Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Israel: Fine (Locavore) Dining in Jerusalem

Every time I tell someone about the wonderful meals I had in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, I hear about the horrible meals in Israel on trips made in decades past. Not so this trip! 

Machneyuda Bar Scene, Jerusalem (photos: Lexi Van de Walle)
Today, agriculture in Israel is a highly developed industry with an abundant variety of fruits and vegetables, livestock and dairy, fish farms and wineries. Israel is also where chefs are taking cooking seriously, traveling abroad to France, Italy, America to learn, returning home and rising in status both locally and internationally for inventive, historic, fresh and delicious cuisine. And, since most of what Israelis eat is "grown in Israel" good locally grown and in-season food is not hard to find.

Open Kitchen and Well-Stocked Kitchen at Machneyuda
My trips abroad to Rome and Paris in recent years show that research really pays, especially when it comes to dining out. Mom and I scoured travel guides, magazines and And, I reached out to friends, read Israel food books and my trade magazines for suggestions. Before departing on El Al, I had already made three reservations in Jerusalem: Sunday, the elegant Mona Restaurant; Monday, at the "hottest" restaurant in J-town, Machneyuda; and Tuesday, I secured a table at the world-renown Eucalyptus.

Of course, I forgot my camera for the dinner at Mona, and wasn't able to keep the table at Eucalyptus due to "traveler's flu" (although I did get a glowing review from Gary, one of the men in our New York Loves Israel group, who savored every bite of the tasting menu).  So, all the photos are from Machneyuda which is an amalgam of the name of the "souk" market, Machne Yehuda, just two blocks away that I also visited on the trip (read the post).

"Very Local Lamb Chops"
Mom and I shared the "very local" lamb, crisp endive salad, and unbelievably inspired "Arab Classic" steak tartar, which is like American steak tartar rolled in bulgur wheat aromatically seasoned with cinnamon, allspice, mint and onions.
Endive, Pear, Kiwi, Blue Cheese and Nut Salad
The sashimi, apparently an Israeli specialty, was on the house (after Herb, our dining companion and "group leader" told our waitress I'm a food "critic"!!!) and quite fresh.

Sashimi "Uri" Style
Mary, who Mom and I shared the side trip to Bethlehem and Hebron with, said the salmon and soba noodles was well-seasoned and perfectly cooked. She ordered the Polenta and Mushrooms to start which I had a taste of -- a great combination of creamy, buttery and earthy.
Salmon Tokyo Style
Herb ordered the entrecote which arrived with some unbelievably tasty mashed potatoes on the side.
Steak and Unbelievable Mashed Potatoes
We had a delicious Clos de Gat Cabernet Sauvignon to go with all the red meat that went down so smoothly, we ordered a second bottle!

About the Jerusalem Restaurants

10 Beit Ya'akov St. 
Reservations essential several weeks ahead. 

12 Shmuel Hanagid, Jerusalem, Israel
Mona is an upscale fish and seafood restaurant in a lovely old stone building in the Artist Colony. Our waitress was incredibly warm and friendly. Mom and I shared warm homemade baguette and aioli, roasted eggplant "carpaccio" with sheep's milk yogurt, tahini dressing and tabbouleh, a fennel and roots salad (carrot, parsley, onion) with blue cheese, pear and a pickled lemon vinaigrette, and a veal fillet in au jus served over Pappardelle noodles. And, of course, a bottle of red wine: Karmei Yosef Merlot, Bravdo 2008. Mona is a culinary delight. Reservations needed.

Artist Colony of Hutzot Hayotzer
Chef Moshe Basson has made a reputation for himself internationally for his re-creation of early Israeli cuisine. His inventive Kosher dishes use local and biblical ingredients and borrow from cuisines of the biblical holy land, Palestine, and Iraq. In addition to being a skilled chef, Basson is part food historian, part food advocate, part diplomat. He is founding member of the CHEFS FOR PEACE movement, a nonprofit dedicated to improving Israeli-Palestinian relations. Eucalyptus is known for its tasting menu, which is what our friend Gary raved about. At Eucalyptus, figs, pomegranates, zatar (herbs), sage, artichokes, lentils, couscous chicken and lamb rule! Reservations needed.

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