “yin” to the Shrine’s “yang,” a quieter counterpoint where diners could sit and chat before partying to live music.

Their latest venture, Silvana, which opened on West 116th Street recently, aims for goals no less ambitious: to combine the yin and yang of a cozy cafe and a raucous live music venue in one space; to create an affordable gift shop with artisan crafts from all over the world; to introduce authentic Israeli food to Harlem; and to actively nurture community well-being and multicultural contact while they’re at it.

The Ouedraogos’ own varied life experiences may help explain their multifaceted approach to business. An Israeli native, Sivan came to New York to study and work in architecture. Here she met Abdel, a musician from the African nation of Burkina Faso, and a Muslim.

They opened Shrine several years ago, allowing Abdel to draw on his musical experience and Sivan to apply her knowledge of art and design (all of the Ouedraogos’ spaces have an undeniably architectural flair in their decoration).

After opening Yatenga, Sivan says the decision to turn towards an Israeli restaurant was almost obvious.

“It’s something we were already thinking of,” she told Jspace Food, sitting in the cafe’s funky coffee house/record store/art gallery setting.

While nothing in the restaurant busy is “easy,” she says, their idea for the fresh Israeli food she grew up with was “straight-forward.” The falafel is fried to order, and many spices and condiments are brought in from Israel.

Silvana also serves such Israeli classics as hummus (several different ways), sabich (fried eggplant), baba ghanoush (smoked eggplant spread), bourekas (filled pastries), lamb and chicken shwarma, and the breakfast staple shakshouka (eggs in a spicy tomato sauce).

And of course, no Israeli restaurant would be complete without Goldstar beer.

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The basement of Silvana houses a live music venue and bar. Sivan proudly displayed the collages of Israeli life on the tabletops. On the walls are Israeli-themed artwork “made by [her] daughter’s Hebrew school teacher.”

New York is certainly not lacking in good Israeli food or diverse live music, but Harlem lacked both until recently. Sivan said she loves the work of her good friend Einat Admony, the Tel Aviv native and chef/owner of Taim and Balaboosta. But those Village spots are far away from Sivan’s uptown home.

Sivan says she has met many fellow Israeli expats in Silvana since it opened–many of whom had been her neighbors for years without their realizing it. She finds the mix of ages and ethnicities among her customers “amazing,” and hopes another group finds a welcome home at Silvana: vegetarians, who may welcome options among Harlem’s meat-heavy restaurants.

In addition, Silvana will soon bring hookah, another Middle Eastern staple, to Harlem. “We’re just waiting on the permit,” says Sivan.

Silvana is located at 300 W 116th St (at Frederick Douglass Blvd). The cafe is open seven days a week, 8am-10pm. The downstairs area is open 4pm-2am Sunday-Thursday, and 4pm-4am Friday and Saturday. Free WiFi is provided.

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