Thursday, March 15, 2007
FOOD GLORIOUS FOOD
When I began shopping at Shuk Machane Yehuda - "the shuk" - more than thirty years ago - it was simply a place to buy good, fresh vegetables, fish, meat, cheeses, appetizings - all kinds of foodstuffs -- unpaved lanes - no covering overhead so that when it rained it rained on you - a bit scruffy if the truth be told - and not particularly frequented by foreign Ashkenazim like me.
Over the years it has been "upgraded" - the streets have been paved - most of the market has a roof now - there is a (very expensive) parking lot leading directly into the shuk - there are some fabulous food stalls - and more recently clothing boutiques and fine restaurants have begun to open. And after all these years I speak Hebrew and I'm as comfortable paying for something in shekels as in dollars --- in the beginning I just pointed to what I wanted and then held out a handful of money for the vendors to take - not a way to live.
So - last night the two R's - or one Rosaline and one Rosalyn (you know them as Roz & Ros) - and I decided to eat at "Tzachko" - arguably one of the best and most fun restaurants I have ever eaten at - and that's really saying something. Let's be real - I've eaten great food - and not so great food - at places ranging from grotty roadside stands in small towns in India to Michelin three-star restaurants - and I'm a real foodie - so I know whereof I speak.
Tzachko is an unpretentious place in the back of the shuk-Iraqi - another section of the market - you have to know where it is to know that you've arrived. The name is actually over the door - the inside door - so that only once you've entered do you know you are there. We were there.
It has a menu which changes daily - and anything can be ordered as either starters or main courses - do what you want. So we did. We ordered seven dishes - from all sections of the menu - had the waiter put everything in the middle of the table - and then we began to "fress".
There is good bread served with little dishes of sea salt, mustard and oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping. And when I asked the waiter if I could have the "neshika" - what we call in Yiddish the "shtreitchikal" - or simply the heel of the bread - that's what I got. Here's what we ate - gnocchi with a pumpkin sauce - lamb kebabs on a bed of eggplant and tehina - goose liver pate with fig jam served with a baby lettuce salad and gorgeous heavy black bread - eggplant on a bed of the most delicious creamy tehina (we love eggplant and tehina if you hadn't guessed) - spicy merguez sausages on a bed of deep-fried onion rings - fresh sardines filled with almonds and swiss chard, breaded and lightly fried - and a "laffa" (sort of a thin focaccia) accompanied by various dips and spreads.
In addition - good wine, reasonably priced - rich non-bitter espresso - great service - a warm buzzing happy ambiance - a perfect evening. And - it's kosher!! Not that I care, mind you - but it was only when Ros asked for milk for her coffee and our waiter said that the restaurant was kosher - that I realized that it was. Interestingly - I didn't notice one "kippa" (yarmulke - skull cap). Which just goes to prove that "kosher" doesn't have to mean heavy, middle-European, greasy food swimming in some sort of unidentifiable gravy.
Eli Mizrachi (who owns the place) and his family have been in the shuk for years. I drink coffee and eat light lunches at his Cafe - I buy my dried fruits and nuts at his brother's stall - and now I eat at my new favorite restaurant - Tzachko. And - in the interest of full disclosure - I did like the fact that he recognized me as a patron of his cafe!
Now - back to my diet.