Sushi With Samantha in Tel Aviv

Is Israel on the verge of becoming a culinary superpower? Or do Israelis perhaps follow trends and "check out a new restaurant" once a month or year?

Is Israel on the verge of becoming a culinary superpower? Or do Israelis perhaps follow trends and "check out a new restaurant" once a month or year? Judging by the restaurants scheduled to open in the coming year, mainly in the center of the country, but in outlying areas as well, both answers are affirmative. The owners of popular restaurants are trying to repeat their success, experienced chefs are looking for a new arena in which to exercise their talents and foreign chains want to invest in Israel, perhaps because the reputation of the awakening industry has reached culinary centers overseas.

In most cases, the average investment needed to open a new restaurant numbers in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, which is used to train cooks, buy kitchen equipment, plan interior design, supply the food, et al. While restaurant managers and chefs may refuse to reveal the exact sum, only in exceptional cases is the investment any higher.

According to the managers, the chefs and the owners, most of the restaurants will offer a full menu (appetizer, main course and dessert) at a price of NIS 150 per diner.

Most of the new restaurants will be situated in commercial centers, and will cater specifically to a crowd that eats lunch outside of the office: Most of the investors want "to play it safe," rather than invent any new arenas for culinary activity. Evening meals are almost always added value, according to the current investors' statement of intentions. The Herzliya Pituah area has never been more popular, but Ramat Hahayal is not doing badly, either.

The following restaurants will open in the coming year and are in various stages of preparation and renovation:

b Sushi Samba. At the end of March, the fifth branch of the Sushi Samba chain will open on Habarzel Street in Ramat Hahayal in Tel Aviv. Branches of this chain are located in New York (on Park Avenue and Seventh Avenue), Miami and Chicago. Nitzan Raz, the chain's chef, says that the branches specialize in a combination of Japanese dishes with Peruvian and Brazilian touches. The Israeli branch will attempt to disseminate some of the glitter of the Manhattan branches in Ramat Hahayal - Sushi Samba is known as the favorite restaurant of Samatha from "Sex and the City," although it should be noted that New Yorkers change their food trends even faster than frenetic Israelis.

The local branch will seat 140, and will include a dining area, cafe and bar-lounge. The design motifs will resemble those in the chain's American restaurants: a large, prominent space, full of colored squares. The designers are the architectural firm of Baranovitch Kronnenberg (who also designed Chimichanga and Zozobara). Steven Lovell, who is in charge of operations, says that at the entrance to the restaurant there will also be a large sake refrigerator, about four meters in size, "the likes of which has not yet been seen in Israel."

Raz adds that "the Japanese chef who works in the New York restaurants is coming to Israel to train workers. We think that there is a great awakening in Israel in the food industry, and consider opening in Israel a challenge." He says that a local group will invest in the Israeli restaurant, and the place has been undergoing renovations for about a year.

27 Habarzel Street, Ramat Hahayal, Tel Aviv

b Isadora. Chef Haim Cohen is the adviser, kitchen organizer and composer of the wine list at the Isadora restaurant, which will open in Rishon Letzion's new City Hall. The owners of the restaurant are the Gindi family, contractors who have planned many projects in the city, and who, according to Cohen, "decided that Rishon Letzion deserves an excellent restaurant, too." Architect Ilan Pivko plans orange chandeliers and a dominant black interior for the restaurant's interior.

"I'm putting together a menu that I like," says Cohen. "Mediterranean, with local ingredients. The food will be tasty and not overly decorative." Cohen is passing along the menu to chef Ram Antabi, who will be the acting kitchen manager, and says that he has brought a staff that worked with him at Keren to prepare the kitchen, put together the pastry menu and design the wine list.

Hacarmel Street corner Zadal, the new City Hall building, Rishon Letzion

b Pique. The Turkish chain is opening its first branch in Israel early in February, in the wake of the successful branches in Athens, Dubai and Moscow. The restaurant will offer Turkish food, which is based on cooking in a tabun and a coal grill, under the direction of the chain's chef, Orhan Tekin, who is training Turkish and local workers.

Ron Mechanik, the restaurant's manager, worked as a waiter and a cook at Roshfeld, and after the restaurant closed, he worked with him privately, until a group of investors led by Turkish-Israeli businessman Menashe Carmon asked him to manage the new place.

"The trend of Turkish cuisine is catching on now all over the world, like all ethnic cuisine," says Mechanik. "This is traditional Turkish cooking that has been adapted to a restaurant."

Pique will seat 450 and another 80 in the summer. The design of the restaurant "in a warm and dramatic atmosphere" is being planned by architect Nir Portal, who also designed the Aroma Cafe chain.

"The Turks have wanted to open a restaurant here for a long time," explains Mechanik. "They believe in the Israeli market and its openness to types of cooking and food, and Turkish cuisine is familiar to part of the population here, too."

11 Shenkar Street, Herzliya Pituah

b Meat and Wine. A chain of meat restaurants with branches in Australia, South Africa and Dubai is opening a restaurant in Israel in mid-March, and will at once be opening branches in Bahrain and in Beirut later in the year. The specialty of the chain is grilled steaks, and according to Lawrence Thorpe, who is responsible for operations, and who is now in Israel, "The branch in Herzliya will be a kosher one, although those who enter it won't feel any difference between this branch and any other meat restaurant."

