The 11th Floor

A Perpsective Overlooking Jerusalem, Israeli Life, and Talmud Torah

Monday, June 04, 2007

A farewell banquet and then some.

Often, kosher consumers temporarily living in Jerusalem indulge in farewell (or arrival) dinner centered around meat. Considering just how cheap kosher meat is here -as compared the rest of the world- its no surprise that people seem to loose their minds and attempt to eat 3/5ths of a steer. After all, Israel is a land where wine is usually cheaper than beer and meat is less expensive by kilo than cheese. Compare that to the US where a kosher steak often costs as much as a semester at a big 10 college and you get the picture.

As a consequence, folks love going to the all- you can eat meat places, where there are scenes of kosher carnivores happily chewing through enough meat to give a vegetarians a massive fit of apoplexy with even a single glance. These are lovely places for such beef-based ogries (angry vegans, please post your complaints at including the Red Heffier, El Gaucho, and Vaquiero. The latter two are modeled on churrascarias, where roving waiters bring endless servings of roasted meats, stews, and grilled cuts until customers have a coronary or leave to have one elsewhere.

With nothing against any of these, I’m going to suggest you try a radically different place for a farewell banquet- Eucalyptus. On the borders of fine dining and regional cuisine, the food is about as authentically “etertz yisrael” as you can think of. And their “Shir Ha’shirim Dinner,” which includes wine, house made lemonade, and as much food as an Israeli wedding banquet is a simply fabulous meal. When you leave, not only will you have learned a lot and be stuffed, you won’t feel bloated or ill.

Yes, there was meat- nicely done at that, but greens and vegetables were the early star of the show. And as a meat-eater, I assure you, this was damn fine food no matter what the ingredients. This all starts out with flatbread and a selection of salatim, but not the heavy, oily, salty ones were are used to getting in the supermarket. These are light and well seasoned. After his is when the chef comes out to talk Tanach with you- not a likely event at El Gaucho. He shows local herbs and produce warns you not to eat too much of the bread, because you won’t have room to enjoy what is coming.

He means it. Which is a shame, since the salatim are light, and the bread is just baked, and you feel cheated that you cant eat everything in front of you. But that quickly evaporates, because cold salads come out, including potato salad that is rich and creamy with nary a hint of mayonnaise. Then come warm dishes, most notably Khubeisa. This green, a relative of the mallow, was among what little that the Jews of the old city had left to eat at the end of the siege of Jerusalem in 1948. As with other forms of soul food, tasting this green makes you feel grounded and at home.

Of course, the chef’s story of the siege is interrupted by whole roast eggplant, and soon steak tips in a rich brown sauce made their way to the table, which I really can’t do justice to; lets just say I would eat the steak dish for dinner for a week straight ant not get that tired off it.

All this time, the fresh made lemonade and wine kept flowing. And a few dishes later…Ma’abula. Accompanied by a gong and much fanfare, the sous chef asked one of us to aid with the unmoulding of the dish. “If it unmoulds in one piece, that’s good luck, and if not… that’s also lucky!” With a cloud of fragrant steam, rice rich with spices and chicken were unveiled. Potato slices and eggplant were melt-in-your-mouth tender, and there was enough of it to feed a platoon of Golani infantry.

The dessert was called “Solet be’ulal b’shamen,” a phrase from the Torah regarding the cakes offered alongside animal sacrifices in the Temple. The moistest cake I’ve eaten in years, the simple sauce of tehina and silan (date honey) was rich and sweet, but not so much as to cloak the taste of the cake(pictured here). A carafe of herbal tea redolent with roses and herbs was provided. And after the bill, a shot of homemade Arak, far smoother and complex than the cheap clear stuff that has the subtlety of deck varnish.

While we still have a few meals here, this was a great send off for us. No deep fried dishes were served, and olive oil was used with a deft touch; only the lamb dish in pastry was heavy, and that came more from the strong flavor of the meat more than anything else. We walked away full but not bloated, and having leaned much about local cuisine and its ancient roots. As they say here in Jerusalem, “me’od mumlatz” — very recommended!

Shalom from Jerusalem and Btey-avon!


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