Wednesday, September 05, 2007

 

WE'VE COME A LONG WAY, BABY

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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