I visited Hebrew University for a week in January, and Peter Sarnak, no doubt thinking of my sadly out-of-date How To Eat Dinner in Princeton page, asked me if I was going to blog the restaurants of Jerusalem. OK, so here’s a go. Let’s start with the best thing I ate in Israel:
This is beet ballerina with goat cheese at Cafe Itamar, on Moshav Ora just west of Jerusalem. (Here’s an English writeup.) “Ballerina” is a kind of pasta I saw on several menus in Jerusalem; I think it’s more or less campanelle? Simple dish, but really well-made. The pasta looks beautiful and tastes kind of rooty without really aggressively beeting at you, if you know what I mean. And the rest of the meal was almost as good. Cafe Itamar was a casual place, concentrating on the produce from the moshav’s collective farm, somehow very Israeli indeed despite having a fairly straight European menu of pastas, pizzas, and salads. Worth the trip from town.
We spent one morning in the shuk at Mahane Yehuda — burekas and sweet, gelatinous sachlav at Gveret Burekas, kanafeh somewhere in the market, and then a terrific lunch at Mordoch, where a woman sits in at a back table speedily rolling kubbeh, which then appear in an awesomely sour yellow vegetable soup. And there’s hummus, lots of hummus.
And more hummus at Hummus Asli in Tel Aviv, where we had the best malawech we ate in Israel, much flakier and lighter than the one we got at the the Yemenite Jewish restaurant Tamani in Jerusalem. And the only falafel I ate while I was there, because I don’t think of myself as liking falafel, but Asli falafel changed my mind. I didn’t eat any more falafel because I wanted to leave the toggle switched to “yes.”
As for Tamani, it was heavy and rich, a kind of soul food — good, but what I was really hoping for was something more refined, specifically the honey-rosemary chicken I remembered eating at the Yemenite Step twenty years ago. There’s no more Yemenite Step and I guess no more honey-rosemary chicken either. Was that all the hummus? That was not all the hummus. Because there’s also the Lebanese Restaurant — which my brother-in-law tells me isn’t Lebanese, but that’s the name, the Lebanese Restaurant — in Abu Ghosh. Hummus, hummus basar (i.e with spiced meat), more kubbeh, this time fried, all served family style on long wooden tables in an immense, crowded, punishingly loud room.
Only one shawarma, but it was a shawarma laffa, or as Americans might call it, “burrito-style.” Why don’t we eat it that way here? I guess we do — here’s a picture of one from Illinois, which gives the general idea. A burrito place has a sidebar where you can get salsa, and a shawarma laffa place — or at least Hashamen, the place my brother-in-law likes — has a sidebar where you can get amba, which, wow.