The Israeli chef is Ilan Niv, who will adapt the menu to Israeli cuisine, including salads and appetizers. The owner of the Israeli branch is London businessman Carl Lindy, who will soon come to live in Raanana. The restaurant will have 200 seats and will be designed by architect Gadi Halperin.

16 Shenkar Street, Herzliya Pituah

b Ad HaEtzem. Another branch of the veteran Herzliya restaurant will be opening at the beginning of March in the Airport City compound near the Ben Gurion International Airport. According to owner Yoram Yerezin, "We are catering to the residents of Shoham, Modiin and Savion." He says the menu will be identical to that in the Herzliya Pituah branch. Brothers Ari and Yoram Yerezin are the owners, together with other partners, in the restaurants Ad HaEtzem, Zozobara and Chimichanga, as well as the Reviva and Celia Cafe.

Ari Yerezin also plans soon to open a high quality chef restaurant, in which he will be the chef. The restaurant will open in the Ramat Hasharon area, but its final location has yet to be determined.

Airport City compound, near Ben Gurion International Airport

b Chapra and Ornitos. Two different restaurants belonging to chef Avi Conforti. It is only typical that if Israeli chefs open another restaurant or branch, the active Conforti will open two. The chef responsible for the menu at Chimichanga, Moses and Zozobara will launch the Chapra restaurant between July and September as a sister restaurant to Zozobara - followed immediately by Ornitos.

The location of the restaurants has not yet been decided, and it will be somewhere between Kiryat Atidim and the area around Chimichanga - the area of the Cinerama and Yigal Allon Street. "Chapra will be the quieter sister of Zozobara," says Conforti. "It will be designed in black and white, will serve a healthy but stir-fried and Asian menu, and will seat about 100."

The Ornitos restaurant, on the other hand, will serve Spanish and Portuguese dishes cooked in stone and iron ovens. The menu will include main courses of meat cooked in a unique process, and according to Conforti, "it will be possible to eat dishes shared by the entire table, it will be social eating." The first courses in the restaurant will be Latin, Spanish and Chilean.

b Yonatan Roshfeld's restaurant. According to chef Roshfeld, he will open a new restaurant by the end of this year, but "it's still to early to give exact details." According to an advertisement in the magazine Al Hashulhan, and rumors in the restaurant business, the new restaurant will open in Beit Gibor in Tel Aviv, next to the Dan Panorama Hotel. The restaurant will have an area of 400 square meters, and there is still no opening date. Before it became the site of the future restaurant, the place was supposed to host the competition "A Chef is Born," a Channel 10 reality show. The program did not pan out, and the owners then contacted Roshfeld. The Roshfeld restaurant at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center (TAPAC) closed about two and a half years ago. It was funded by businessman Adam Schneeweiss, and since its closing Roshfeld has been his household chef as well.

b Spaghettim. The chain will open a new branch in the city of Aix en Provence on the French Riviera, and another three branches: on Hillel Street in Jerusalem (a branch that was closed and will reopen), on the promenade in Bat Yam and in Ramat Yishai in the north. The branch on the French Riviera will open this coming April, and according to Dror Nehushtan, one of the owners, it will cover an area of 220 square meters and will be adapted to the Riviera: "The raw materials will be local and will be integrated into the menu, which will absorb many outside influences."

b Tati. The cafe-bakery and bistro will open another branch whose location has not yet been decided, in Ramat Hen or in Kiryat Ono. Today there is a Cafe Tati on Derekh Hashalom in Givatyaim, beneath the Channel 10 building, and alongside it, there is a bread store and pastry shop of baker Noam Babila. According to the owners, Anat Zermati and Vanessa Rakin, they are interested in providing the residents of the cities adjacent to Tel Aviv with a top of the line cafe and bistro, so that "they won't have to confront the traffic jams and parking problems day and night, and will go out for entertainment near their place of residence." The new spot's menu will resemble that of the existing cafe-bistro.

b Kohinoor. A kosher Indian restaurant belonging to chef Rina Pushkarna, which will open in April in Herzliya Pituah in the area of the public auction house, near Pushkarna's Tandoori restaurant which operates there. According to Pushkarna, "there is a large clientele that wants to eat kosher Indian food. This restaurant will be my second restaurant to serve a menu for the kosher community, the first restaurant operates in Jerusalem in the lobby of the Grand Plaza Hotel, and is very well received." The restaurant in Herzliya Pituah will seat 200 and will be designed in a spirit similar to that of the Jerusalem restaurant. Pushkarna adds that soon she will begin proceedings to open a kosher Indian restaurant abroad.

b Aluma Bakfar. This coming April, a sister restaurant to Aluma in Kfar Tarshiha will open in Ramot Naftali, on the road to Maalot. According to chef Tal Ze'evi, Aluma Bakfar will open in a complex of five bed and breakfast rooms in a wooden structure imported from Canada, and in the center area there will be a boutique restaurant. The site overlooks the Hula Valley and the Hermon. The restaurant will be furnished with antique furniture imported from England by owners, Ilan and Alfa Peri. According to Zeevi, "The restaurant will be similar in spirit to the restaurant in Tarshiha. My background and that of the owner, Alfa, is classical French, and we are including elements of Galilee cuisine - special herbs and vegetables." The restaurant will seat 30, and will have a lounge bar and a large selection of mezes (appetizers).