Local Ingredients, Parisian Know-how, and a Great Israeli Love for Food

The new Elba restaurant, now in a trial run in Tel Aviv, has already begun to create a buzz.

The new restaurant of chef Yair Yosefi and restaurateur Joe Marciano is located on the ground floor of the luxury high-rise at the corner of Ibn Gvirol and Shaul Hamelekh streets in Tel Aviv. The narrow space, six meters in height, has 15 seats at a long wooden bar, and only three tables. The restaurant will be open for business in the coming weeks, but trial meals, closed to the public, are already being served to the sound of hammering. During the first stage, only the inner space, with room for 30 diners, will be operating. This coming spring, additional seating will be added on a covered terrace on the sidewalk. Until then, it will not be easy to get a seat in this restaurant, which has already created a buzz.

The name

mushroom - Peretz - 1.2012
Dan Peretz

Elba - after the island that became famous as the place of exile of the emperor Napoleon, a man who loved war but was indifferent to the wonders of gastronomy. Elba, a small Mediterranean island near the Italian coast, is located midway between Paris and Tel Aviv, between the French culinary tradition and that of the Mediterranean region.

The setting

After its facelift, Ibn Gvirol is a wide and attractive boulevard, and Tel Aviv street life can be found in the restaurant, but most of the diners sit with their backs to the transparent glass walls, facing the food and the bottles of wine. A gray stone floor, a long oak bar, full of character, and behind the bar, a tall bookshelf. The shelves separate the restaurant from the kitchen, and in the spaces between bottles and books, cooks and diners can observe one another. The clean, modern design was executed by architect Merav Kane-Yosefi, who has a bachelor's and a master's degree in architecture from the Ecole de Beaux Arts in Paris, and is the chef's wife.

Chef Yosefi - Peretz - Jan 2012
Dan Peretz

The people

Yair Yosefi, chef and owner. Born in 1976, he grew up in one of the northern neighborhoods of Tel Aviv. After his military service, he began working as a chef at Yoezer Wine Bar, and from there went on to the kitchens of Keren, Oceanus in Jerusalem and Oceanus in Herzliya. In 2000, he moved to France because of Merav's architecture studies, and because he wanted to continue in the cooking business.

In Paris, his first job was packaging spices in the Izreal delicatessen. From there he went on to a small Italian trattoria in the Marais quarter and then to the kitchens of Michelin-starred restaurants such as Guy Martin's Le Grand Vefor and Lasserre. During his last five years in Paris he worked as right-hand man to baker Eric Kayser in developing recipes for his worldwide network of bakeries, and coauthored cookbooks. In almost a decade of living in gastronomy's homeland, Yosefi made hundreds of food tours in his small, rickety car to restaurants with two or three Michelin stars, a bouillabaisse tour in the south of France and more. He also gathered a collection of thousands of beloved titles of cookbooks and book about food, from Alexander Dumas and Claudia Roden to contemporary chefs. In 2010 he returned to Israel and together with designer Dan Alexander started a publishing company (A Point Books ), which published "Bread at Home" by Uri Scheft of the Lehamim bakery. A book on fish and seafood by the Mul Hayam restaurant is scheduled soon. When he returned to Israel, Yosefi started looking for a suitable location for the restaurant of his dreams.

Joe Marciano, co-owner and a veteran Tel Aviv restaurateur. Always dressed in elegant black and white, he also owns the Cantina restaurant on Rothschild Boulevard.

lamb - Peretz - Jan 2012
Dan Peretz

Tomer Tzuk, main supplier of raw ingredients. Owner of Havat Tzuk in Emek Ha'ela, the Tzuk delicatessen in Ramat Aviv, and a catering firm where he and his team of chefs and butchers serve an intuitive, simple, brilliant menu based on fresh, high-quality ingredients from his farm. Tzuk, a farmer and butcher whose link to cooking began with the ingredients, raises lambs for meat and goats for milk, makes goat cheese, prepares wine and olive oil from the grapes and olives that grow on his land, produces honey from wildflowers and fresh eggs from free-range hens. A few months ago he prepared a plot of land on the lovely, isolated farm where he lives with his family, and planted an organic vegetable garden, which will provide a large portion of the needs of the Elba restaurant.

During the first week of the restaurant's trial run, there were cauliflowers, leeks and lettuce from the vegetable garden, as well as bunches of fragrant rosemary, sage, basil, nettles and hubeza that grow wild on the farm. The "farm dish" on the menu varies, and is inspired by vegetables, herbs, cheese, meat or eggs from the Tzuk farm. But there is almost no dish on the restaurant menu that does not contain at least one ingredient originating on the farm.

