Eating in Tel Aviv

My main impression of eating in Tel Aviv was that it reminded me a bit of SF – young chefs using fresh, local ingredients to drive what’s on their menus.  Frankly, though, what was on the menus in TA seemed more interesting and varied than what I see in SF – and I think there was less focus on interpreting a specific type of cuisine than there was on coming up with the tastiest dishes with the ingredients that were in-season. I ate remarkably well in Tel Aviv and at very reasonable prices – though again, coming from SF means “reasonable” can be in the eye of the beholder. I typically paid US$60-80 for dinner that included several glasses of wine (and usually made up about half the total bill).

Suzanna

This place was recommended by my gay, Jewish podiatrist. I had a lovely walk from my place at the northern end of Rothschild Blvd and was lucky enough to get the last two top out on the large patio in front of the place. Started off with labane and bread, followed up by some serviceable chicken skewers and rice. The food was good – perhaps not spectacular, but good – though it hardly mattered. Sitting out under the trees and stars on my first night in Tel Aviv, the weather balmy (a welcome change from the cold nights in Istanbul), the waiters so easy on the eyes – it was a marvelous way to spend my first evening in Israel.

Tzfon Abraxas

This was not my destination for the evening – I actually had a reservation at Mizlala, but Google Maps gave the wrong address. And I got lost on the way to the wrong address – so when I did finally find the place and it was an abandoned storefront, I was not enjoying myself to say the least.

But as I found my way back, I checked my list of restos I’d researched and realized I’d be passing right by Tzfon Abraxas. And lucky for me, they were able to squeeze me into the cozy (okay, maybe cramped) u-shaped counter. The menu was a bit hard to navigate for a single diner – most dishes are meant to be shared, so the server helped me figure out what to order that wouldn’t be a ridiculous amount of food for dainty me.

I didn’t take copious notes (I was still a little rattled from not showing up for my reservation at the other place). I started off with some simply sautéed beans – they were like tender skinned snap peas. With that, I also ordered onion bread – which was literally that: a piece of bread grilled with half an onion. This was followed up by a burger – came with pickles, cheese and juice-soaked bun. It was messy and darn good.

Oh, and they eschew plates here. Butcher paper is in front of every diner and food is served out of large bowls or on cardboard. Yeah, it sounds weird, but they make it work.  That atmosphere is super-lively. The counter is adjacent to the large, open kitchen so there’s plenty to watch. And there were lots of extras. At one point, everyone at the bar was served a shot of whiskey or vodka and we all “L’chaim”-d. Then one of the servers did something involving the setting on fire of sage and alcohol at the counter – it smelled great. Plus, I think the best thing I ate was the tomato bread. One of the chef’s came out from the kitchen with a giant, shallow plan filled with bread, tomatoes and herbs that had been crusted up under the fire. Everyone was invited to grab a handful as he went around the counter. Simple and delicious.

By the time I left, the bad start to the evening was long-forgotten, as I was happily full and satisfied – and maybe just a bit tipsy (it was that shot of vodka!).

On my way home, I actually stumbled across my original destination, Mizlala – I had been within 50 meters of the place earlier! Anyway, I stopped in and apologized for not showing up. The hostess was as nice as could be and booked me a seat for the following evening.

Mizlala

This was probably my “fanciest” meal in Tel Aviv – though don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t hoity-toity or anything. In fact, I quite liked the set up. A large counter on one side, the kitchen at the back and a smaller room of tables on the left. But the menu was a bit more sophisticated in its offerings than some other places.

When I arrived at 830, the place was very quiet – there were maybe four or five other folks at the counter which I think seats 25-30. So, I was just a tad irked that I was specifically shown to the very last seat on the end in front, i.e. the Mary Ann Singleton seat. Well, at least there wasn’t a spotlight trained on me…

Started off with a really good rosé and a calamari dish served with cauliflower, chickpeas, onion, okra and a tangy-yet-sweet sheep’s milk labane. It was great (though I did make a note that I thought the amount of squid in the dish seemed just a tad stingy – my other note was “Every male member of the staff is hot. Per usual”).

