No longer seen as the awkward culinary cousin to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem has in recent years been cementing its reputation as a destination for locavores, for fans of what Israelis call "chef restaurants," for nightlife aficionados, and for those diners with a discerning sweet tooth.
The restaurants of Israel’s capital city continue to improve in quality, style and stature, with many chefs using creativity to offer world-class gourmet in ways that retain their eligibility for kosher certification. Jerusalem's restaurant scene is dynamic and always evolving — read on for a guide to the trends most worthy of attention during 5772.
Exploring specialties of the Judean Hills is at the forefront for those restaurants patrons who are “locavores” and committed to the freshest ingredients grown locally. Chefs in these kitchens are likely to take inspiration from the Slow Food movement to create dishes from exclusively regionally-grown, seasonal produce, dairy products and meats. Menus at these restaurants change often, according to the growing seasons. Eucalyptus, under the stewardship of chef Moshe Basson, is at the forefront of Jerusalem’s passion for local, heritage-based foods and cooking methods.
Shopping at the Mahane Yehuda open-air market for the freshest ingredients is a common refrain; the restaurant Machaneyuda shows off its proximity and use of the shuk in its name. Canela's chef Itamar Taragan, who also make significant use of local ingredients in his top-notch eatery, told GoJerusalem.com, "We want to be thought of as one of Jerusalem's top three restaurants, so we want to make sure that we are truly a Jerusalem restaurant."
Chef Ezra Kedem tends the garden in the courtyard of Arcadia, and 1868's chef, Yankaleh Turgeman, sources much of his produce from Jerusalem and his meat from Israeli farms. “We have a lot of local ingredients on our menu — cow brain, ox tail, a lot of lamb, chickpeas,” Turgeman explained to GoJerusalem.com. “We are also very careful to use seasonal ingredients and change our menu a few times a year.”
Another trend in upscale Jerusalem dining is the “chef restaurant,” where the chefs have a strong hand in all aspects of the restaurant: concept, design and food. These chefs are often part-owners and freely execute their visions as they see fit. Fans will often follow their favorite chefs from place to place, such as Erez Margi and Marcus Gershkowitz: Once appearing at Arcadia and Canela, they are now collaborators Angelica. Rather than cooking in a single style, the menus of chef restaurants highlight their favorite ingredients or inspirations. “We’re cooking food from mama’s house,” Lior Heftzadi of Lara told GoJerusalem.com, regarding the Iraqi and Moroccan influences of the menu. “But we give it a fusion twist to be Israeli.”
To an increasing degree, the selection of wine and other libations ranks as importantly the food in Jerusalem, with pub-restaurant hybrids offering holistic nights out. For evidence, check out Restobar, with its extensive selection of meals and spirits, where the daytime cafe scene blends seamlessly into a nightlife one as the evening goes on. "We have outdoor seating and a special indoor smoking section, which facilitate the transition," observed proprietor Shachar Levi. "With our nice décor, we attract an older crowd that's looking for something classy." Over in Baka, Colony features four different themed spaces, a swanky bar area, the main dining space, a cushioned chill-out lounge and a low-key second-floor gallery.
But we mustn't forget about dessert. Dedicated pastry chefs are becoming more frequent and move the final offerings beyond plain chocolate cake or apple strudel. Catch their work at places like La Guta (where the menu's "Little Sins" option means a chocolate bruele covered with crunchy flakes of chocolate) and Canela (where a "House of Pistachio" is a crème made from blended premium chocolates and nuts). Other desserts acknowledge Israel’s place on the map by bringing the tastes of halvah, almonds, or floral hints such as orange blossom or rosewater. Sofia's Moti Buchbut, who trained in Geneva under pastry master Evuld Noter, brings the flair of dessert pastry presentation to the eatery's entire new fall menu. "We've built a whole dessert division, headed by a pastry chef who studied in France and works with the best ingredients," said La Guta's owner Yossi Ben Simhon.
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