Any suggestions for Israel?
- Eddie Bennet
I am traveling to Israel next week and would welcome suggestions for any restaurants in the Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv area. I am open to any cuisine (although if anyone knows of good sushi in Tel-Aviv, I would be forever in your debt).
I'm just back - Stephen Kaye gave me a host of pointers, but my schedule was for the most part not my own, so I was delinquent in checking them out. Severe falafel craving even kept me from his one "don't miss" stekiyat hotzote in Jerusalem, but on the drive out of town I noticed it - Its right next to machane yehuda, I think on Aggrippas. And while in the neighborhood, get chocolate rugelach from Marzipan bakery - One of the outer market stalls at the very top of the hill. And if you duck inside, there is a counter that has fresh halva right where two of the alleys intersect. It is sitting, clearly turned out of a pan, not pre-wrapped like the halva most of the other places are selling. The marbled variety is light in texture, not too sweet, and impossible to stop eating. The stall is mostly meat or fish, not candy, so my fantasy is that it is someone in the family's specialty.
In Jaffa, I had fantastic pistachios from one of the nut sellers on the main drag.
Most lunchs were on the run, but falafel or shwarma rarely disapointed.
Ima's in Jerusalem was good, billed as Morrocan, but I could not exactly tell which dishes were more specifically regional than the others. Various delicious grilled meats and the omnipresent small dishes of hummus, tabouli, olives, etc... And I had some delicious Poyo Loco for takeout one night.
My party enjoyed Yo Ja on Emek Refaim in Jerusalem, but I was underwhelmed. Some dishes were good (curried beef, various dumplings and green onion cakes), but others were clearly prepared by people who either had not ever eaten them in the original form or didn't think that we would like them that way (pad thai was marked on the menu and delivered to the table spicy).
While up North I had the opportunity to eat a meal of traditional food of the Cochin Jews. I don't have contact info, unfortunately. I was staying in Rosh Pina, and I imagine if you ask around there, they could point you in the right direction. The "restaurant" is really the converted porch of a house on a moshav which I believe has a large number of Cochin Jews. We were given about 12 courses, of which at least half were delicious, and the others were at least tasty and interesting. I had a couple other more fancy dinners in town. Generally good - The names escape me. One is well known as the best restaurant in Rosh Pina, the other has a taverny feel, and stocks the tables with various puzzles. Auberge something, and something sounding like Jo'anees. Sorry for the vagueness.
If I recall anything else pertinent I'll post further.
re: stephen kaye
Bourekas! Yum. I forgot to mention these, and to thank Stephen for pointing me in their direction. The potato ones from Angel were fantastic. Also the cheese ones were fantastic. Even the ones bought from the Super-Sol were delicious.
There's a branch of Angel on the far side of the big central market, but I got mine around midnight at the main bakery, which is apparently open 24 hours, although I doubt that is true of shabbos.
Also - Please do not buy sweets from the stall on the left of the suk just inside the Jaffa gate inside the Old City. Even if his wares are usually good, which I doubt, he sold me some absolutely awful baklava.
Tel Aviv has surprisingly good food. I mean that in the sense that I think NYC has surprisingly bad food; a tiny %age, NYC's high end, is the "best food in the world"; a tiny %age of each ethnic type is "best in the US"; but about 95% of what is offered is inedible garbage.
In the same sense that France, Italy, Spain, India, China have what you would call "national cuisines", Israel surprised me by having a national cuisine of "Middle Eastern" food, surprising because there is vanishingly little eastern european "yiddish" Jewish American food.
The average for food is very good. It's a low risk place to eat, perhaps because of the moderate climate and fresh mediterranean produce all year round.
To try to answer your question first, in Tel Aviv I had what I was told would be "great" sushi, and it was not. Don't know the name of the place, but it was at the entrance to the ni-MAL ("port") in Tel Aviv, at the intersection of Hayarkon and Dizengoff. There are more places that people say are great, but I plan to skip any more sushi.
Very good Chinese, though: in Tel Aviv at Yin Yang on Rothschild. NYC pricing makes it expensive by any standard for chinese food, and expensive for any food in Israel. Doesn't fit my ideas of any particular region, sort of a hodgepodge, but deftly executed, crisp, fresh, interesting flavors. I wish we had inauthentic food this good in US or Europe.