For my main, I had veal loin, which was grilled with onions and served in a date sauce with cilantro and tortellini filled with I-don’t-what – though my notes say they were filled with magic. It reminded me of butternut squash texturally, but was a bit sweeter I thought. And the veal was sublime – tender and a marvelous foil for the date sauce. Really, really good. I think my only quibble was the candied walnuts in the dish – it may have been gilding the lily.

For dessert: Indian fig panna cotta, fresh fig, pistachio, Indian halva, tapioca, chai ice cream and date cookie. It was definitely trying too hard. The tapioca was good, but there were just too many ingredients fighting for attention – and the spiral date cookies were too doughy.

Kimmel

Had a simple and tasty meal out on their patio – which may not have been the best choice, given it’s on a busy intersection. Salad to start, followed by a surprisingly simple and beefy sirloin steak.

Ha’Basta

A tiny place next to the Shuk Carmel with a small counter inside and some more tables out front. I inadvertently chose the best seat in the house, since I had a great view into the kitchen and watched the chef cooking things up on a stove that appeared to be about as small as the one in my tiny kitchen at home.

Started off with a traditional bread salad – tangy, savory, fresh and perfect on a warm Tel Aviv night.

Had a difficult time choosing a main – was tempted by the pasta with meatballs – but went with the crab served with cheese in puff pastry per the server’s recommendation. Oh boy – it was good. Very rich, but the serving size wasn’t too much and the crab was excellent. I made fast work of it.

Besides keeping my wine glass filled, shots were proffered (this is a custom in Tel Aviv restaurants that I both heartily endorse and am very leery of…) and consumed. I chatted up the other couple at the counter, NYers who spend a lot of time in Israel. They got the meatballs and sang their praises – they also insisted I try some of the excellent red wine they were drinking. So, in other words, I had rather a lot to drink. So, when it came time for dessert, I think the couple offered to share their warm chocolate budino with me – though it’s certainly possible that I was like, “OH, HEY! I’ll take some of that!” I guess we’ll never know…  But it was a simple and well-executed chocolate dessert – which I appreciate, since there’s really no need to get fancy with chocolate.

Café 48

I’d spied this place across from Mizlala and liked the looks of it – plus I’d highjacked onto their wifi whilst at Mizlala and I love me some free wifi.

Well, this turned out to be a great choice. I took a seat at the bar and the lady at the bar, after pouring me some wine and giving me the menu, described the entire specials board to me (it was written in Hebrew, obv) and made several recommendations.

Started off with a Thai salad with pork. Wow – so good. Fresh mint and other herbs and greens, along with some shrimp chips piled atop a tender serving of mildly spicy pulled pork. Delicious.

I’d noticed several of their specialty cocktails on the menu, including one with gin and cucumber, which sounded great. But I’d already had some wine and didn’t want to tempt fate… But someone ordered one and I watched as my waitress prepared it, muddling the ingredients and then lining a crystal tumbler with cucumber slices before pouring the drink in. There was more cocktail than could fit in the glass – so out came the shot glasses and me and the two fellows next to me were treated to a sample. And yes, it was great – I mean, c’mon, it’s cucumber and gin!

For my main course, sea bream (a semi-firm white fish) served simply atop broccoli and green beans. Perfectly cooked and just the right amount.

And for dessert? Panna cotta topped with diced celery and pineapple. It was surprising and really tasty combination – the celery adding texture and it’s mild flavor to the creamy panna and the sweet pineapple. A big success.

This was one of my favorites of the trip – not only because the food was so good, but because the service was so genuinely friendly and helpful. Highly recommended.

