Every new food market in the Tel Aviv opens with the same promise from the entrepreneur-of-the-moment: Here, my dear foodies, you can both buy the best ingredients and enjoy them on the spot! No waiting, you can get a great meal right now, and take some produce home for later.
Often, this comes with an unlikely comparison to Barcelona's La Boqueria, and usually these enterprises don't last long. Stores selling raw goods don't survive, and promising food stands are quickly replaced by mediocre ones; consumers move on, continuing to shop in one place and eat at another.
The city has a few exceptions: There are delicatessens selling sausages or cheeses where often, unofficially and under the table, you can get an excellent sandwich. There are some more or less successful attempts to set up wok or salad stands in stores selling Asian delicacies. There are also fresh pasta stands where you can eat on site and take home fresh pasta for later, and an occasional butcher who will grill up some fresh cuts.
This limited list was joined last week by Batshon, a Tel Aviv fish store. For the past three years, Batshon has been one of central Tel Aviv's more popular options for purchasing fresh fish and seafood. Their new, large, location on Carlebach Street – adjacent to their old location on Laskov Street – still features the same familiar items. Sea bream, mullet, sea-bass, squid, shrimp and more are still displayed in trays of ice along the window. However, the great upgrade and reason for this column, as you may have guessed, is that all of these can now be prepared and enjoyed on site.
Across from the display window with the daily offerings, is a long bar with a large grill area and a deep fryer behind it.
Visitors have several options: First choose between a fish dish for 50 shekels ($14) and a seafood dish for 50-65 shekels. Next, choose the mode of preparation – deep fried, grilled, or ceviche.
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All this is easy enough to understand but hard to choose from, since everything looks tempting. For 50 shekels is it best to buy one big fish such as bream or bass, or several smaller fish, such as red mullets? And if you opt for seafood, should it be fried? Or grilled, to better enhance its freshness? Since the restaurant's operators are familiar with the day's haul, it's best to consult with them.
We started with mixed seafood (65 shekels), which included shrimps, squid and crab. On the advice of the employees, we had them prepared differently: the shrimps and squid were grilled, while the crab was lightly sprinkled with flour and deep-fried. The business lunch comes with either a salad or fries. Here too, we went for the fried option.
After a quick preparation, the seafood was liberally covered in a mixture of cilantro, parsley, garlic, lemon and almonds, giving the dish a green, slightly acidic, freshness. Our first impression was that the dish would have been better if the crabs had been de-shelled – there was quite a lot of fiddling with scant results (Batshon doesn't yet have the right equipment for cracking the shells and extracting the meat, which would make the whole process easier and more satisfying).
In contrast, the shrimps and squid were very good. After a quick sear on the blazing griddle, they were solid and crunchy, tasty and fresh. It’s not a very large dish, nor a cheap one, but the price isn't much different than what one would pay for frozen seafood at other restaurants in the area. The fries, cut into crumbly squares, were very nice, ideal companions for the fresh seafood.
We asked for a recommendation for another dish, this time from the fish selection. We settled on six small fried mullets. The coating was neutral, which was good. These fish are fresh and don’t need a thick coating with powerful spices, like those mixed into the batter at fish-and-chip joints. The result was very tasty and pleasing – these are whitish-pinkish small fish, delicate, very juicy, with lots of meat and small bones that require little work to take apart. A bit of that green mixture, some lemon juice and – bingo! If our enjoyment of the previous dish was somewhat reserved, from a cost-benefit perspective, the fish option is the fastest and most worthwhile one at Batshon. It's possibly the best in the area, if not the city.
The Batshon bar is currently open every day until the afternoon hours. They will soon be open until midnight, making it a very attractive option for a quick fish meal.
Batshon is already meeting its goal: let’s see you come and buy fish without being tempted into sitting down to eat something. Let’s see you devour something at the bar without thinking about trying it at home. In this case, any choice is the right choice.
Batshon fish – Carlebach 29, Tel Aviv. Tel. 077-5575315