Starting to think about the next supper club menu, we decided to go back through our old France food photos for inspiration. Unsurprisingly, the pictures transported us back to our memorable times there, and all the incredible meals we were fortunate enough to eat.
Going out and enjoying the varied and exciting Paris restaurant scene was a treat, but the majority of our meals took place inside our tiny apartment. Up until now, we hadn’t blogged about any of our home-cooked meals — the surprising feasts we were able to create combining the city’s bounteous farmers markets with just two hot plates and a toaster oven.
Walking down the street to our local food purveyors was always a source of inspiration, and motivated us to attempt meals we would have never dared of trying before.
Fresh pasta with shaved black truffle
Sauteed sweetbreads, seared lobes of foie gras with gnocchi, banh mi, ratatouille, and Carolina pulled-pork were just some of the ventures we undertook in our puny kitchen (which does not even qualify as one by any American standards).
But most of the time, the superb produce spoke for itself, and we learned that simplicity is sometimes the best way to go when the ingredients are of such a high caliber.
“Groseilles” (white currants)
While we were unable to procure everything we may have been craving during our time there (chiles rellenos are one example that comes to mind), we certainly made the most of what we had. Besides, what could be better than a bottle of wine, your favorite playlist, and dear ones to enjoy it with?
Tomato and radish salad.
We went back to the old haunts. While some of them survived the test of time, not everything held up. Could it be that the quality of some of these restaurants had diminished in the past four years? Probably not. Can our disappointment be rooted in the evolution of our palates? Possibly, but we are neither self-aware nor pretentious enough to admit that. The most reasonable answer for our (partial) disenchantment has to be the result of reality not living up to the nostalgia-coated memories. Love for certain foods comes from memory or an association, and Tel Aviv cuisine for us represents the budding of our food appreciation wrapped in a blossoming romance. Not even 3 Michelin stars can compete with that. The only solution is to keep those restaurant experiences in the mausoleum of glorious memories and move forward.
One of the somewhat underwhelming experiences was a lunchtime stop at Onami, a place we frequented at least once a month 4+ years ago during our time living in Israel. It still might be the best sushi in Tel Aviv - it easily trumped Moon and a couple others we tried - but our recent return after months in Los Angeles (living just off “sushi row”, no less) served as a reminder that circumstances can indeed cause us to lower our standards. It’s a phenomenon that can sometimes be hard to acknowledge in the present yet blatantly obvious in retrospect. One of our favorite items at Onami back in 2008 was a thing to behold - a large roll with raw fish on the inside wrapped in a huge piece of crispy salty salmon skin instead of seaweed. This time, though, we learned that the item had been pulled off the menu at some point in the last couple years. Dejected, we proceeded to order some other items, including one of our favorites - agedashi tofu (pictured above). This version was tasty, but did not have enough of the bonito flavor that usually makes the broth so good.
The presentation was stellar as usual - just take a look at the sashimi above - and the “beni-toro” (fatty salmon) melted in our mouths, but we did not walk away wholly satisfied or impressed. We’d still recommend the restaurant overall, but perhaps moreso for a combination of cooked Japanese items and sashimi rather than a sushi feast. It’s a bit pricey, but it’s also a trendy spot with nice ambiance and generally excellent service.
18 HaArba’a St, Tel Aviv
In the end, one doesn’t come to Tel Aviv to eat sushi, despite its growing popularity among the locals. What the city does have - in spades - is casual, fun cafés with outdoor seating and affordable fresh food and drinks.
One such café that certainly did hold up was Puaa. Situated in Jaffa, an ancient port city in south-west Tel Aviv, this cozy little hideaway is nestled on one of the winding streets of the Shuk HaPishpishim, an outdoor flea market. While the food is all fresh and made in-house, most of its appeal stems from the homeyness of the restaurant itself. The inside of the space is as sweet as a corner bakery shop from the 1950s and the outside is furnished with a charming hodgepodge of furniture probably purchased from the surrounding vendors over the years. Our nostalgia levels peaked when the hostess sat us down at the same loveseat on the patio where it all began four and a half years ago (though perhaps the couch had been swapped out or reupholstered).
Once comfortably seated side by side, we enjoyed shakshuka - a popular breakfast dish of poached eggs in a sauce of tomatoes, onions and peppers often served in a cast iron pan - and an oven-baked sea bream (a popular fish in Israel) stuffed with parsley, garlic and lemon. The staff was just as friendly as the first time, and we were able to linger and cuddle to our heart’s content. All in all it was a great reintroduction to Tel Aviv café culture.
