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Posts Tagged ‘Restaurant Review’

UPDATE (23/12/2012): I wrote this a couple years ago, and my stats have proven it has been quite a popular and useful post. Please note, I believe the “Little Prince” has closed. Shame. It was quite a Tel Aviv staple.  A few other cafes I want to throw out there to make a more relevant list: Etnachta (Dizengoff just south of Arlozorov) – basic menu, very friendly staff leave you alone for hours, lots of electric plugs if you know where to look, good atmosphere.  Campanello (corner of Ben Yehuda and Nordau) is relatively a new place, and I hope it stays around – authentic Italian deli, incredible meat sandwiches, fresh and affordable pizzas, a cafe environment – again lots of electric outlets, good internet, friendly staff, and the food is far above average.  Finally Maker’s (Ben Yehuda 202) seems more like Tel Aviv’s best casual take out sandwich place at first glace, but at second glace, they have more electric outlets than any other cafe I’ve seen.  I’ve gone there for years for their incredible hot roast beef and goose subs with poached egg, and though I’d seen people working on laptops, I didn’t working there myself it until recently.  It seemed too casual (most of the seating is outside, but the enclosed glass structure around the sidewalk heats it adequately enough). I now think I can recommend it, and highly. Did I mention it’s also open 24/7 except Fridays?

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I’m at a favorite café right now, and I’ll be attempting productivity…right after my grilled cheese with tomato and cafe Americano with warm milk on the side appear.  The cafe lifestyle in Tel Aviv, and Israel in general, makes my existence more than tolerable.  It’s a real comfort.  At times a joy.  I’ve written some incredible articles, short stories, blog entries, and plowed through tons of work for clients on a binge when having procrastinated to the point of insanity.  I alternate between long macchiatos (incredible how you can drag out a long drink as opposed to a short), Americanos (best value for money), and occasional lattes (strong) made with soy milk (decadent and healthy).

As opposed to the US (and its prolific slew of Starbucks), internet is always free.  I thought it would be so stateside, but it’s not always so.  I’m out to lunch on the Starbucks phenomenon.  Their presence has been my savior many, many a time, but it’s awfully awkward to have to buy that gift card, use it, register it, and get a month of “free internet.”  I think there’s also a 2-hour time limit.  The busy blandness of SB is also uninspiring to the point of nausea, and don’t get me started on the prices and selection.

Without further ado, here are the Tel Aviv Cafés I work in and find to be at once affordable, inspiring, and possessing an understanding wait staff:

  1. Segafredo

    Segafredo, corner of Frishman and Dizengoff.  This is a bare-bones epitome of a cafe.  Their coffee is great, and in the true Italian tradition, they offer a nice selection of delicious yet simple sandwiches.  There is no “cooked” food.  The decor is almost nonexistent.  But the prices are lower than any other cafe I’ve encountered, mainly (I think) because of the lack of showy side salads and lunch specials.  Here, you order a sandwich, you get a sandwich, along with a small bowl of olives.  The take-away prices are cheaper yet.  The inside has a giant wall-length booth with electric outlets between almost every table.  When I discovered this cafe, it wasn’t for work that I chose it as a regular spot.  Right after I made aliyah, I found it pleasant to people-watch (it may very well be one of the best intersections in town) and write frilly letters and postcards to family and friends.  A bit later, I found it was within walking distance of my first therapist and right across the street of a Steimatsky bookstore.  The fact that they serve the closest thing to real American pies in Israel, and that these huge individual circles of either berry, cherry, apple, and caramel, on top of a layer of creamy white chocolate cost a whopping 19 shekels ($5), blew my mind.  When chocolate cake, tiramisu and tart tatin run between 33-40 shekels ($9-12) everywhere in town, and you can only get a lousy slice of dry carrot cake for 19 shekels anywhere else, there was no competition.  I would enjoy a leisurely walk after therapy, mulling the ideas, then stop at a bookstore and browse and/or buy, then head to Segafredo for a cherry pie and a creamy coffee which I slowly consumed while I read for an hour or two.  The waitresses are sweet, and they leave you alone.  It’s a prime spot for business meetings and independent workers by day, a neighborhood joint on weekends, and a pre- and post- theater must-stop for the Beit-Lessin Theater across the street.  All I can say is go.  Don’t judge a book by its cover.  Give it a try.

