A journey from a love affair with processed foods to a love affair with cheese.
When I first moved to Jerusalem nine (!) years ago, one of the most beloved restaurants on Emek Refaim was Joy. Back then, Joy was a place you would go for reasonably priced and decent-tasting wings, sweet potato chips, and draught beer. Over the years, this hot spot grew more “gourmet” and more and more and more expensive, becoming, in my humble opinion, one of the most overrated restaurants on a street filled with mediocre eating options. In the past several months. however, Emek Refaim has seen somewhat of a renaissance, with an astounding. And one of the newcomers is HaMitbach Shel Pini (Pini’s Kitchen), occupying the space where Joy used to be. (A large sign outside reassures passersby that they can still order Joy’s menu at Herzl in Mamilla). We’ll see how time treats HaMitbach Shel Pini, but for now it is neither mediocre nor overrated. In fact, we had a delicious meal there for AB’s birthday recently.
Ha Mitbach Shel Pini is the second newish gourmet Middle Eastern restaurant we’ve eaten at recently (the other being HaMotzi), and while there wasn’t exactly overlap on the menu, the whole look and feel (down to the open kitchen and the dishes) was kind of similar. It does seem like this kind of genre food is trending now, and I’m not sure it has the staying power of restaurants that serve more classic meats like HaHatzer or even Maalot. (Is this whole paragraph to Ashkenazi-centric to even write?) But if you’re looking for a flavorful meal with great kinds of meat, Pini’s your place.
When we sat down, the waitress informed us that the meze platter was the whole concept of the restaurant. They charge 12 NIS per person for this, and when we asked about it, it seemed like this was maybe not voluntary. We were planning on ordering the meze anyway; the salads did not disappoint, but they weren’t even close to the best part of the meal. They included two kinds of eggplant, roasted peppers, zucchini, green tehina (by far the best), olives, and salad. The bread was clearly homemade and slathered in oil and sea salt. You know by now how I feel about bread; I will always eat it unless it’s truly bad, so this was fine, but I’ve had better.
The other appetizer we ordered, mafroum, was the best part of the meal, hands down. According to the internets, mafroum is a North African dish of potatoes stuffed with ground meat. I’m willing to place a small wager that what we ate did not have potatoes. The waitress described it as ground meat with eggplant wrapped in a dough and then placed in a spicy tomato sauce. This sounded to me a bit like moussaka, but no, not at all the same. Whatever it was, we scarfed it down and were pretty sad when it was all gone.
Other appetizer options, which we did not try, include a few different salads, Moroccan cigars, fish falafel, stuffed sardines, and perhaps two of the restaurant’s delicacies, beef spinal cord and spleen stuffed with organ meats. The soup of the day was pistachio soup.
We had a harder time choosing the mains, as so many looked good. Options included tenderloin skewers, minute steak, entrecote, veal liver, Greek fish, chraime (spicy Moroccan fish), cornish hens, lamb chops, siniya (meat with tehina in a crust), lamb sofrito, Persian kebabs, and oxtail stew. There was also a daily special of chicken sofrito with potatoes (usually sofrito is made with rice). (In case you can’t tell, this is a real meat-lover’s restaurant; the only non-meat items on the menu were the two salads and a gnocchi).
After a bit of deliberation we settled on the lamb sofrito and the Persian kebabs. The kebabs were pretty good – two cones of grilled ground beef served next to a beautiful roasted tomato and onion and a cup of rice topped with beans and herbs. This was all totally fine but did not hold a candle to the lamb sofrito. Friends of ours told us they had been there a few weeks ago and were sorely disappointed with the lamb, finding it pretty fatty. We did not have this problem (and I cannot tolerate any fat in my meat, the, like, one healthy habit I’ve acquired). The lamb was perfectly stewed and so tender. The stew also came with a bonus – a few lightly sauteed kubeh filled with veal. These were divine. This came with a side of bulgar. I know bulgar is a super in thing these days, but I was skeptical. This turned out to be misplaced skepticism. They flavored the bulgar with crushed tomato, pepper, cumin, and tumeric, and it was very tasty.
After all this we were stuffed, so we decided to forgo dessert, which was malabi, vanilla “ice cream” with tomato sauce, or vanilla “ice cream” with halva and silan.
You might note that I didn’t mention anything about wine yet, which is because we didn’t have any. They don’t have a written wine menu, which we found annoying, and we weren’t impressed by the only wines they serve by the glass, the Barkan cab and the Barkan merlot. We decided to stick with tap water, but they had a somewhat decent-looking bar behind the kitchen, and each table was decorated with a small bottle of ouzo.
And a few notes regarding decor: 1) HaMitbach Shel Pini seems to shop at or use the same designer as other new Jerusalem restaurants. Like Jacko’s Street and Bardak, Pini too displayed a blue Jerusalem street sign. 2) All the waitresses had super long ponytails. I guess long straight hair is the style these days.
On the expensive side; not suitable for vegetarians.