8 Rabbi Yohanan St, Jaffa
Our newest discovery, and the most reflective of Israeli modernist cuisine, is the restaurant Shila (pronounced Sheila). Its exterior was unassuming, but each time we passed by it was bustling, so finally, on a Saturday afternoon with many restaurants closed for Shabbat, we decided to stop in. With its minimalist interior of old wooden beams, Shila prides itself on a seafood-focused menu, and with the port just a hop away, we knew it would be fresh. The restaurant is also named after Chef Sharon Cohen’s dog, so if there was any hesitation before, this last bit of information put it over the top.
It was only lunch time, so we opted to share a few dishes instead of splurging on big courses. The portions were fairly substantial. The menu is broken down into sections for raw fish carpaccios, a handful of seafood items “a la plancha,” and a few whole fish options depending on what was available. Our first dish was a refreshing white fish carpaccio that the restaurant appropriately dubbed “The Green Plate” (pictured above). The gossamer thin layers of fish were topped with a myriad of components covering the green spectrum: parsley, avocado, scallion, caper, lime juice and chilled cannelles of marscapone and basil. Add anchovy, red onion and the greenest of olive oils to the mix and you have yourself an entrée that hits all the pleasure centers. To sop up the leftover juices, (believe us, this plate was that delectable), we ordered wood-fired baked focaccia topped with herbs and sea salt. We were not disappointed, and off to a great start to the meal.
The second course was on par with our first dish. It was an artichoke and lemon zest risotto with calamari and a jumbo shrimp. Fresh artichoke hearts and lemon zest cut through the creaminess of the sauce, while the rice added a nice chewy texture to the plate. The jumbo shrimp was a delight—perfectly cooked, and the head juices added a nice unctuous flavor to the already delicious sauce.
And because we couldn’t resist, we ordered a whole red snapper. The waiter informed us that we were permitted to select from a number of preparations on the menu, but he suggested one that wasn’t listed. Being the curious creatures we are, we took his advice. The fish was oven baked and accompanied by a sauce comprised of red wine, stock, butter, herbs and bacon; and topped with vegetables, calamari and shrimp. While the sauce was delicious (how could it not be with all that goodness?), we thought that it was a little too indulgent for the delicate flavor of the fish. Nevertheless, the snapper was cooked perfectly, and we had a wonderful time taking the sea creature apart and savoring every edible morsel. While the chef is inventive and innovative, none of the dishes were too primped and fussy. Simple and delicious—just the way we like it.
Shila by Sharon Cohen
182 Ben Yehuda, Tel Aviv
Sabich: Best Pita Sandwich in Israel?
There are only so many falafel balls you can eat and plates of hummus you can dip pita into until you’re dying to eat anything but Israeli fare. Had we known about sabich a few years ago, however, our Israeli food fidelity would have been a bit stronger. Do not be fooled by this sandwich’s humble appearance - this is no ordinary pita pocket. At its base, it is comprised of mandolin-thin slices of crispy fried eggplant and hard-boiled eggs. But then, the master behind the counter (or perhaps his apprentice) goes to work. A consummate professional and perfectionist, he meticulously adds layers of Israeli salad, tahini, pickled vegetables, cilantro, red cabbage, hot peppers and amba—a pickled mango sauce flavored with cumin, turmeric and other spices. He adds each ingredient at least 2 or 3 different times to ensure even distribution. Every bite is perfect, making it impossible to put down until there’s nothing left. Add some hot peppers with cumin salt and a “Fizzy Bubblech” that Zohan would approve of, and you have a meal fit for a king.
Tchernichovsky 2, Tel Aviv
Crispy potato galette from Craigie On Main in Cambridge, MA, served with salmon roe, horseradish cream and chives.
One of the most divine chocolate-hazelnut creations ever, from Dupont in Deauville, France. A hard layer of bittersweet chocolate, hazelnut cream and whole hazelnuts for good measure. A “small” square of this stuff is so substantial and multi-textured that you can’t help but savor it by taking little nibbles. Unfortunately, even if you’ve stretched out what could have been mere seconds of glory into minutes, you’re still left with nothing other than fleeting satisfaction and eternal longing for another bite.
Lobster mushrooms at the Studio City Farmers Market. We have yet to taste them, but they look incredible.
The “Umami Burger” from Umami Burger, possibly LA’s best burger joint. Shitake mushroom, roasted tomato, carmelized onions, and a parmesan crisp on a brioche bun. The highlight, though, is the beef patty itself - it’s as juicy as they come.
Here we have rabbit in a creamy sauce with mustard seeds, snow peas, sun-dried tomatoes, and garlic served over penne pasta from Les Papilles in the 5th arrondissement. Les Papilles is a great place for a small group, and has a very reasonable and generous prix-fixe menu of dishes that are often served family style.