The Bun

Stopped here for lunch. Their specialty is sandwiches served on Asian-style steamed buns. I started with a carrot and radish salad, followed by a couple of buns stuffed with pulled shortrib. Pretty yummy – though I might’ve liked squirt of Sriracha to zip them up a bit.

The pide place around the corner

My Airbnb host told me about this place and I was glad I took his advice. On the northwest corner of Dizengoff and Ibn Gabriol is Frank’s Hot Dogs (which, judging from this write-up, I should’ve visited too) – right next door on Ibn Gabriol is the pide place. The chalkboard menu is all in Hebrew, but if you ask for an English menu, they’ll give you one. On both my visits, the fellows taking orders were very friendly. One visit, I tried the kofte – and it was great. But rather amazingly, the pide that knocked my socks off was the cauliflower one – big chunks of grilled cauliflower, mixed up with tomato, cucumber and tahini. It was pretty great.

UPDATE: I’ve been advised the pide place is Miznon, from chef Eyal Shani of Tzfon Abraxas.

Gedera 26

Another small place near the Carmel Market. It was pretty quiet and I grabbed a seat at the small bar – which was great since the kitchen is right there and I literally watched my meal prepared about a meter in front of me.

I must say, I was a little skeptical when I saw the bread being prepped for me. The lovely brown oval was popped into the microwave, then put onto the grill to crisp up the outside. WELL. It was so good – crispy and doughy and hot. Served with some labane (yum) and a cilantro pesto that I advised the chef he should sell by the gallon. I could have made an entire meal of just that bread and pesto. But obviously didn’t…

First up, a simple dish of sautéed calamari. Tender and a heaping helping.

I actually had a bit of a hard time choosing a main, since so much of it sounded good. But I decided on bratwurst – not really sure why, just sounded good. They are made in-house, seasoned with sage and ginger and they were fantastic. When the chef was serving them up, I was going to ask for mustard, but he was already preparing a little bowl to go alongside – though as it turned out, these brats needed nothing else. They were so wonderfully flavored on their own, I wouldn’t add a drop of mustard. Served with a great potato salad and a kind of sweet-and-sour kraut/slaw.  I think this was my favorite dish of the whole trip.

The chef (I think his name was Lee? I didn’t write it down… Oops! I am the worst) was really personable and was happy to chat with me about food and travel – and he encouraged me to take photos while he was working. Oh, and at some point, shots were served… I didn’t even bat an eye this time.

Café 48 (again!)

For my last night in Tel Aviv, it was a toss-up between Gedera 26 and Café 48. I’d really enjoyed both of them – and since Gedera 26 closes on Shabbat, back I went to Café 48.

I had the same lovely server, whose name I learned is Darya. She was as gracious and helpful as on my first visit.

This time I started with a Vietnamese-style shrimp and vermicelli salad. Fantastic – and frankly better than any I’ve had in SF. Not to mention that I think there were a dozen plump shrimp in here – along with a very spicy chili-infused sauce. It was the best starter of any place I’d been.

For dinner: steak and potatoes. That is literally all it was. A perfectly medium-rare steak served with wedges of oven broiled potato. Hearty, delicious, a great cut of beef. And a really nice part? I asked for salt and was provided a small bowl of sea salt flakes rather than a shaker full of Morton’s. It’s a small thing, but speaks volumes about the care with which the food is served.

For dessert – an oat-and-butter cake-pie hybrid. Sticky and sweet, a crispy-buttery crust, a dollop of cream on top. Wonderful. And really nice way to say farewell to Tel Aviv.

One response to “Eating in Tel Aviv

  1. As someone living in Tel-Aviv, I had a lot of fun reading your post :)
    You made some good choices!
    Cafe 48 is my favorite place right now, with so much variety on that ever-changing specials board. And yeah, Daria is probably the best and friendliest bartender in town.
    Habasta is also a favorite of mine, especially their lunch (and on Saturday-brunch) deals, which are an unbeatable value.
    I guess that other than Suzanna, every place you went to is on my “top places in town” list.

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