Saturday, September 29, 2007



This past week - just before Succot - there was a special issue in one of our newspapers in honor of the holiday. One of the articles talked about a new cookbook which takes the readers on a "fabulous culinary and cultural journey to the land of milk and honey".

The author of the article states that before the late 80s one would be hard-pressed to find a wealth of restaurants in Israel - or, indeed, any place other than some hummus restaurant in the Old City or an Israeli breakfast at some mediocre hotel. He writes "Up until the late 1980s, if you were on a visit to Israel searching for a hearty meal, you had to stay at the house of relatives or a good friend whose mother happened to be an outstanding cook".

And here is where the "Rashomon" comes in. Remember the film "Rashomon" - a film wherein an event is witnessed by several people - who each, afterward, have a different interpretation of that event?

I came to live in Jerusalem in the fall of 1975. My husband and I were inveterate restaurant-goers and ate in all manner of restaurants - simple hummus places, late-night bars and cafes where we went to eat a bowl of onion soup when most restaurants were closed, fancy and elegant places for special occasions - and when all else failed we went to the shuk where we stood in the middle of the street and ate meiurav - that wonderful grilled and spicy mixture of innards and onions placed in a pita with a pickle on top.

So it was with no small sense of amazament that I read his statement. In no time at all I came up with a list of thirty-some-odd restaurants. And after speaking with my two other restaurant-knowledgeable friends - Myra and Marallyn - the list grew to more than forty - and I'm sure I've left some out.

They're in no special order. For those of you from Jerusalem - or those of you who visited Israel before 1990 - I'm sure you'll recognize at least some on this list.

Leah's Restaurant Rehavia (where I went on my first date with my soon-to-be-husband), Chez Simon, Alla Gondola, Entrecote, Fink's (the best goulash soup ever), Fefferberg's, Four Seasons, Mandarin, Michael Cohen's (arguably the very best memoulaim - stuffed things - I have ever eaten), Mishkenot Sha'ananim (the place to go for that very special occasion) , Caravan in Abu Gosh, Goulash Inn, Lotus, Sea Dolphin, Golden Chicken, City Restaurant, Philadelphia, La Pasta, Venezia, Katy's, Rotisserie at Notre Dame, the Chinese restaurants in the gas stations at Ramat Denya and Kyriat Yovel, the Duck restaurant in the gas station near Nofim (we were big on reataurants in gas stations in those days), Heppner's, Steakiat Hatzot (where we ate meiurav), Off the Square, Cheesecake, Norman's, Ocean, Gilly's, Inn at Ein Karem, Select, Au Sahara, Shemesh, Cafe Atara (onion soup at night), Abu Seif (the second-best memoulaim), Eddie's, Hamsa Grill at the old Hilton, Phoenix and Da La Thien.

And in Tel Aviv - where we didn't go too often because it was a hegira to get there in those days before the highway - Yunis,Touton, Alhambra and Versailles (good food but probaly the most pretentious restaurant ever with gold frames around the wall air-conditioners!!).

Most of those restaurants don't exist today - but they were in business for many years. I would venture to say that thirty-two years on most restaurants in other cities in the world don't exist either. Of course, there are always exceptions - and there are restaurants that go on and on - just as there are here.

True - restaurants are different today. Israelis - as people from other countries - are better travelled. Today there are all manner of foodstuffs available that we could only dream about then - if we even knew they existed. Our palates are more sophisticated.

BUT - there were definitely restaurants in Israel before the 90s - and very good ones, too. Whatever can he have been thinking? This is really a "Rashomon" moment.

If you remember any restaurants that I've left out - let me know.

Yalla, Bye

Sunday, September 23, 2007



When Yitzhak Rabin was murdered, then-President Clinton, all the bumber stickers and the CD issued in his memory said "Shalom, Chaver" - which means "Goodbye, Friend".

However, in the vernacular "chaver" is what you call your boyfriend and "yedid" is what you call a dear male friend - not a boyfriend.

So - as a bow toward my late friend, Robert - who was a great fan of Yitzhak Rabin - I am calling this SHALOM, YEDID.

Robert was a will-o-the wisp who came into my life some ten years ago or so - lit my life up for most of that time - and then took his own life just before Rosh HaShana. And it's taken me until now just to be able to write about him - it - the terrible tragedy that befell all of us - and him.