The connections

"I knew him casually for years; I wasn't aware of his abilities. Two years ago, when he returned from Paris, I invited him one evening to cook in my restaurant, and discovered that he cooks food after my own heart. At the end of the meal I told him I'd be happy to open a restaurant with him" (Marciano on Yosefi ).

"As an obsessive eater, I wander around food stores all the time. I reported to his delicatessen on the day it opened; the idea of an urban delicatessen supplied by the produce of a farm fascinated me, and in fact the quality of the lamb, the olive oil and the other ingredients he produces and sells is simply a rarity. The third time I went there, his employees told him it was the nudnik who keeps asking for brains and other organs, and that's how we began talking" (Yosefi on Tzuk ).

"He stuck to me. At first I didn't understand what I had in common with this man, or with his intellectual talk about food and restaurants in Paris. When I tasted his food, complex but aiming for simplicity, I understood" (Tzuk on Yosefi ).

Three people who love food meet in midlife and try to establish an island of good food in a style they love: simple, but based on knowledge, experience and skill. Food that begins with high-quality local ingredients, and even at the end, on the plate, the natural flavor of the ingredients is in evidence.

The opening of the restaurant was preceded by two years of searching for a suitable place, and endless conversations and meetings. Sometimes the friends met in the delicatessen or at the farm, other times in Cantina, but usually over grilled organ meats or a chunk of entrecote that was barely aged ("good meat bites you back" ) and rivers of wine and arak. Along the way, there were also experiments - like a meal of organ meats and a bonfire on Lag B'Omer, when they prepared whole lambs as a burnt offering.

Recently the three were joined by Lionel Pinot, who was born in southern France and lives in Paris. He worked for many years for a prestigious French company that specializes in producing and adapting serving utensils and choosing wines for the luxury restaurants of the most famous chefs in the world. Yosefi met Pinot in the kitchen of chef Pierre Gagnaire. (Of Pinot, Yosefi says, "He was the best and worst salesman I've ever seen. He would show Gagnaire a plate or some other utensil, and Gagnaire, who had great affection for him and held him in great esteem, on the spot would improvise a dish that suited the utensil perfectly, and the two would happily sit down to eat it. It's doubtful whether any sale was ever made there." )

Pinot, one of those lucky mortals who can identify, in a blind wine tasting, the plot where the grapes used to produce it were grown, has an exceptional memory for flavors, tremendous knowledge about wine and food, and a perpetual desire to enjoy the experience of eating and drinking. He came to Israel to help his friend develop a wine menu. In recent weeks he has visited small wineries looking for local wines with a strong character, and has been matching wines imported from France and Italy to the menu and character of the new restaurant.

The declaration of intent

"One day I was standing in the kitchen of Le Grand Vefour when I realized what I was doing to the raw ingredients," says Yosefi. "Goose liver, for example. I used to clean it, boil it and create a three-layer terrine of goose liver and caramelized daikon radishes. We baked the terrine in a bain-marie, cooled it, scooped out a circle from the middle and filled it with a red grapefruit mousse. We rolled the tiny circle in green-pea salt, placed it on a plate adorned with a spray of hibiscus cream, added a drop of safran cream and garnished it with daikon whip. I have great admiration for the creative cuisine of the great chefs like Guy Martin, but there comes a time when you ask yourself, why? Why do you have to process natural ingredients to the point where it is hard to identify their original taste, and why are there 25 cooks working in a restaurant that serves 45 diners?

"That was another lesson in a growing understanding that as a chef, I'm simply a conduit for transferring raw ingredients from nature to the diner. The work of the vintner is to do the minimum required so as not to spoil what nature has provided, and the work of the chef is similar. I want to serve the diners dishes in which you can sense the tastes of the soil and the sea."

The thought process described by Yosefi has been adopted by many French chefs in the past two decades. Young chefs who acquired their education and experience in the kitchens of Michelin-starred restaurants are deciding not to adopt the rules and norms dictated by the tastemakers of the Michelin system. Instead, they are opening restaurants designed on the model of the French bistro: modest spaces, a small staff, a friendly and informal atmosphere, and a menu based on simple, high-quality local ingredients, made with complex techniques that used to be limited to restaurants serving elite cuisine. This mix enables them to maintain a medium price range and cater to a broader public.

