Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Nine more reasons to eat in Israel

My last post covered only central Tel Aviv, but that's only the start of what we tasted in Israel. Here are a few more only-in-Israel experiences -- and we barely even scratched the surface in Jerusalem!
homemade tahini ice cream with halva, pistachios and date honey
Tahini time: Sesame-based treats are everywhere in Israel. If you're mainly familiar with the sesame paste as a sauce for falafel or shwarma, in Israel it's used in lots of sweets as well. My last post showed a halva stand with several flavors of the fudge-like dessert. It's also used extensively in ice cream and gelato, The homemade version at the Jerusalem Cinematheque's restaurant Lavan is surely one of the best, combining creamy tahini with the slightly grainy halva and a dribble of fruity date syrup.
Druze flatbread topped to order
Druze dishes: Our tour bus pulled up at a giant mall near Haifa, and our group traversed the usual maze of escalators and chain boutiques as our tour guide asked shoppers "Where is the food court?" in Hebrew. Though the inevitable falafel and shwarma stand next to the McDonald's looked alright, we were intrigued by the man warming up Druze pita flatbreads on a portable hotplate. He pointed at toppings for us to choose like roast cauliflower, lebneh (yogurt cheese), tabbouli and hummus. A nice break from falafel for just $2.50!
Shashouka: The Tunisian or Yemeni Jewish dish shashouka can be found at Israeli restaurants in L.A., but it's also easy to make at home. The version above is at Dr. Shaksouka, a Tripoli cuisine restaurant in Jaffa where the walls are as plastered with newspaper review clippings as at Pink's or the Pantry. So it's touristy, but they make a darn good shashouka, which is stewed tomatoes and chiles with a few eggs thrown in and whatever else you feel like -- in this case, some spicy links of merguez. Want to try making it at home? Here's a version from Smitten Kitchen -- feel free to add some merguez.
chicken liver pate with Calvados, honey and spiced carrot jam 

Upscale Israel: Tel Aviv has plenty of fine dining, and French-influenced Kimmel was one of the best restaurants we were invited to try. Nearly every meal in Israel started off with an array of startingly fresh salads and other appetizers, but Kimmel's salmon carpaccio, beet salad with pine nuts and wild mushroom risotto rose above the other spreads. Chicken liver pate with spiced carrot jam was definitely one of the most beautiful dishes I had all week, and drinking Golan wine on their airy patio was a great way to close out the trip.
"Television fish" at Kalimera in Jaffa
Seafood by the sea: Dining in the harbor while the sun sets over the Mediterranean makes for a terribly civilized dinner. Fried "television fish," above, were like sardines, one of the many highlights at trendy new seafood tapas spot Kalimera in the Jaffa port.
Jaffa's Container
New York Times-blessed Container also had an artsy waterside vibe, though we didn't get to try it.
Tel Aviv's Manta Ray
I had a terrific simple branzino with grilled endive and halloumi cheese at Manta Ray, one of Tel Aviv's most popular restaurants, with a killer beach view. There are plenty of Cannes-like cafes along Tel Aviv's beachfront with interchangeable drink menus and bad techno music, but Manta Ray is a more grown-up spot with excellent seafood.
Carmey Avdat's owner/winemaker Eyal Izrael

Desert farming: While there are lots of good wineries in the Golan Heights, Israel's Napa Valley, we visited a more unusual operation in the middle of the blazing Negev desert. Carme Avdat Farm includes a winery, orchard and cottages built in a valley along the 1500 year-old Spice Route. Desert dry farming results in deeply-flavored apricots, almonds that taste of sweet marzipan, and several red wines including a Merlot and a very solid Cabernet. The farm's rustic but modern cabins would make a terribly relaxing desert stopover, with their stone floors, shady terraces and individual dipping pools.
Hadubim (The Bears) craft beer at Tel Aviv U. marketplace

Craft beer and paletas: Like in most hot countries, beer in Israel is fairly week and bland. The craft beer movement is fairly small, but there's about 20 microbreweries trying to counter the prevailing Gold Star and Tuborg corporate brews. Dancing Camel is the biggest, and their La Champa amber ale made a nice change from the usual weak brew in kegs at the Tel Aviv University alumni gathering we attended. Also held at the university is a small and intriguing marketplace with everything from dim sum to handmade lychee paletas, Druze pita and fresh blackberries. Other Israeli microbreweries turn out smoked salmon and pomegranate date-flavored beers. Here's some more info on craft beer in Israel.

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