Robert was a tortured soul - brilliant - witty - a great cook - funny - ambivalent about his sexuality - sharp - vicious upon occasion - well travelled - well read - a good writer - a great friend - an implacable enemy - a charming host when the spirit moved him - an autocratic host when that particular spirit moved him - sometimes manic - sometimes depressed - sometimes embracing life - sometimes suicidal - in short - just Robert.

He had an enormous circle of friends whom he brought together at his various soirees - small dinner parties - large dinner parties - anything having to do with food. His friends ranged from Jews to Christians to Arabs to intellectuals to business people to professionals to people in government - actually, anyone who had something to say for themselves. That seemed to be his only criterion. He embraced us all - and he pushed us all away.

And when I received the phone call telling me of his death - well, what words are sufficient to describe my emotions? Disbelief? Shock? More disbelief? And great, great sadness.

For Robert and me our main connection was food - shopping together at the shuk - having a moveable feast, which meant going from place to place and having only one course at each place - talking about food - cooking together - comparing recipes - exchanging recipes - but also going to films - and discussing books - and fighting about politics - and planning parties - and listening to music - and spending countless hours on the phone (he loved to talk on the phone). He thought nothing of calling me - sometimes at most inappropriate moments - and saying "You must come over right now to taste my new recipe". Or calling to say "I've just been to the Old City and have bought the most fabulous hummus for you which I'm bringing over right now".

So that when it came time to say good-bye, about forty of his friends - by no means the sum total of all his friends but only those whom we could contact - came together to send him to his final rest. He had no family in Israel. He had no parents, his favorite nephew lives in New Zealand, and his sister in England had just undergone surgery and couldn't make the trip. And even though he had a love-hate relationship with all of us - we never stopped loving him and caring about him. In fact, at the cemetary I couldn't help wondering if he knew just how many friends he had and how much we all loved him - and how much we will all miss him.

And on a beautiful, hot, sunny day we buried him - and prayed that he has finally found the peace and tranquility he so longed for.

Shalom, Yedid.

Yalla, Bye

Wednesday, September 12, 2007



I'm prepared. Are you prepared? For Rosh HaShana, that is.

Although this evening is the first night of Rosh HaShana - I'm still not ready emotionally for it. I'm prepared - but not ready, if you get my meaning. It's still hot, we're still in summer mode, it's not yet time to break out the fall and winter clothes - but Rosh HaShana will arrive in Jerusalem at 6:14PM - ready or not - here it comes.

My new article appeared in the WEEKEND edition of the Jerusalem Post this morning and I titled it "Be Prepared" - in honor of the song of the same name by Tom Lehrer. Do you remember Tom Lehrer? He was a teacher - professor? - at either Harvard or MIT or Dartmouth - how's that for being exact? - many years ago - but he's really famous (well, among a certain group of people of a certain age) for those wonderful, satirical songs we used to sing.

For those who don't remember the lyrics - or who want to know the lyrics to "Be Prepared"- here they are.

Be prepared! That's the Boy Scouts' marching song,
Be prepared! As through life you march along.
Be prepared to hold your liquor pretty well.
Don't write naughty words on walls if you can't spell.

Be prepared! To hide that pack of cigarettes,
Don't make book if you cannot cover bets.
Keep those reefers hidden where you're sure that they cannot be found,
And be careful not to smoke them when the scoutmaster's around,
For he only will insist that they be shared.
Be prepared!

Be prepared! That's the Boy Scout's solemn creed,
Be prepared! And be clean in word and deed.
Don't solicit for your sister, thats not nice.
Unless you get a good percentage of her price.

Be prepared! And be careful not to do
Your good deeds when there's no one watching you.
If you're looking for adventure of a new and different kind,
And you come across a Girl Scout who is similarly inclined,
Don't be nervous, don't be flustered, don't be scared.
Be prepared!

And with that I wish you - one and all - a Happy and Healthy and Peaceful New Year.

Yalla, Bye.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007



Once upon a time in Israel - especially in Jerusalem - you could count the really good restaurants on the fingers of your hands - and still have some fingers left over.

There was "A La Gondola" on King George; "Chez Simon" on Rehov Shamai and "Mishkenot Sha'ananim" in Yemin Moshe. And that was that. All are gone now.