  2. Cafe DIZI

    DIZI, Kikar Dizengoff across from the cinema and Kabbala Center.  This is cafe is the height of cool.  A cafe & laundromat (it works, believe me), in a prime, sunny location.  It’s vegetarian (with fish), relatively reasonably priced, colorful, young, with the BEST MUSIC (I listened to Dylan, Dire Straights, Petty, and the Beatles all day yesterday), and the most comfortable sofa I have ever had the pleasure on which to rest my derriere.  The food is creative and satisfying across the board.  Affordable and yummy things to order: the crunchy toasted croissant grilled cheese with spicy salsa on the side (I ask them to put the salsa inside the croissant before they toast it) for 19 shekels; the egg salad sandwich, a very nicely made lunch, served with tomato and pickle on a toasted sesame kaiser roll with a lovely side salad, all for 29 shekels; and finally, a personal favorite – the garden sandwich – the vegan’s delight – roasted pepper and eggplant, shredded carrot and radish and cucumber, shmeared with avocado – heaven – healthy – and you really feel that energy while you eat it, also served with a side salad, all for 32 shekels.  With a 9 shekel Americano, plentiful outlets, and a smiling tattooed staff ignoring you for hours on end, I feel like I’m hanging out as I work.  It’s where I finished my novel, so DIZI is quite dear to my heart.

  3. The Little Prince, Simta Plonit off of King George near Gan Meir.  A rustic used bookstore-cafe the likes of which you’d expect to see on a college campus.  It’s in a classically old building, with wood floors, flea market furniture, very quiet, and outlet-plentiful.  Your fellow customers are more likely to be learned, cultured types as opposed to businessmen or social-networking mavens or visiting American students.  My recommendations: “The Princely Breakfast” is the most bang for your buck at 35-ish shekels – two eggs any way, a loaf of fresh bread, a side salad, and a selection of spreads and dips (tehini, jam, cream cheese, tuna salad), and coffee or juice; the “wrap combo” – a half-order of one of their wraps (one of the only places in town I’ve seen them – I get the Iraqi one with eggplant and tehini), a side salad, and a beverage, all for 20+ ish shekels.  They really leave you alone here, and I’ve gotten so much work done.  Be careful not to confuse the Little Prince cafe for their other branch around the corner on King George; it’s the same bookstore/company, but the other place is only a bookstore, carrying the majority of their titles, while the cafe has a more limited selection.  In the summer they have really fun outdoor seating in their back garden.
  4. Fresh Natural Lemonade at Loveat

    Loveat (several locations – Dizengoff & Jabotinsy; Nahalat Binyamin just south of Allenby; and Barzilai 1 across from Yehuda HaLevi in the Gan HaChashmal area).  Organic coffee, clean & modern design.  Some locations are more apt for work, but they are all really fun.  The food is not cheap, but it’s all really really amazing for cafe fare.

    Loveat Nahalat Binyamin

    The best place to work is the Nahalat Binyamin branch, mainly because they have a large variety of seating areas, one of which – a loft gallery with velvety booths and outlets – is perfect to hide away.  This branch also has a back garden, a side garden, and lots of seating out front, a very perfect spot to see and be seen on market days.  The Jabotinsky branch is the smallest, but they do a great job with makeshift seating on the sidewalk with a glass box placed over it during winter months.  I worked at Barzilai once and found it tolerable.  What to order: to keep the cost down, it’s best to go not too hungry.  That said, their baked goods are wonderful.  Get the bran muffin.  As far as sandwiches, ordering off the menu is expensive.  They have a number of pre-packaged (yet very fresh) sandwiches much like a remember in Ireland and England – egg salad, tuna, mozarella & basil, roasted veg, etc.  They look small and flat, but they’re cheaper and quite good and filling.  The sides.  I have made a meal out of the sides.  You can get a small soup (fresh every day, the size of which seems like the serving I’d give myself at home) for pennies (under 20 shekels), and you can order a side of bread and butter (a whole mini baguette) for 8 shekels.  A fun thing to have is their flavored lemonades – fresh and homemade, they come in glass jars and are naturally flavored with things like a whole cinnamon stick inside.  Be sure to take one of the cards where they give you a stamp for every coffee – it takes a long while, but when you complete 3 cards (30 coffees) they give you a free bag of fresh organic coffee to take home, along with the three free coffees you’ll have had at the end of each 10 cups purchased, of course.

  5. Tazza D’Oro

    Tazza D’Oro, Ahad Ha’am 6 at the northern edge of Neve Tzedek.  I LOVE this place.  It’s so charming.  You feel like you’re in Europe.  I’ve only worked here once, but I know it’s possible.  I simply had to mention it because it’s just the perfect date location, the perfect Friday afternoon with friends, the perfect late-night dessert, and yet also a wonderful early-morning breakfast spot.  Fridays there is live jazz in the afternoon in their big outdoor garden (even in winter, it’s almost entirely under a awning and umbrellas, and there are heat lamps everywhere).  The coffee is simply the best.  The menu isn’t cheap, and they stopped serving beer in tap, but there are ways to get around this.  There is one affordable salad, and the breakfasts are worth the cost (but not served all day).  That said, if you’re there anytime later, the only real choice for me is the egg sandwich.  It’s the cheapest thing on the menu (perhaps 29 shekels), and it doesn’t come with anything else.  That said, it’s the best egg sandwich I’ve had in Israel.  The bread is hugely thick cut, and it’s a kind of doughy challah or brioche, plentiful yet fresh mayonnaise, the egg is a kind of omelet, tomato slices.  It’s just good.It makes me happy to eat that.  You know that at this kind of place, they really put effort into their food.  Even the simplest thing on the menu.  Get a coffee, too.  It would be a sin not to.  It is after all one of the few places you can get this real Italian roast.  It’s home is a few meters from the Pantheon in Rome, one of my favorite places in the world, so I satisfy a little nostalgic nagging when I go.   So – mornings for work; Friday afternoons for jazz and beer and wine; every evening for a good date; and all the time – excellent coffee.

