Dining Out / A step up in quality, imagination
It did not take very long between the opening and the closing of Tel Aviv's Mensh; and now, in its place, is Orca, named after the so-called killer whale, and now the home of chef Eran Shroitman.
It did not take very long between the opening and the closing of Tel Aviv's Mensh; and now, in its place, is Orca, named after the so-called killer whale, and now the home of chef Eran Shroitman. Shroitman, who previously delighted us at Tamuz and then at Primus, has set out to demonstrate that a bar-restaurant can serve up culinary offerings as fine as any you will find in the city.
The changes in decor at the newly refurbished restaurant are not so much structural as they are in design. Gone are the photographs that decorated the walls, and in their place are several large paintings in the surrealist mode; the lighting is considerably more dim; and the once-bare tables are now covered with intentionally skimpy but attractive and well-ironed linen tablecloths.
Gone also is the hyper-casual and somewhat careless service; and in its place are black-clad waitresses who seem genuinely concerned with making the guests comfortable. All in all, the atmosphere is now more formal, but more welcoming and not at all threatening; and the dishes, whether ordered from the tapas-like bar or the a la carte menus, are most definitely a step up in quality and imagination.
Our dinner opened with complementary Bullshots - a shot glass in which a raw oyster has been dropped into a mini-portion of vodka, with a single drop of balsamic vinegar floating on the alcohol. The brave of heart take this delightful cocktail by simply tossing it down in a single gulp; but no one will fault you for drinking it New York style - by first spearing the oyster and eating it and only then sipping the vodka.
This was followed by a delightful amuse geule of goose liver in the brulee style - one of those little taste tempters with which the chef was experimenting - comprising bits of goose liver set on toasted bread, sprinkled over with sugar and then glazed under a hot flame.
We went on to sample four more formal first courses - the first of which was a dish of calamari tubes that had been impaled on thick sprigs of rosemary, instead of the usual wooden skewers, before the calamari was grilled. Served with plump and firm potato gnocchi, and a sauce made by reducing a bouillabaisse and then whipping in butter that had been enriched with truffle paste, the calamaris were just soft enough, the gnocchi just firm enough and the sauce absolutely splendid - the earthy hint of the truffles matched very nicely by the aromatic richness of the rosemary.
The next dish we tried was one of the portions listed on the bar menu - a refreshing tartare of raw sea bass sprinkled over generously with herbs and a lemony-vinaigrette sauce. This was followed by a very good and generous offering of medium-sized shrimps that had been halved lengthwise, their shells intact, before being spread with butter and grilled.
The very best of the first courses was yet to come - a single large ravioli filled with crab meat, goats-milk cheese and a whole egg yolk. Eating the dish was a joy, for with the first touch of a fork the egg yolk burst over the other fillings and onto the concentrated, fish-based sauce on the plate, the richness of the ingredients coming together beautifully on the palate.
My companion's choice as a main course was for plump, flavorful, just-firm-enough, grilled coquilles St. Jacques, each of which had a small bay leaf impaled in its center and each of which was topped with a bit of truffle paste. Served with a rich, remarkably smooth potato puree and with the plate rimmed with an almost sweet and jam-like reduction of onions, the dish was nothing short of brilliant.
I was pleased when the waitress offered the option of having my own choice, of grilled sea bream, served whole or filleted (a courtesy not often extended in local restaurants); but was somewhat disappointed because even though the fish had been cooked just right, it was lacking in flavor. What saved the dish were two excellent goats-milk cheese raviolis that were good enough to bring a contented smile to my face.
Because we were enjoying ourselves so thoroughly, we waived our usual habit of sharing a single dessert and ordered two sweet courses. The first of these, a cafe creme, was smooth, rich and more solid than usual pastry cream on which sat a thin, frozen sheet of espresso coffee; and the second was a trio of miniature creme brulees - one flavored with louisa, another with vanilla and the third with crushed nuts - each of which pleased thoroughly.
Even the espresso coffee with which we closed out our meal was excellent.
If I had any reason whatsoever for complaint throughout our meal it was that the bread served was simply not up to the standards required by such excellent cuisine, being far too doughy and with no truly identifiable flavor. That sin should be corrected; but considering the out-and-out excellence of nearly everything else we sampled, it did not impact in a major way on our pleasure.
Including two of the first courses we tried, the main courses, dessert and coffee, the bill for two will come to about NIS 330, to which a bottle of the not overly complex, but rewarding, Insolia-Chardonnay of Sicilian producer Pasqua & Fazio will add NIS 88.
With service and ambience that cannot help but please, and dishes this good, Orca may well be on its way to becoming one of Tel Aviv's better restaurants. I intend to return often, and when on a budget will consider the business lunches, which, including tapas as starters, a main course and a dessert, range in price from NIS 45-80.
Orca: 57 Nahalat Binyamin Street, Tel Aviv. Open daily 12:30-15:30 and 19:30-24:00. Tel. 03-5665505.