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Posts Tagged ‘Tel Aviv Restaurants’

The European oyster - the native Oyster of France - "Huître plate" or "Gravette"

I could not resist.  Many know that for the past year or so I’ve been a de facto vegetarian.  I do believe it’s OK to eat meat – I simply do not want to consume the hormones and antibiotics that swim in our meat pool.  I’m for healthy happy animals.  Regarding seafood, I’ve been on the fence.  Overfishing is a big issue, and lots of species (other than the ones being targeted) are being annihilated in the process.  As I’ve not quite made up my mind, I have simply abstained from eating all animals this year.  Until Friday.

One each of five different kinds of oysters flown in directly from France

A guy in my yoga class, someone I’ve seen once or twice a week for over a year but have never actually spoken to, mentioned to our teacher after class that there was an event at his restaurant the next day.  Turns out he’s a chef at one of my favorite wine-tapas-y-bars in town, Basta, and they were flying in crates of oysters direct from France.  Free-for-all true-blue French oysters, best in the world, from 8 am until they run out.  I knew I would be there.

So after an excruciatingly long wine tasting (hot, little business, new high heeled boots), I walked about 20 minutes until I reached the Carmel Market area, a strange yet fitting location for this bistro.  Friday is my favorite day in the shuk – I can get the best deals – everyone wants to get rid of their produce before the Sabbath starts – and I know where the best vendors are.  10 minutes later, laden with all the fruit and veg I’ll need for a month – and I’m at Basta – looking at this:

Basta's oyster spread

France and oysters go way, way back.  From Roman times when France was known for the best oysters, all the way to modernity when France became the first country in the world to start cultivating oysters on a large commercial scale – the French take their oysters and oyster culture seriously.  This fantastic website I discovered, devoted entirely to oysters, quotes the poet Léon-Paul Fargue (1876-1947): “I love oysters. It’s like kissing the sea on the lips.” So here I was, thrilled beyond belief to be sitting at this charming Tel Aviv bistro – meters from the raging-pre-Shabbat shuk, (the vendors now screaming and lowering their prices every few minutes), about to consume these gorgeous, rare gems – about to plant a slobbering wet kiss on the lips of the sea.

I think they're just as beautiful on the outside

To tell you the truth, that expression is bang-on.  I’ve always told my curious kosher-keeping friends that eating oysters is like eating a mouthful of the sea.  But kissing the sea – on the lips – oh my – that injects the sexy passion into the act of eating oysters.  It feels so natural,  feeling the cold, creamy, briny loveliness slide into your mouth.  It’s like French-kissing your food.  A food that is the embodiment of French-kissing.  But cold.  Ice cold.  Weird, I know.

And so, my friends, the time has come, to talk of cultural oyster references.  The first that comes to mind is, of course, Lewis Carroll’s poem, “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” from Alice Through the Looking-Glass.  The most famous stanza:

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”

However, my most favorite oyster scene is from Tampopo.  Please excuse the inane “commentary” from the person who posted the video onto YouTube.  Just watch the movie.

Ahh! So damned good.

"O Oysters," said the Carpenter, "You've had a pleasant run! Shall we be trotting home again?' But answer came there none-- And this was scarcely odd, because They'd eaten every one.

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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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Review: Rak Basar (translation: “Only Meat” – restaurant); 223 (cocktail bar)

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.

Rak Basar

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.

223


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.

My issues:

  1. 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.
  2. 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…
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Here’s a fine article on how to order a martini.

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Some places are worth visiting just for the ambiance

And when living in Tel Aviv — sometimes you just want to get away.

Italy is always a perfect choice.

It was the second time I had visited Rustico, a charming, warm, stylish, (and if I’m honest – sexy) eatery.  The walls are artificially weathered, the paneling is a multicolored wooden puzzle, the authentic wood-burning pizza oven warms the chilly night air away, and the bar…is just a lot of fun.

As usual, it was crowded, and we didn’t have a reservation.  Luckily, as we were only three, there was space at the bar.  This turned out to be quite fortuitous — bar-side seats provide a bird’s eye view of ALL the cooking action.  That’s bravery for you — a kitchen that’s open for everyone to see — no need for a chef’s table here.

Our view...and our pastas being prepared

Simplicity is often the best policy

Here I must mention that I’m not a creature of habit. Sometimes I wish I were. I like to try everything. But this time, I didn’t.  I simply loved what I ate last time at Rustico, and I have often found myself craving it (and attempting variations of it at home).  And what kind of gourmet would I be if I didn’t relish giving in to cravings?  So I went with the simple Lemon & Spinach Pappardelle.  Dreamy.  I love pappardelle because it’s simultaneously a long and a wide pasta.  Think fettuccine that’s five times as wide.  It really holds a sauce well, and it’s heavy enough to feel hearty.  Because of this, I find the lighter butter-lemon sauce a perfect contrast.  It’s fresh fresh fresh, and oh so tangy – bearably so – but sometimes you need that tongue-curling goodness.

My dinner companions were Mom and Dad, and each ordered a risotto and another simple pasta dish. All well made.  We were really happy.  The only ho-hum element was my unremarkable Valpolicella.  They just don’t import anything really classy to Israel, I find time and time again (I’ve found it remarkably difficult to find my new favorites – Sicilian wines – at even the nicest wine stores). And unless you go to a restaurant that specifically calls itself a wine-bar, wine lists even at top eateries are extremely short.

For dessert we split the Scatziatina (sp?), pizza dough shmeared with chocolate, topped with Mascarpone, then closed up like a calzone and fired up in the pizza oven.  It’s the Italian version of a French crepe, I tell you.  Scrummy.

Verdict? A perfect place for a perfect night out.  It’s a place for a first date, a family dinner, or a celebration — it seems to dress up or down on demand.  Rustic-chic, I should say.  The food is a bit pricey (pastas 51-63 shekels; meats 62-93; small pizzas in the 40’s), but the decor, the super-attentive wait staff, and the gutsy clean-as-a-whistle kitchen crew make it worth your buck.

With a branch on Rothschild Blv in the south and Basel Street in the north, Rustico is a really great choice no matter where you find yourself…when craving a bit of an Italian getaway.

My parents are leaving tonight, so my two weeks of restaurant heaven are about to come to a close.  I’m slowly compiling my photos and thoughts about each. Restaurants to come include: Hashdera 34; Barbounia; and Rak Bassar (“Just Meat”).  I’m sure there are others, too I’m not thinking of.  So come back for a visit, and happy eating!

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