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Morrocan chicken stew

My Morrocan chicken stew - so tender - served over couscous

Cumin, chick peas, chicken & lamb. Eggplant, coriander, courgettes & couscous.

"Casserole" in HebrewThe second of the Anglo Food Blogger’s dinner I’ve attended was held last night at Casserole (3 Lillenblum, Neve Tsedek), a trendy yet down-to-earth kosher restaurant specializing in real Middle Eastern cuisine, specifically stews and kubbehs (meat-filled semolina dumplings either boiled or fried) from Iraq, Tunisia, and Morocco. The restaurant also seems quite proud of its Arak collection.  An alcoholic anise beverage (similar to Ouzo and Pernod) served on ice, often with sprigs of mint,  it is a regional specialty and favorite.  It’s an acquired taste, and many Westerners (like us) don’t take too kindly too it.  Besides a selection of some 12 different kinds, the restaurant sports a wide variety of homemade flavored Arak.  Rare, indeed.

Dinner was organized by Miriam and Michelle, and we were joined by Sarah, Liz, and Yael, all wonderful, knowledgeable cooks and food bloggers.  I encourage you to visit their blogs – altogether they’re great way to get a real taste of Israel.

Iraqi beef stew

Iraqi beef stew

Our dinner was lovely. Rather home-cooked, yes, but very satisfying, and very very affordable.  The chicken in my Moroccan stew was as tender as you could possibly want, falling off the bone at the mere suggestion of cutlery.  I tasted the others’ kubbeh and various other stews, each as delicious as the next.  I was particularly taken by a couple of the mezes – a stewed zucchini with a generous amount of garlic cooked in it and a spicy cold eggplant dish I ate until I wiped up the bottom of the dish. Half loaves of thick white bread were served with a small bowl of pickled cabbage and carrots, as well as a small bowl of savory curried pumpkin.

Curried pumpkin spread, (juice of) beet salad, spicy eggplant & pickled veg

The conversation’s wide range spanned from translation of the names of the unique ingredients in some of the lesser-known dishes we were eating, to the particularly embarrassing state of Israeli politics and international relations at the moment, to Studio 54 (one of us had been!), Andy Warhol’s diaries, and back to Israeli wineries and the tour we’ll potentially be taking together to one when the Passover season is over. And of course, much more.

Huge kubbeh! - stuffed with lamb & cooked in broth

With only three (or four – I almost never look at salads) categories, all mains are 30 shekels, all first courses around and mezes (smaller “tastes”) between 10-20 shekels or so.  With the six of us sharing a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc for 90, we each paid 50 shekels apiece.  I’m saying wow. A real deal for dinner or any meal. Especially for Neve Tsedek – yuppie-ville if ever there was one.  I’m going to have to come to Casserole again.

A super-fun evening.  I really enjoy the company of this diverse, smart group of ladies.  Seriously, folks, check out their beautiful blogs.

Casserole's interior, image from their website

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The best croque monsieur on this side of the Mediterranean. Best croque madame, if we’re being technical.

I discovered a bistro less than a ten minute walk from my house.  It’s a tragedy it’s taken me this long to find it.  Gilad and Daniel located at 300 Dizengoff (corner of Yehezkiel just north of Nordau) is the closest thing to a real French brasserie I have ever seen in Israel.

Here’s the story of my first meal.

I decided on a long walk this Friday morning.  Tough week.  Sunshiny day.  Why not? I packed 3 books (you always need a selection) and headed north on Dizengoff (I usually head south).  Desperately in need of some breakfast, I knew there were some trendy places north of Nordau.  I didn’t expect what I found.  Jeremiah is a cafe that everyone knows.  It’s always full of hip people.  A place to be seen.  Not a place I’m comfortable with, but as I’d never been, I thought I might try it.  Before I got there, I passed Gilad and Daniel.  It wasn’t as crowded, and the people seated seemed a little more on the interesting side.  A waitress smiled at me as I walked by.  Then, out of the corner of my eye I saw that the far end of the exterior wall was covered in a Renoir print —  famous colorful cafe scene.  Immediate u-turn.