But while in Israel you should eat Oriental (Middle Eastern) food almost exclusively, IMHO. My standard: after becoming accustomed to the subtlety of the different felafel, hummous and baba ganoush here, I just don't like what we have in the US any more. (no, not even in Brooklyn or Queens... ok, maybe Al Bhustan in Manhattan, one felafel place in Brooklyn, and Al Diwan in Paris come close)
I don't claim to be exhaustively an expert, but after some time my experience is, the best of this type of food is cooked by Arabs for Israeli/Jewish clientele. Arab for Arab and Israeli for Israeli Middle Eastern restaurants are not generally as good, to my taste. And this means in Israel, go to Jaffa.
I'll put my Jaffa food tour in a separate post as a reply to this.
re: Is Real
South of Tel Aviv is an ancient port city called Jaffa (Yafo or Jafo) whose main drag is called Yefet: all those are variants of one name, Noah's son Joppa, founder of the city. Today it is an Arab (Moslem and Christian) quarter. Eating has always been important in Jaffa: it is from here that Jonah set sail only to be swallowed by a whale.
So, here's a good food tour heading south away from Tel Aviv, into Jaffa on Rehov (street) Yefet. All these are above average, and I'll try to point out anything exceptional. These places vary in fanciness, but Israel is an informal place and anybody dressed anyhow would be welcome at any of these. Also, most of this is vegetarian friendly, even vegan if you are careful about the cheese. I'll go in geographic order because I don't know any of the addresses.
From the beginning of Yefet, left with respect to the clock tower, down an alley inside a decrepit old building block, is Yo-ezzer, an expensive restaurant. Good quality sort-of-French: entrecote, boeuf bourgignon, etc. and your best bet for good wine. Israeli's have hideous taste in wine, you are warned, and taxes make it wildly expensive. A somber Gothic architecture sort of place, but not stuffy.
Heading up Yefet, past the 24 hour Abu Laffiya (sp?) pizza and shwarma joints, 2/3 of the way up the hill, right, down an alley, is Cordelia, a fairly hip, 30-year-olds bar, and good "mediterranean" restaurant. More Gothic architecture. Drinkable house cab and merlot. In a bigger alley behind this alley is another outlet of the same restaurant called Noa. More informal, open for breakfast too, and a good bet for Saturday (shabat) morning when most else is closed.
Farther up Yefet, at the top of the hill on the right, is Andromeda (pronounced Andro-Medda), a condo, hotel-ly, health club complex, and much nicer place to stay than the Tel Aviv hotels. (not recommending this as a food place, but if you stay there the club and pool have some food service, coffee/lunch counter, and like I said, Israel doesn't have much outright bad food.)
Just past Andromeda on the left at the next intersection, is a glida (ice cream) stand called Victory that's pretty good/pretty typical. Right next door is Yaffa Cafe, good coffee and tea house; features lefty-politics and a wall of books promoting positive Arab-Jewish mixing vibes. Limited menu, but the food is good: stuffed pepper, filo dough meat or spinach, lentils, yam soup, nice salads. Not particularly Israeli, more reminiscent of California health food (needs salt!), but pretty good, light, and a nice change of pace. Long hours, but opens late on Saturday/shabat morning.
