What's in a name? If it's an Israeli restaurant dish, a lot
Haaretz set out to find the people for whom dishes have been named in restaurants and cafes across Israel to learn the answer for one question: What does one have to do to receive the foodie-VIP treatment?
Naming a dish after a regular diner is perhaps the biggest compliment a restaurateur can give. "So-and-so's fish," let's say, enables the fruits of So-and-so's loyalty to finally ripen in print, on the menu. We set out to find the people for whom dishes have been named in restaurants and cafes across Israel, to learn what they contributed to the restaurant in order to be accorded this honor, and what other diners can do to win the same treatment.
An additional question is, what happens when the dish is a terrible one that no one orders? Such is the case in an episode of U.S. television show "Curb Your Enthusiasm," in which the Larry David character tries to convince Ted Danson to lend his name to the delicatessen sandwich named after David - smoked fish, cream cheese, capers and onions. But Danson is repelled by the sandwich and refuses.
And now the million-dollar question: If the most important ingredient in a haloumi cheese sandwich is haloumi, and tomatoes are the stars of a tomato salad, does the Martha salad featured in Cafe Midrehov in Kfar Sava contain slices of the cafe owner's dog, Martha? Furthermore, when one orders the Ruhama salad at the Space restaurant in Moshav Emunim, the waitresses explain it is the favorite choice of MK Ruhama Avraham Balila of the right-of-center Kadima party - but what if a diner is opposed to legislation she has passed, or would prefer that a dish be named after MK Anastassia Michaeli of the extreme nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu?
The Martha sandwich
Goat cheese, roast pepper, baked eggplant, lettuce, tomato and cucumber, at Cafe Midrehov, Kfar Sava.
Zohar Gabai, the owner of the cafe, says: "Martha is my dog, a reddish-blond vizsla-Labrador. The first year the restaurant was open, Martha was my steady companion and spent every day here from six in the morning until after midnight. We lived in Tel Aviv and I preferred not to leave her home all day. Most of the customers know her, and she enjoys being here. She's almost human - really a human being in the shape of a dog. She's our No. 1 hostess and is even featured on our logo. She deserved a sandwich in her name, although there isn't any connection between her and the ingredients."
The Bonfil sandwich
Roast eggplant, a hard-boiled egg, potato, tahini and hot peppers, at Kadosh Cafe, Jerusalem.
Itzik Kadosh, the owner, says: "We decided to call all the sandwiches by the names of our regular customers, who arrive at eight in the morning every day. They had other names before. The Bonfil, named after Danny Bonfil who is running for the head of the Jerusalem branch of the Histradrut labor federation, used to be called 'the Tunisian.' It is piquant and tasty, and he always asks which women order it.
"We also have other sandwiches named after customers with names that are easy to remember," he adds. "The Vitaly used to be simply 'Italian.' The Marcus contains homemade aioli sauce with yellow cheese, an egg, salad and endive."
Sweet rice with honey and granola, at Calypto in Moshav Bitan Aharon.
Almog is the 4-year-old daughter of the owner, Moshe Nissan, who likes her rice this way. The chef kept making it sweeter until he decided to name it after Almog. It is especially popular in cold weather, we're told.
A pavlova with passionflower syrup, at Jozie and Daniel in Moshav Bnei Zion.
The owner, Natalie Yehudai, says: "Gili is my mother and this dessert comes from our home. For years she made the best pavlova in the world. It is a large cake that everyone shares on special occasions, eating from the platter with a spoon. That's how we do it here. My mother has tasted our version and given it her seal of approval."
The Ruhama salad
Parsley, green onions, celery, cherry tomatoes, red onion, pine and other nuts, and sunflower seeds roasted with lemon juice and olive oil, served with a veal cigar and white tahini, at Space, Moshav Emunim.
This dish is beloved of MK Ruhama Avraham Balila, a good friend of the owner, Nadav Balila.
Did she ask you to name it after her?
"No, we decided," he says. "Ever since, the waiters have begun to explain to customers that it is named after Avraham and it has become popular. Cashews and walnuts are recent additions. Last week Shaul Mofaz [now Kadima's leader] ordered it. I told him, 'She'll have a street named after her in the end.'"
Calamari with portobello mushrooms in white wine sauce with garlic, butter, yogurt, soy, asparagus, sesame oil and herbs, at Arnold, Tel Aviv.
Yoav Beinisch, the restaurant's manager, says: "The dish is named after Prof. Yitzhak Haberfeld of Tel Aviv University - an economics lecturer who drove us crazy until we tried the recipe he brought us from abroad. The main feature of the dish is that the calamari is cooked without fat. We tried it several times and it didn't work out, until Prof. Haberfeld entered the kitchen" to prepare it himself.
Rice, root vegetables, beef and black beans in a cast iron pot, at Luna, Ashkelon.
Miki Suissa, the chef, says: "I taught my mother, Yaffa, to make feijoada the way I learned to do it in Brazil. We worked on the dish together in her home and after two weeks she invited me to taste her version, which was completely different. She managed to produce an interesting cross between chili con carne and feijoada."
Calamari with cauliflower baked in cardamom and thyme on a platter with spinach, tahini and date syrup, at Seafo, Jaffa.
Noa Cohen, whose best friend Tali Pell owns the restaurant, says: "On one of the most exciting days of my life, chef Idan Manzer created a calamari dish in my name. I brought him the basis for the recipe and he added calamari and the finishing touch."
The Nicholas breakfast
An omelet, muesli, bread with butter and jam, coffee and carrot juice, at Levan, Jerusalem.
Restaurant manager, Sharon Asaf, says: "Nicholas Nordquist, a Swede who worked for the UN, came here for breakfast every day for two years, and sat for a few hours at the bar with his laptop. He created his own breakfast from the ones on the menu - a two-egg omelet, muesli with fresh fruit, bread with butter and honey, coffee and carrot juice. After a few months we decided to name the dish after him. Meanwhile he's left the country and we are left with the dish. Naturally his replacement chooses to start the day with the same breakfast."
The Sagit salad
Grated beets and carrots, tomatoes, lettuce, walnuts and grated feta cheese, at The Straits, Tel Aviv.
One of the owners, Sagit Laufer Shaked, says: "When we opened, I suggested putting this refreshing salad on the menu. I wanted to call it 'the Iron salad' but just before we went to print the graphic artist said she thought it wasn't a good idea. Now it's as if I am named after the salad and not the reverse. It's more famous than I am."