If you wanted to make the trek into Tel Aviv - and it really was a trek lasting some two hours, more or less, each way - through Latrun on a two-lane road and then via Ramle, and driving through orchards if there happened to be an accident along the way and you needed to get past the traffic tie-up - you could find a few more "good" restaurants - the very pretentions "Versailles" which I think was on Allenby, "Toutoun" in Old Jaffa and "Alhambra" on Jerusalem Boulevard also in Jaffa.

We've really come a long way, baby. In Tel Aviv - to be sure - there are a plethora of seriously fabulous restaurants - restaurants that really make my mouth happy. But it's Jerusalem that's the big surprise. We have "Arcadia' and "Cavalier", which can stand up proudly against any restaurant in the world - non-Kosher - and we also have wonderful Kosher restaurants that I voluntarily go to - "Canela", and "Gabriel" and "Tzachko" - for instance. I say voluntarily because although my kitchen is Kosher, my stomach isn't - but these places are absolutely worth eating in - Kosher or non-Kosher.

Today, my great and good friend Yoav - who is a "feinschmecker" by anyone's standards and knows and loves fine food and wine although he can't cook worth a damn - took me out to lunch - as he often does. He is such a gentlemen that he gave me my choice of restaurants - among which was a fairly new place called "Colony". I've been hearing only wonderful things about the restaurant - but, someow, never managed to get there - until today.

What I've been missing. The restaurant is in an absolutely non-descript area which is fast becoming one of the "in" places for fine food and entertainment. There is "Colony", "Pini Etzel Hatzer", which opened two weeks ago after being a Jerualem fixture in the center of town for years, then moving to Tel Aviv and then back here, "Schmiel", a dairy restaurant whose marvelous youghurt soup I copied when I got home, and the "Ma'abada" - where I saw Shalom Hanoch and Ninette perform recently.

The restaurant - which bills itself as "Salon - Bar - Restaurant" - is imaginatively decorated - and has seating both outside and inside. There is a long bar, lounge seating on some of the most beautiful and interesting chairs I've ever seen, a dining terrace, a lounging terrace, and seating on three levels inside. As it was very hot today we chose to sit inside - as did all the patrons.

And now to the best part - the food. There is an imaginative menu - with only a few of the items not terribly original I must say - but all beautifully presented. And judging from the completely empty plates that went back to the kitchen - all the food was superb. Yoav began with a gazpacho, served in a gorgeous bowl - which looked beautiful, and which he said was delicious - and I began with a whole hatzil baladi - a small roasted eggplant - which was obviously burned on an open fire as it should have been, so that it had that distinctive smokey taste - served in a bowl on a bed of creamy tehina and harissa - a somewhat spicy relish which was the perfect foil for the mild eggplant and tehina. My mouth was singing. As was Yoav's - since he tasted - and tasted - my eggplant.

While we usually try to order different main courses when we dine together - today we were both in the mood for the special - two fillets of bouri - which is close in taste to American striped bass - served on a bed of perfectly spiced and seasoned quinoa - and which had flakes of sea salt, not just as a seasoning but as an integral part of the dish. My mouth continued singing.

Of course, we drank a bottle of Gamla Chardonnay - perfect and light to suit the day and the food. It's easy to finish a whole bottle of wine when the conversation and food are good - and lunch goes on for several hours. There was an individual loaf of good dense bread on each table - and we finished with intense dark expressos, as we are not dessert eaters but like espresso after a meal.

Naturally, we looked at the other tables to see what people had ordered. We were sitting on a raised level and it was easy to see what was going on. Most tables ordered the hatzil baladi as one of their starters, the pastas were original and a lot of people ordered that, and several people were eating entrecote steak with potato puree - whose aroma was intoxicating. The table next to us had some kind of dessert which looked divine - I'm not sure what it was as I didn't even glance at the dessert menu but I will next time.

I loved the many different shapes of plates they used - each shape perfectly complementing the food being served. And did I mention the service? Warm and gracious and competent without being overbearing or intrusive.

I don't know what lunch cost as I was a guest - but judging from the menu prices and the wine list - which is relatively small but well thought out - I would imagine that lunch cost approximately 200 shekels per person - which, when you think about it, comes to about 50 dollars American - much less than it would cost for a comparable meal in New York.

Even their business card is classy - and I'm putting it into my card file immediately - I can't wait to go back again. Too bad I'm busy tomorrow. I'm doing a food-tasting to choose the menu for a wedding!

Yalla, Bye.


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