Don't Miss This: At that intersection, take the right, down to the bottom and pretty much staight across the street, just up a little rampy road, is Abu Hassah, wildly popular. Get "the triangle", a foule and masaabeKHAH 2-way combo (I make up my spellings, comes from Arabic "swimming"; hummous means chick pea, in addition to referring to the paste of chickpeas and tahini, so what we are talking about here is warm soupy hummous with whole hummouses swimming in it, served with raw onions and lemon juice+jalapeno, and pita. And then, foule, which is a funky fava bean-based dip that i don't really like, but I keep trying to. Israelis line up at this place, it is a must. They open for breakfast and close when they run out, sometime in the afternoon. The son runs a similar restaurant (down the steet you just crossed, under the underpass under Yefet, distancewise a little farther on the other side of Yefet, just to the right at the first major intersection)
Don't Miss This: farther up Yefet (maybe a km?) there is a corner restaurant on the right with blue sign ("Pepsi") (just past a biggish auto repair shop and across the street from nothing but green dumpsters) Try the cauliflower (korveet), lemon yoghurt soup (marak limon), lamb skewer, lamb kebab (little lamburger patty), chicken hearts, spinach (+ get rice). You'll get pita, and olives and pickles, but order some little salad plates, the Turkish (salat torkeez) esp., also baba ganoush, hummous, eggplant/aubergine, and cabbage salads. The foule and masaabekhah are consistent, worth a try (ask for the tikbilli, the lemon and jalapeno thing). Felafel is 1/2 the time great, 1/2 the time ok, same with the meat moussaka. Very inexpensive, I think everything I just suggested, way more than 2 can eat, would total less than $30, so order it all and sample. Get the big bottle of Pepsi Max, much cheaper than cans. (so you can calibrate: in America I'm Diet Coke exclusively, but here Coke sucks, and Pepsi Max is pretty good.) Open all day through early dinner.
Don't Miss This: Continue up Yefet (about a half a km?) to an intersection where streets come in from the left. On the far left corner is a felafel counter, great felafel, really truly great. A word here: the one Middle Eastern food that is better in the US is the felafel sandwich. US felafel are worse (to the point of inedible) but the sandwich construction is far superior. In Israel, the sandwich taste runs toward a variety of pickled things (mostly cabbage) that are so overwhelming you might as well eat a pickle sandwich. So, my advice, order plain felafel and eat them crispy hot, maybe with some of the tahini sauce squirted on. These felafel are green, moist and tender inside, very zippy flavor, but subtle and I think they get lost in the pita.
Just past this on Yefet, to the right, is a little shopping plaza. OK glida (ice cream) stand, convenient post office, and Paul's Coffe, a terrific espresso (and coffee and tea) shop, with a very nice atmosphere for hanging out. There is pretty good coffee all over Israel (to help you calibrate, to the point that Starbucks had to close; I don't know of any coffee in NYC that I like, maybe Oren's, n.b. Isreali name) Paul's Coffee is very good even by Israeli standards. Dani (Paul's son) takes it very seriously. Foodwise, fantastic greek salad, and "cheese toast" (sort of a toasted cheese with tomato and pesto). Directly across the street is big and good Arab overly-sweet-style pastry shop with many variations.
Just before that on Yefet, last shop on the right before the Paul's coffee plaza, is a restaurant that has a very tasty mild foule if you agree with me that real foule is too funky and you want something good to practice on.
Then, just to get your bearings, just past Paul's coffee to the right if you look up the hill you'll see the French Embassy. Tsk, tsk, dear reader, don't go drawing any conclusions about French attitudes and where they chose to put their embassy...
Oh, one more place: parallel to Yefet is a small road that runs fairly close to the sea. If you take the next right off of Yefet after the Victory glida intersection and then your 3rd left you can get on it. All within a couple of km interspersed with houses, you'll pass a little pita bakery on the right, then a few hundred meters on the right is a little grill set up in the front of a building that's basically a garage. Open only for a few hours around lunch, they'll grill meat and few veggies for you. Cow udder is very good, as are chicken hearts, and not as adventurous as they sound. The other more ordinary meats and kebabs are all good too. Nothing fancy, but great grilling. A few hundred meters farther and to your left you can see the aforementioned French Embassy up the hill. Right there on the coast is a bar/restaurant called Torquoise (pronounced Torkeez) which is OK, but in good weather a very nice place to sit on the sea.
re: Is Real
Israelis have hideous taste in wine!!?? How many decades old is your information? Israel now has many excellent wineries - Yarden, Castel, Clos de Gat, to name just a few, and a very sophisticated wine culture has developed. Honestly, you are either in the outer atmosphere of wine snobbery, or you don't know what you're talking about.
Oh, and wine here is often cheaper than in Europe and the U.S. If you're basing your opinion on Yoezer, than I might agree with you. They have an awful wine list, and very overpriced.
Despite the huge number of Japanese restaurants here, you won't find world class sushi in Israel. Better to try other things. If you're dead set on sushi, I always found Yakimono on Rothschild to have more interesting offerings (including some fusion-y creations with tehina and the like).