The promise

The identity and character of a restaurant are only shaped over time. It's hard to talk about a restaurant that isn't yet open to the public, but of all the restaurants that have opened or are scheduled to open this year in Tel Aviv, we find Elba the most interesting. Yair Yosefi is a thinking man and a smart chef. Intellectual aspirations in the kitchen could be absurd or simply pretentious; in this case they work beautifully. The dishes are simple, but not simplistic or shallow. The intelligent combinations of flavors stem from memories of flavors that have accumulated on the palate, from the professional experience built up over 15 years of work in the kitchen, and from the cultural legacy acquired during literary and actual food journeys in Israel and worldwide. In addition to intelligence, there is passion, creativity, and genuine curiosity about researching local ingredients.

At a tasting session during the trial run, there were dishes and flavors that differed from those generally found on the endlessly repeated menus of Tel Aviv restaurants. A non-Israeli meal, in the positive sense of the word, and at the same time a wonderfully Israeli meal. There was no eggplant or vegetable salad juice, but there were other flavors and ingredients that have been etched in the DNA of the country's inhabitants, and a modest and genuine promise to continue to shape the character of the new Israeli cuisine. And the food was tasty.

Dishes and ingredients

Grouper (lokus ) tartare, tomato sauce, cauliflower crumbs: one elliptical roll is made of raw tartare of lokus, the best fish offered by our side of the Mediterranean, and a basic ingredient of traditional fish dishes and of the new Israeli cuisine; the other consists of flakes of a raw and somewhat sour couscous made from crumbs of fresh cauliflower with olive oil and lemon zest; the cold, raw textures are seasoned and "heated," as in classic French tartare, in creamed tomato, olive oil and hot paprika, with chopped Thassos olives.

Mushroom casserole from the East, mushroom stock from the West: Shitake, king of the forest, anouki and shimeji mushrooms, served in a broth of porcini and other forest mushrooms. Ostensibly, a simple vegetarian dish. Meat lovers find it difficult to admit that vegetarian dishes can reach such exalted heights, but this is a work of art of simple-complex flavors. Each type of mushroom is cooked by a different technique; one is scorched on the grill, another is steamed with water and a third, left raw, adds a meaty texture and the fragrances of soil. The entire dish shouts umami - the fifth basic taste, which is shared by ingredients such as meat, fish and cheese. A bit of lemon zest completes the harmony and adds some Mediterranean character.

Bourekas with mangold and Hameiri cheese, a mangold and sesame salad: Taking apart and reassembling bourekas, an Israeli favorite. This dish originated from the memories of an Israeli Shabbat morning breakfast, and from the pleasure of delicate French pastry, like that which Joe Marciano prepares so wonderfully.

Roasted bone marrow, porcini butter, radishes, brioche: Sprinkle a little coarse salt and black pepper on the bone marrow. Spread porcini butter on a hot brioche and then collect golden liquid fat with a small teaspoon, spread on the brioche and add fresh grated radishes. The joy of eating it is hard to describe. If you liked British chef Fergus Henderson's forest of marrow bones, cut crosswise, the bones cut lengthwise by butcher Tomer Tzuk are an even more satisfying pleasure.

Shoulder of lamb stuffed with lamb, leaves with yogurt: a dish made entirely of raw ingredients from Tomer's farm. Shoulder of lamb stuffed with pieces of flank, short ribs and lamb liver, roasted in the oven for a long time and served chopped, hot and dripping with fat on a salad of fresh leaves and herbs seasoned with a yogurt vinaigrette. The winter menu of the trial-run period includes two beef dishes - a carpaccio of rump, a relatively strong-flavored cut, and a wonderful French burger with nuts, served with mushroom ketchup and a green apple aioli. Lamb, which also appears in a good dish of lamb ragout with sweet potato and mascarpone cream, is more dominant on the menu than beef.

Chicken roasted for 48 hours, potatoes: In the search for perfection - in this case the perfect roast chicken - British chef Heston Blumenthal marinated a chicken in salt water, immersed it in cold water, scalded it in boiling water, dried it, roasted it at a low temperature for 12 hours, injected butter into the breast and then scorched it in boiling oil to brown it. Elba's roast chicken undergoes an equally complicated, 48-hour process, and the result is a seemingly simple, but extraordinarily fine bistro dish. The breast meat melts in your mouth, the pinkish thighs shine with chicken juices, and the pieces of crisp golden skin are like sweet candies. With our own eyes, we saw a dignified professor of philosophy lose it when he saw the roast chicken, eating it all with his bare hands.

Mackerels pickled in white wine and mirin (a rice wine ), avocado, pickled onion, Ratte potatoes: A personal and lovely variation, with a slight echo of Japanese cuisine, of mackerels in white wine, a classic French bistro dish.

Elba, 36 Ibn Gvirol, Tel Aviv, 03-5467905