The menu features a breakfast crepe and the croque, of course, with main dishes including an incredible saur kraut and mixed meat dish, coq au vin, boeuf bourgignon, and an incredible looking couscous tagine.  Many “Israeli” dishes on the menu, as well (heck, it is Israel, after all), but these French dishes are perfect.  Down to earth, simple, well done.  No fancy dry brioche (a la Benedicts).

I had such a lovely time eating this croque madame, I cannot emphasize this more.  The cheese was perfectly melted and creamy and rich.  Mingling with the ham and the runny yolk I adore so much, I dreaded the end of the simple sandwich.  So much so that I photographed the very last bite.

It was a lovely day, a perfect meal, and I sat for an hour or more with a good cup of coffee and a hilarious book, Three Men in a Boat.  I highly recommend this bistro.  It’s the finest eatery in my neighborhood, and despite the fact that it’s very much a small neighborhoodsy cafe, the meal I ate was more authentic and satisfying than any I have eaten along the fashionable Rothschild Blvd corridor.  Yes, better.  I’d put money on it.

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Mazarine:

  1. Of or pertaining to Cardinal Mazarin, prime minister of France, 1643-1661;
  2. a deep rich blue;
  3. a deep rich blue butterfly;
  4. a silver strainer fitting over a meat dish and used for draining the water from boiled fish;
  5. the first Bible, and perhaps the first complete book, printed with movable metal types; – printed by Gutenberg at Mentz, 1450-55; – so called because a copy was found in the Mazarine Library, at Paris, about 1760.
  6. A forcemeat entrée.

Mazzarine – patisserie & chocolaterie artisanale

Israel’s English-language food bloggers, a cheery private dining room, a couple bottles of fume blanc, good conversation, and Tel Aviv’s finest desserts – last Thursday was a deliciously wonderful evening.  I’ve been overly-exhausted with work, and thus have gotten behind in all the things I want to write about. The other ladies have indeed beat me to the punch, and rightly so.  In any case —

It was delightful to meet Michelle Kemp (Baroness Tapuzina), Miriam Kresh (Israeli Kitchen), Sarah Melamed (Foodbridge), Liz Steinberg (CafeLiz), and Yael (Apples & Honey – an Israeli food blog in Finnish).  We spoke about so many different things, it’s difficult for me to recall them all now.  Arab markets, local ingredients, local winemaking, local dairies and cheeses, blogging, travel, cook books, genealogy, freelance food writing – you name it – just what semi-pro expat foodies in Israel would talk about.

I have long since discovered that food blogging (all blogging really, but here more significant that most) depends upon drop dead gorgeous photography.  My colleagues’ photos are far superior to mine (I encourage you to visit their blogs), as I decided to break in my new uber-bells-and-whistles cell phone.  These are great photos for a cell phone.  But I’ve learned auto-focus is more than somewhat lacking…and these ladies are exceptional with a Nikon, one even coming with a fancy long lens.

Seared tuna, chive pancakes, jasmine rice, soy reduction sauce

The dinner was OK.  Creative options, certainly.  Their pastas superior to the fish special I ordered.  Some homemade gnocchi, one with artichoke, another (a special) filled with plum (prune) in a portabello and shitake sauce.  The soup was a clear veg broth with mushrooms (I believe), salmon pieces, and large homemade pasta squares blanketing the top.  My seared tuna with some sort of chive pancakes and jasmine rice with a reduced soy sauce was a bit of a downer.  Others enjoyed it but found the sauce too salty, something I agree with.  But the fish was cut into strips with the “pancakes” interspersed between each slice.  The pancakes were hard as pita crackers, and the fish was nearly cold when served to me (and was well stone cold long before I got into the middle of it).

By far the best part of the culinary experience of the evening was the dessert. Mazzarine is an incredible patisserie.  I had the above cake, the “Ebony,” a 70% cocoa chocolate covering a dark chocolate mouse with some sort of meringue inside, a truffle on top, and a meringue glued to the side.  The others had similarly decadent chocolaty, layered, glossy, rich concoctions.

To tell you the truth, the best part of the entire evening was communing with some extremely lovely friendly women.  We had common interests, we all had seen each others’ work online, and it was almost therapeutic to meet in person.  In years past before blogging, before the web, meeting in person was commonplace.  Besides talking on the phone or writing a letter on a piece of paper, we met.  Not anymore.  It’s strange to be cooking such interesting foods, drinking such great wine, and feeling as though I don’t have too many people with whom to share it with.  Not that I don’t have friends.  But we don’t pop on by unannounced.  We’re all busy.  And weeks go by sometimes when I don’t have meals sitting down at an actual table sitting in front of a real person instead of my computer.  The meeting was delightful.

A great thanks to Miriam and Michelle who organized it.

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