The Sima restaurant, located on the fringes of Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda market, an establishment that has over the years become a must for those who love mixed Jerusalem grill, recently opened a branch in Tel Aviv. Unlike the simple, even well-worn look of the Jerusalem eatery, the new Tel Aviv branch has a spotlessly clean appearance. Its bare wooden tables are set up in rows like soldiers and, of course, the place has the de rigueur Tel Aviv bar. In the new branch, the kitchen is hidden and as a result the heartwarming aromas of the meats and spices fail to make themselves felt as they do in Jerusalem.
Instead of the quick and sometimes even blunt service of the Jerusalem branch, the waiters and waitresses in Tel Aviv are actually attentive. One cannot help but conclude that while the Jerusalem eatery exudes charm, the Tel Aviv branch is so anonymous and lacking in identity that it is impossible to differentiate it from the many other meat-eateries in town.
Both restaurants feature more or less the same menu and at both branches, the meals open with several salads. On my visit to the new Tel Aviv restaurant, the best salads were that made of sweet potatoes, first baked and then cooled before being served in a sweet and hot sauce, and the lemon-rich fennel salad. Also good was the tabbouleh, which contained a generous amount of mint, as well as the thick and peppery eggplant in mayonnaise. While the pitas served with my meal were cold, upon my request they were quickly heated. As a more formal appetizer I ordered the kubbeh nablusia - deep-fried kubbeh filled with a mixture of ground beef and spices. Crisp on the exterior, soft inside and full of peppery flavor, the dish was most rewarding.
I went on to sample two main courses. The first was the turshna, fried meatballs served in an Iraqi-style tomato sauce with dried apricots and raisins alongside boiled white rice. The meatballs were tasty but not nearly as firm as they should have been and fell apart at the touch of a fork. Also, the dried fruits were overcooked and thus a bit too soggy, and the sauce was somewhat too diluted. All in all, not the most rewarding of dishes.
I then went on to sample the mixed Jerusalem grill, the dish that made Sima famous enough that world-renowned chefs such as Jean-Louis Palladin, Joel Robuchon and Marc Haeberlin have swooned over it and have literally, but unsuccessfully, pleaded with the restaurant's owner for the recipe. The dish is composed of a mixture of chicken hearts, spleens and liver, mixed with bits of lamb that have been thrown on a flat grill and seasoned with generous amounts of onion, garlic, juniper berries, black pepper, cumin, tumeric and coriander and cooked on a flat grill. To this mix is added a secret ingredient the owner calls "Georgian pepper." The fact that there is no living soul other than the restaurant owner who can identify this mysterious seasoning is no coincidence. The results are marvelous: This just spicy enough and flavor-packed meat mixture makes one sigh with pleasure.
As a side dish I ordered the French fries. Unlike those served in Jerusalem, which always seem to be greasy, they were crisp and dry. Alas, they had no flavor whatsoever. But, considering the pleasure the mixed grill provided me with, I was willing to forgive that shortcoming. I ended my meal with mint tea, served in a tall glass hot enough to burn the fingers when it reached the table.
The business lunch here, including the salads, appetizers and main courses costs NIS 65, and half-liter glasses of ice-cold Tuborg draught beer will add an additional NIS 18 each. The prices for dinner are about 30 percent higher. If it's a quick meal you seek, my advice is to take a seat at the bar and to order nothing more than the mixed Jerusalem grill in a pita bread and perhaps a side order of coleslaw - altogether, this will only cost you NIS 40 per person.
Sima, HaArba'a Street 24, Tel Aviv. Open Sun-Thurs noon until 1 A.M., Friday from noon until 4 P.M. and Saturday from close of Shabbat until 1 A.M. Tel: (03) 6246644.
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