Burek, the new restaurant in the Florentin neighborhood of south Tel Aviv, is unusual for several reasons. For one, it has an open kitchen located in the center of the restaurant, with tables and chairs around it; it has no menu; and the dishes change according to the chef’s whims. Also, it’s only open to the public one night a week: Wednesdays.
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“Running a restaurant is an exhausting profession, and so is hosting – so one day a week is ideal,” declares chef Barak Yehezkeli. On other days, he holds private functions and hopes to turn Burek into a forum in which chefs can express themselves freely in the culinary field. “Once a month, 20 cooks will gather for a discussion about culinary issues. Then they’ll enter the kitchen,” he says.
The prices here are also unusual. Meals cost 280 shekels per person (about $87.50) during the initial phase, but will rise to 320 shekels. Vegetarians and vegans have their own menu, by the way.
The kitchen is accessible to all diners and Yehezkeli invites them to approach, talk, ask and explore.
He’d mulled the idea of setting up Burek for the past seven years. “Over the years I noticed there still isn’t a place for joint culinary creation,” he said. “So my desire, which is shared by my partner, Yonatan Bergman, is to create and encourage a dialog among chefs.”
Yehezkeli recently hosted a delegation of PepsiCo executives. “They asked me who I was and what Israeli cuisine was,” he recalled. “We tried to explain what hummus means to us Israelis. Hummus is culture; it’s community. To define an Israeli cuisine was easier than defining myself. What is Israeli? There’s everything here and none of it is Israeli; everything came from somewhere else. In my eyes, Israeli cuisine is the ability to take all these things and put them together on the same plate.”
A meat-infused aroma fills the air when we enter. We inhale it and hurry to a kind of renovated loft. We immediately receive a “cocktail of fresh lemons and fine araq.” Unusual? You bet. The waiters lay focaccia and bowls of fresh-tomato and smoked-tomato salsa on the table, alongside a hot paste of green almonds, red chili peppers and coriander seeds. They then pass with a tray bearing vegetables prepared in various techniques: roast beetroots on coarse salt served with a cream of white horseradish; fennel; kohlrabi; eggplant; colorful carrots; and green onions seared to produce a surprising sweetness. The dining is relaxed, and wine flows like water.
Now the waiters offer fresh sea fish, followed by freshly picked wild green leaves stuffed with homemade cheese in tomato sauce. Yehezkeli says he picked the leaves in a local park.
“I really appreciate this whole gathering thing.” During his days in the Galilee, he says he knew chef Yaqub Hiat from the Sharabik restaurant in Kafr Rama, “and we became good friends, like father and son. We’d pass whole days together, gathering. I’d go to Arraba and we’d cook together. In Tel Aviv, there are also plenty of plants to gather. It calms me down, looking at all this green in the spring. It’s good to know that, even if you don’t have a cent in your pocket, you can go out to the land and eat off it.”
Later, large meat cuts are served from the smoker. Asado (short ribs), chuck and picanha (sirloin cap), with mashed potato cooked over a bonfire, coarse salt and blue butter (hand-clarified butter soaked with blue cheese). To refresh the palate, Yehezkeli offers a side of fresh herb salad and fried mallow (hubeiza).
The dessert is the clincher, placed on a large cardboard mat, wrapped in baking paper. Crème frache, berries in white wine, crème brlée, pears cooked in white wine, caramelized mille–feuille, caramelized bananas, sliced almond tuile and cercis flowers that color this spectacle bright pink and add a stinging sweetness.
Burek, 39 Tzrifin Street, Tel Aviv. 03-751-6893