A journey from a love affair with processed foods to a love affair with cheese.
Last night AB and I went out for dinner with three other couples to Maalot, one of our favorite restaurants in Jerusalem – we weren’t even the ones to choose it, so it’s not just my word you have to trust here. Maalot is located on HaMaalot St., which is the left off of King George before you get to Bezalel. If you were just walking by and didn’t know what was there, as I did several times before finding out, you’d never know that this little unassuming hole-in-the-wall serves up some of the best dishes in Jerusalem. If you’re looking for an elegant atmosphere, this is not the right place for you, but if you’re just looking for interesting and delicious food lovingly prepared and beautifully presented, Maalot is the place.
The menu is divided into two sections – mains and tapas. It also offers reasonably priced tasters’ menus of 3, 5, or 7 courses, which I definitely plan to try one day. Some of the mains are just bigger versions of the tapas offerings, like the duck and the lamb. Others, like the fish, are totally separate dishes. However, every time I’ve gone I’ve ordered exclusively from the tapas menu in order to sample as much as possible. The tapas are quite reasonably priced, in the 15-25 NIS range, with a small order of garlic bread and dips available for 8 NIS. While last night’s service was Israeli (that is to say, not at all good but not worse than most other places), the waitstaff is very nice and very flexible in letting diners add on additional tapas throughout the meal. On previous visits, the chef came out of the kitchen to chat (and on one occasion give us sprays of dry ice), and it’s clear this restaurant is a labor of love.
Just to clarify, the tapas here aren’t traditional Spanish-style tapas; rather they’re just very small portions of gourmet cuisine. They range from hummus and soup (last night’s soups included lentil and white bean-chickpea with a meat-wine base, and in the past I’ve had veal lentil) to various sorts of vegetable (asparagus, endive, stuffed mushroom), to pan-seared tuna, to meats including beef-leek patties, two kind of duck (cold duck salad and duck breast), entrecote, lamb kebab, and merguez. It’s all good.
The wine list isn’t too extensive but does its job, and the beer list includes some local brews. The desserts last night didn’t sound all that inspired, but one time we had a recreated Mars bar, which was all the more impressive for containing no dairy.
Seriously, unless you’re in the mood for ambiance*, this is the place – reasonable prices and delicious, unpretentious food. It doesn’t get much better than this.
*I fear I’ve made Maalot sound too unappealing, space-wise. It’s perfectly fine – clean and pleasant. But all special effort has been directed toward the food, not the decor. And the place only has about 6 tables, give or take, depending on the size of the party, plus a few more on the patio, so definitely book ahead.