A journey from a love affair with processed foods to a love affair with cheese.
People are always asking me for recommendations of where to go out to eat. In fact, I’m often asking myself what my favorites are, so to make this easier for the future, I’m making a list. Two lists, actually. Today, meat restaurants. Next time, dairy.
Fine Dining ($$$$)
By far my favorite high-end restaurant in the holy city is 1868. In terms of food, service, and ambiance I don’t know anything else like it in Jerusalem (though my guess is that Scala comes close). The menu is fairly high-end traditional, in that it offers fairly typical-sounding selections like entrecote, along with more exciting options like foie gras and sweatbreads. But the chef certainly knows what he’s doing, and the food is exquisite. Steak melts in the mouth, sweatbreads slide right down the throat, and foie gras is obviously heaven. He gets the flavors just right and nothing is overpowering. The presentation is always special. Most memorable in that regard is a cold soup that came in a glass cone that rested in a bowl of crushed ice. In one 12-month period (March 2011-April 2012) I ate there three times, doing the 5-course tasters’s menu each time, which meant that I sampled that season’s winter, summer, and Passover menus. The Passover tasters’ menu might be the best meal I’ve had in my life, certainly in recent memory. Let’s just say that it started with a dip of egg yolk confit and went on from there.
Though nothing can match how I feel about 1868, the other high-end restaurant in Jerusalem that is certainly worthy of recommendation is Eucalyptus, where AB and I went for our anniversary a few months ago. Eucalyptus only serves foods indigenous to the land of Israel, which makes their menu simultaneously interesting and restricted, but they too have a chef who knows what he’s doing (and I can’t stop thinking about the garlic hubeza salad I ate there). Meals there end with house arak on the house, which is a nice added touch (though you couldn’t pay me to drink it). And if you want to eat locusts (no thank you), Eucalyptus is your place.
Upscale Dining ($$$)
If you’re looking to eat some expertly crafted food without breaking the bank, Jerusalem has two great options, in my opinion. I wrote above that nothing can match how I feel about 1868; that might be a lie, now that I’m thinking about Maalot, the restaurant with an Israeli take on tapas that I wrote about a few weeks ago. In case I didn’t stress it enough then – this restaurant is really special, and while I wouldn’t necessarily go there if I were in the mood for a super-intimate, super-romantic dinner, I can’t really think of any other occasion why this place wouldn’t fit the bill (really, the prices have no right to be as reasonable as they are for the quality of fare delivered).
If you’ve already been to Maalot and you want to try something else, you’re in luck because Hahatzer is also excellent. Like Maalot, you would never guess such a location was home to such a fine restaurant, though in this case it’s because it’s located in the old train compound where it looks like a factory should be (though everything there is a restaurant/bar). Once you walk inside though, you know you’re somewhere nice. (Though I have heard the atmosphere described as cold.) Hahatzer specializes in “Mediterreanean” food, including a wonderful meze platter appetizer, and meat or fish dishes that incorporate eggplant and/or tehina. They also seem to favor goose liver (which was very popular in Israel for a spell) in addition to sweatbreads and more traditional meats. Hahatzer is a bit on the pricey end, but as my super-sophisticated and food-snobby uncle said, Hahatzer wouldn’t be out-of-place as one of the top restaurants in New York.
Everyday Dining ($$)
If you’re like me and AB (which you probably aren’t, since I realize that most people’s monthly expenditures don’t consist solely of rent and food-related items), you every week or two want to go out to a moderately priced restaurant that serves better-than-moderate food. And I have just the places for you – both located on Emek Refaim oddly enough, since I don’t necessarily think of the German Colony as a place with great food. Abundant, yes. Great? Apparently more than you’d think.
First Focaccia, a newcomer to the neighborhood. When we first went when it first opened, I was satisfied but not in love. Since then, they seem to have straightened out their service issues, which made me enjoy the food so much more. We went back over Passover and had an extremely satisfying meal (beef carpaccio and roast beef salad like last time, plus eggplant/lamb moussaka). This isn’t fine dining, but it’s interesting and delicious and perfect for a random weeknight.
The other Emek Refaim place I love is Roza. (There is also another Roza in the Feingold Courtyard off Yafo.) Then menu is fairly diverse, ranging from burgers and stir fry to fajitas, kebabs, and pasta, all for a reasonable 40-60 NIS per dish. There are actually only two items that I ever order there, because they are so good it’s not worth passing them up to try something new – the lahma bajin, a Turkish focaccia type thing that is bread covered in tomatoes and ground meat, and the lamb tortillas, which feature lamb sausages wrapped in tortillas with guacamole. Middle Eastern lamb sausage fused with Mexican food? Sold!
Gone But Not Forgotten
It might be weird to include restaurants that aren’t actually options on a list of recommended places to dine, but I can’t help myself from talking about two of the best meals I’ve had in Jerusalem. First up, Moise, a short-lived French place on Derech Hebron. The restaurant was small and run by a true French chef and his wife, offering things like cassoulet and coq de vin – French cuisine of the sort that’s not much seen around here or in kosher form. Also, lamb bacon. The good news is, last I heard though Moise no longer operates as a traditional restaurant, they will take bookings for groups of ten or more.
Then there’s Fink, another short-lived endeavor, at least in its kosher incarnation. Eating there was one of the most entertaining dining experiences I’ve had, from the sommelier to tasting a feast of molecular gastronomy. This was a place to go for truly innovative food and a romantic night out. The bar downstairs served cheaper (though not cheap) versions of the fancy upstairs fare, and they had more Scotches there than in probably the rest of Jerusalem combined. But alas, no longer with us.
And a third, La Guta. It might be mean to include La Guta here, since technically it still exists, but not in the glorious format in which it once existed. I ate there once several years ago, and to that date, it was one of the best meals I had ever had (I can still taste the duck pappardelle). The menu was long and interesting and so good. I went back a few years later and was so disappointed. The service was beyond terrible. The food wasn’t bad but it wasn’t anything special. And shortly after that, like Moise, La Guta stopped being open to the general public. In the past few months, it closed down on Derech Beit Lechem to move back to its old haunting ground on Rivlin St. I don’t know what format it’s taking, but I hope it gets better.
I feel compelled to mention two other fine-dining establishments – Gabriel (on Shimon Ben Shetach) and Angelica (on Shatz). I have been to each of these once and enjoyed them both immensely. However, I don’t feel that it’s enough to rank them. Plus, I recently learned that Gabriel is under new ownership and chef-ship since my last visit two-and-a-half years ago (by my friend’s father), so it seems like the new Gabriel could be totally different from the old one. Still, a girl will always hold a fond place in her heart for the place in which she first encountered foie gras.
In addition to trying Gabriel and La Guta again, there are two more fine-dining restaurants on my wish list: Scala, at the David Citadel, and more temptingly, Hamotzi, the hot new place run by a past winner of Master Chef that everyone is talking about. Once I get to these places I’ll let you know, don’t you worry.
While I don’t really have a problem eating “kosher” food in non-kosher restaurants, I actually haven’t been to that many in Jerusalem. In fact, off the top of my head I can only think of Colony, which was delicious. But I’ve heard tell that in actuality, by far the best restaurant in Jerusalem is Mahaneyuda, a super treif place in Machane Yehuda (the shuk). AB and I have looked at the menu twice (it changes daily) and both times it contained nothing we could eat. So we’re sticking with kosher for now, but if you’re not, check it out and let me know what you think.