Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Well Fed

I get to eat terribly well these days, and I mean terribly well. First there's my gig as restaurant critic for the Haaretz website. They make me do such things as compare brands of raw tahini, but also send me to places like Orca, a gourmet restaurant on Nachalat Binyamin Street, in Tel-Aviv.

A lunch for two in that seriously designed environment cost 400 shekels (about 130 US$) and featured small crustini topped with a sublime truffle spread. Actually, anything that comes with truffle is sublime, you put it in your mouth and just can't believe it's happening to you. I once attended a bachelors' party of a beloved friend who happens to be quite affleunt. It began at another high end culinary institute: Yoezer Bar Ya'yin in Jaffa, where each dish of the dinner contained truffles. I danced hard that night.

Yesterday it was another one of my many occupations that landed me in a posh local dining room. I was guiding a group of Austrian tourists, friends of a dear friend who gradually became new friends of my own. They know Tel-Aviv well enough from past visits and wanted to see it's deep end, its undiscovered corners. I took them to Florentine and to the spice market on Levinsky Street, then later to the A'jami district in Jaffa. They all dealt quite well with the hardcore grit that marks the south side, but preffered to eat their lunch uptown, at famed, seafront Raphael.

It was there, enjoying a cured veal tongue and roasted blue squid, that I came to muse about Israeli haute cuisine and suddendly truly appreciate it. Of the three restaurants mentioned here, Raphael is the most profoundly Israeli. In the past it offered French baresserie fair with touches of the meditteranean, of North African (especially Lybian) Jewish diaspora cooking and other flavours simmering in Israel's melting pot. Its new menu shows of a coming of age. The dishes are simply local but they are Raphael local, sophisticated local, beautiful local. They don't even need truffles to be imported from the Italian Piemonte, and nor, so it seems, would many of the meals served in this country in years to come. I just hope to be asked out to taste these meals because as it is I'm best equipped to be fed on the other end of Israeli cuisine, featuring our most original and poetic manifestation of east meets west: the famed schnizel in a pita.

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