Tel Aviv certainly loves its gimmicks – restaurants and bars all over town try some interesting and often odd tricks to get people in door. Some gimmicks are logical – a breakfast restaurant serves breakfast and not dinner. A cafe serves coffee and not sirloin. But, I’m not quite for fad gimmicks. If it works, it works, great. My experience at the deaf-blind center’s BlackOut restaurant was a real thrill. My disappointment at 24-hour breakfast at Benedict’s was monumental. But will these places (or their genres) stand the test of time? Or does that even matter? Here are two accounts of recent gimmicky places I had the pleasure of encountering.
Gimmick #1: choose your cut and size of meat at a real butcher shop at the back of the restaurant – then have it served on a small tabletop grill – where you can choose to cook the meat further, or simply keep portions of it warm while you slowly work you way through the masses of it all.
At a restaurant called “Only Meat,” it really says something when the parts of the meal I loved most were the all-you-can drink wine jug (after all, you stop caring after the second glass that the wine is uber-cheap Shel Segal) and the appetizers (creative, finely chopped salads – one with cactus!; and an elegant small-portioned grilled beef tongue served atop a salad).
Although I ordered my NY strip steak rare, it came blue. My dad’s sirloin (ordered medium rare) came in rare-to-blue, and my sister’s ostrich (ordered at the butcher’s recommendation of medium-to-medium rare) came in so blue it was cold in the middle. And it being ostrich – a bird – I was worried at how safe it would be to actually eat it in that condition.
My first thought was that they honestly thought that the tabletop grill would keep cooking the meat steadily, so they undercooked. But the grill wasn’t quite hot enough to do that. My second thought was that most Israelis unfortunately like their meat well done. Perhaps the cooks just don’t know what rare really is and thought it better to undercook than overcook.
We sent a lot of it back to be re-fired — with varying levels of success.
The positives – the most attentive friendly wait staff I have encountered in Israel. Our waiter was a tattooed oddly shaved gent named Shai. He was a ball, and to be sure (despite our food), we left him a hefty tip. The decor is authentic old-Israel-brick with vaulted ceilings & down-to-earth wooden furniture. The bottomless wine glass is fun, and the appetizers are wonderful.
It was just a shame that the gimmick – the restaurant’s raison d’etre – was such a huge let down. I won’t be going back too soon.
Gimmick #2: Classy yet friendly cocktail bar with creative, original recipes using local ingredients and liquors.
Sounds perfect! In a town where beer is king and most bars have usually never heard of a sidecar, 223 (named for its address – 223 Dizengoff) has a perfect recipe for success. Or so you’d think…
Atmosphere: 10; Service: 10; Cocktails: 3
Admittedly I’ve only been once. But when you’re served the worst classic gin martini of your life at place that calls itself a state-of-the-art cocktail bar – you’ve got problems.
They have a ginger-lime-pineapple-lemon grass martini; Mediterranean caipirinhas; blood orange margaritas, and an awful lot more scrummy-sounding drinks. And they are delicious. Really delicious. One drink even won an international award.
- The glasses – if it’s a margarita, serve it in a margarita glass; if it’s a martini, serve it in a martini glass. It makes a big difference. People feel special drinking from these specially shaped large glasses. The drinks go down better. There’s a reason they exist. We were served in regular tall ridged glasses. You couldn’t even call them highballs.
- Ice – cocktails should rarely be served with ice. Our drinks came with lots of big ice cubes…and straws…(hello – where’s the salt for the rim of the margarita)…which leads me to suspect…
- Watered down drinks? I can’t prove it. They might be super-strong. I would hate to be slanderous here. But the volume of the drink, the size of the glass, with all the different juices going in, and the ice (the ice!), just made it all feel fishy. I guess, after all, you’re paying for the gimmick – not the booze.
- The WORST martini of my life! My sister told me I should have sent it back and assured me its common practice in Israel. Call me a polite American. I suffered the abomination. I love classic cocktails. Not that fruity-tooty isn’t great. But I relished my few years in Chicago as a young professional, heading for swanky downtown hotel bars with other colleagues for dirty martinis or Manhattans or cosmopolitans. And I love a classic martini. Gin, never vodka. Served pretty damned dry. With a big ole olive or two. Maybe even a dressed up blue cheese olive or two. The drink I was served at 223 was not a martini. I requested a real martini glass, if they had one, and the waitress insisted that they did. Why my earlier order of a fruity martini didn’t come in one remains a mystery, but this supposed martini appeared in the correct glass. That said, it was made of a substantially large percentage of vermouth. I’m talking 35-50% vermouth. Gin was the aftertaste. It was really nasty. It wasn’t served cold enough (no ice cubes could bail the bartender out using this glass), and the three olives were our tiny wrinkled Israeli variety (probably all they had). They were, however, the best part of the drink. And the laughable part? They charged me 44 shekels for this drink – a full 5 shekels more than any other classy drink on their menu. A gin straight up may have cost me half the amount – and I would have gotten more.
I know. I seem arrogant. But when you order a chicken at a fried chicken stand and you get an egg, what can I say? In this case, I will go back. The bar is charming: the decor is adorable, European, wallpapered, upholstered, cheery. It’s right around the corner from my house. The people are friendly. The service, prompt. And it’s a smoke-free bar, if I remember correctly.
I will, however, be sticking with Scotch.