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Posts Tagged ‘Waiters’

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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I was going to write a scathing restaurant review. I’ve written and rewritten it in my head for three days now.  I’m just going to go with what I have. Perhaps my anger has subsided. Or I realized how trivial it is to be angry at a restaurant over poached eggs.  Or not.  Here goes the post, in any case:

What I ended up getting...and I paid about $13 for it...pathetic.

Poached eggs are a perfect food.  I likes my yokes runny.  I like poached eggs on their own, over rice, over salads (Salade Lyonnaise being a long-time favorite), over toast, in sandwiches, on sandwiches.  You can basically count on any dish being vastly improved with the addition of a poached egg.

Restaurant rules I believe in and respect:

1) The menu is a contract (I had this drilled into me at culinary school)

2) The customer is (almost) always right (…and certainly be nice to them all at all costs).

Let us begin.

“Benedicts” is a popular eatery in Tel Aviv. They have two branches, both in very fashionable neighborhoods.  They are open 24 hours a day, and this is very very rare in Israel.  And their theme? Breakfast. Only breakfast, 24/7.

And it works.  It’s overpriced.  Very overpriced.  But it works.  It has this upscale American diner feel crossed with something vaguely European…like a pancake house plopped itself at a sunny indoor-outdoor cafe in Provence.  And as the name suggests…the signature dish is…Eggs Benedict.

Or is it? I’ve had it a couple times there.  I should have learned after the first time.  But you always have that thought…maybe it was a fluke last time…this time could be different.  Bottom line: it’s not real Eggs Benedict.  At the very least, even if you consider it a decent variation…it’s not well executed.

Definition of Eggs Benedict – 2 English muffins, toasted, topped with cooked ham or bacon (in good places stateside it’s often Canadian bacon), then topped with two poached eggs, all smothered in Hollandaise sauce.

Theirs rests atop thick cut slices of brioche, an eggy, buttery bread.  It doesn’t work.  At all.  It’s so thick, you don’t taste the bacon for the vastness of surface area below it.  It’s such a thick slice of bread, and such the wrong bread (it’s dense as hell!), that the egg yolk and sauce aren’t at all absorbed into it (something the spongy English muffin was born to do).  Personally – I think it’s irresponsible – I’ve made brioche and I know how many eggs go into it – AND with a Benedict – customers are essentially being served 4+ eggs, not just the two they think they’re eating. Finally, their Hollandaise sucks.  Big time.  It’s been a staple of the household I grew up in, and let me tell you, I don’t think their Hollandaise even counts.  There isn’t a detectable soupcon of lemon.  None.  And there goes the dish.

You’d think that would be my main complaint.  Wrong.

This post has probably gotten long enough so that nobody will read this far.  But I don’t care.  The main problem at Benedicts is their lack of customer service.  Every time I go, I never get what I want.  And they’re unpleasant about it every time.  I should have learned, and after this time, I have: just don’t go again.  So I won’t.

Here’s what happened.  I wanted the “Healthy Breakfast,” (no more crappy faux Benedict for me).  It said, “2 eggs any way you choose them” or something similar, and it came with salads and cheese and bread.  A healthy Israeli breakfast.  Fine.  The problem came when I ordered my eggs poached.  They said no, we don’t do poached eggs.  BS they don’t do poached eggs.

Long story short, after a long discussion with my waiter, and then a couple of long talks with the manager, it was clear I would not be getting my eggs.  Their explanation: Eggs Benedict is their signature dish.  They couldn’t go around serving poached eggs, willy nilly, when they wanted to maintain the poached eggs as only going with their signature dish.

Then why write, several times in the menu for other dishes, “eggs any way you want them?”  I say, breach of contract.  And even so, the customer is always right.  Would it have killed them to give me my eggs?  I was, after all, right.

I should have walked out.  And do you know what this spineless blogger did instead?  She ordered the Eggs Benedict — on their “normal bread” instead of their nasty brioche.  Because she just had to have poached eggs! It is, in fact, one of the few places in Tel Aviv you can eat them…but apparently…ONLY in a bad Eggs Benedict.

I vowed to write a scathing review and make sure all of my Israeli friends read it.  AND I vow now never to return.  Even though I’ve met the owner’s wife at a creative writing seminar.  Even though it is the closest restaurant to my house.  Even though some of their dishes are so-so.  Even though my doing this might not affect anyone else’s decision not to go (Israelis love the place – it’s a novelty – and they can get away with dodgy service because of it). Even though they’re the only ones open 24/7.

“Benedicts” has simply proven to be overpriced, mediocre, and arrogant. And there’s no fun in that, any day.  Any American iHop would have more business in Tel Aviv.  Their customer service certainly could run laps around what we get here.  So…I’ll just have to poach my eggs at home…as annoying as it is to do.

Aerial view of my breakfast. Never again.

One of the worst BLT's the world has known...also at Benedict's...falling apart bread, chewy lifeless flavorless cold bacon, you name it...my poor sister is the one being tortured here.

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