A journey from a love affair with processed foods to a love affair with cheese.
Sorry for the radio silence recently. It’s for lack of time to write, not lack of things to write about. In the past few weeks we’ve been in three new (to us) eating situations, and I want to tell you about all of them. Today we’ll start with the one that’s most popular and has Jerusalem all abuzz: the new old train station (or HaTachana HaRishona, as they call it).
In case you’re a Jerusalemite living under a rock or a foreigner who hasn’t been here in the past month or so, let me inform you about the newest site to grace Jerusalem. “They” recently redid the area around the old train station and put in shops and eateries. It looks gorgeous, so far it’s proven to be extremely popular (I’m sure this will taper off somewhat as the novelty wears off), and in a move unique to Jerusalem, the area hosts both kosher and non-kosher restaurants and is hopping on Shabbat. In addition to being filled with eating options, the space is being used for all sorts of cultural and communal events. This is a food blog though, so we’ll stick to talking about the eating options.
The Tachana features several restaurants, a few semi-permanent food stands, and a farmers’ market, which shows up Tuesday through Friday, I believe (correct me in the comments if I’m wrong – I’ve so far only been on a Thursday and a Friday). The restaurants that are open so far include HaMiznon (kosher dairy) and Landver Cafe and Adom (not kosher). We’ve eaten at HaMiznon (more on that below), and we looked at the menus of the other two. Ladver seems to offer basic cafe fare, while Adom is more upscale. Adom used to be located in town and used to be wonderful. I assume it’s still great, but I don’t know first-hand. Another kosher restaurant, Fresh, is slated to open soon.
In addition to these, there’s a Rebar (don’t get me started), and there will soon be a non-kosher ice cream shop, Vaniglia.
The food “booths” seem to include a variety of international cuisines, such as a Brazilian stand (featuring acai juice and something that looked like empanadas) and a dim sum station, among others. We ate at the dim sum station, and it was really tasty. (Full disclosure though – I have never had non-Israeli dim sum.)
Finally, there is the farmers’ market, which includes all sorts of organic vegetables and fruits, at least two cheese booths, at least two bread stands, halva (the same guys who hand out samples in the shuk), and fresh squeezed juice. I must make special mention of the cheese guys from Tzippori, who sold us a phenomenal house cheese. I’m pretty sure that as long as you aren’t starving you can treat yourself to a free dinner of samples. (That’s not nice though; if you really like something you should buy it.)
In case my enthusiasm isn’t clear, I love this place. I love the idea of kosher and non-kosher restaurants mixed together, I love the idea of a cultural space near my home, and let’s admit it, I’m a yuppie and if I hadn’t made aliyah I’d probably live in Brooklyn, and the farmers’ market is like a teeny, tiny slice of that.
And now on to the restaurant review. We’ve so far eaten at HaMiznon: Kitchen Station. The short review is that the menu was interesting, the food was good, and the service was interesting in a different (less good) way than the menu. The restaurant is clearly suitable for vegetarians (it’s dairy after all) and I think there are enough gluten-free options. The prices are reasonable compared to similar level restaurants elsewhere.
We went to the Tachana the day of their grand opening, and HaMiznon wasn’t yet open. A bunch of staff were busy getting the space in order, so I asked one of them what would be there. The following conversation ensued:
Me: What’s going to be here?
Waiter: A restaurant.
Me: Yes, but which restaurant?
Waiter: A dairy restaurant.
Me: Does it have a name?
Waiter: It’s a restaurant.
So that left me feeling that at the very least their marketing could use some help.
By the time we made it back about three weeks later, it was clear they didn’t have to worry about marketing. The place was packed. (Being the only open sit-down kosher restaurant there means this was not surprising.) In the time between our visits, we had heard mostly awful things about the service and nothing at all about the food. We decided to see for ourselves.
We were seated right away and given menus without any notable wait. The menu’s schtik was breakfasts from around the world, many of which looked quite interesting (bread pudding, phyllo with spinach and egg, French toast, etc). We were there at dinnertime though, so we selected an appetizer and two main from the regular menu. (The menu also included salad and sandwich sections, but I didn’t even look at those.) For our appetizer we chose pastries filled with leeks in a goat cheese yogurt sauce. Other options include roasted eggplant, haloumi, pumkin carpaccio, parsley salad, and more. For our mains we selected fish and chips (me) and this unique pasta dish – thick noodles over spinach and poached eggs in an alfredo sauce (AB). I also ordered a mojito.
Within a few minutes of ordering, bread came. (I do love restaurants that give free bread.) Very soon after, all of our food came – appetizer and two mains all at once. A few minutes later my drink came. Now, on one hand I hate waiting more than ten or so minutes for my food to come. So, point for service. On the other hand, and call me picky, but I believe that drinks should come first (around the same time as the bread), then the appetizer, and then when the appetizer is finished, the main course. Having it come all at once (and with the drink after the food) is actually not great service. Also, it made us feel rushed and like they needed to move tables (which I’m sure they did – it was a Thursday night and it was crowded.)
The food, though, was pretty good. Our leek pastries were a little oily but delicious nonetheless, and again, points were earned for creativity. My fish and chips were pretty standard – better than the fish and chips I ate in the airport in Ireland but not as good as the ones I ate in the Irish pubs. Surprise. AB’s dish was the definite winner – flavorful, filling, and very creative. It was basically a riff on poached eggs you’d get for breakfast in a cafe, all dressed up for dinner. I’ve heard complaints from others that the portions were small, but we actually couldn’t even finish our food.
Verdict: I’ll be back, but probably not for a few more months, when the crowds have died down a bit and things are running more smoothly.