Tel Avi’s Taizu. Photo courtesy of Taizu.
By Danielle Crittenden Frum
Conde Nast Traveller recently declared Tel Aviv one of the five best foodie cities in the world. Not to toot our own horn, but this news will come as no surprise to FT&V readers. We’ve been all over the incredible, chef-driven culinary renaissance that is taking place in TLV (and Jerusalem), as well as its growing influence internationally. What’s interesting, though, are the restaurants Conde Nast missed in its list of recommendations.
The excitement of dining today in Tel Aviv stems largely from experiencing the crazy, creative fusion of its emerging, young chefs. So while CNT recommends the worthwhile, if familiar, destinations of Herbert Samuel, Manta Ray, and Rafael, it overlooks some of the newer and more mind-blowing places: Here you’ll find menus that playfully take Middle Eastern concepts and combine them a dozen different cultural strands, from French and Italian to Chinese and Indian, and even Kurdish and Iranian. The inspiration for many comes from the seasonal abundance found in Israel’s famous shuks, as well as its own diverse population, composed of more than 100 ethnic groups.
Over the past year I’ve visited and profiled a number of these chefs. Here is a compilation of our favorite restaurants. I have a couple of coffee house suggestions as well: Spending time in a cafe is as integral to experiencing the local vibe as it is in Paris. Bear in mind the sampling of dishes described below are what were there when I visited; as in all great restaurants, the menus change seasonally.
Our Top Picks for Fusion:
Chick Pea Koftas in Curry Sauce at Taizu. Photo courtesy of Taizu.
Taizu: The concept of the menu, by chef Ben Neriah, is Middle-Eastern meets Asian street food. Neriah, formerly of Herbert Samuel, spent months traveling through Chinese, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and India, before creating such unique specialties at Taizu such as black cod with tomatoes, honey, peanuts and white peach, and chick pea koftas in curry sauce. On Sundays Taizu offers an Indian night menu. Taizu, Derech Menachem Begin 23, Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel.
Mom’s Pasta at Dalida. Photo by Eliran Dahan.
Dalida: In the heart of Tel Aviv’s Levinsky market on Zebulun Street, Dalida is the creation of chef Dan Zoaretz. His inspiration for his cooking is his own mixed and exotic heritage. “My grandmother was from Yemen, my father from Libya. There is a lot of European in there too.” He chose the name Dalida after the Egyptian-born singer who sang in more than 10 languages. On the night I visited, the menu offered for starters a Spicy Feta Brûlée , Raw Kohlrabi with Cress Pesto and Almonds, and an Arabian Caprese; main courses included a Fish Carpaccio with a multi-ethnic dust-up of flavors, everything from chile to roasted frike and Egyptian spices; French Toast and Bone Marrow in Beef and Hibiscus Stock with Jerusalem Artichoke Cream and Chestnuts; Baked Crab in Schug and Arak. My favorite turned out to be one of his most simple: “Mom’s Pasta,” a Lebanese twist on a classic pomodoro sauce. Recipe is here, and my interview with Zoaretz and review is here. Dalida, Zevulun St. 7.
The bar at Montefiore restaurant. Web image.
Montefiore: This elegant restaurant located in the evocative, White City boutique hotel, Hotel Montefiore, has the vibe of an old Tel Aviv cafe in the 1920s: Potted palms, mosaic floor, bentwood cafe chairs. The menu, however, is completely modern: French infused with Vietnamese. Summer dishes include a Filet of Trout in Lemongrass Cream; Sea Bream with Tomato Dashi, Pak Choi, and Okra; and a Duck Prosciutto with Fresh Figs and Almonds. There is also an excellent wine list featuring selections from Israel’s top wineries. Hotel Montefiore, Montefiore St. 36.
The rooftop at Dinings in the Norman Hotel. Photo by the Norman Hotel.
Dinings: Around the corner from the Hotel Montefiore is the Norman, perhaps one of the most beautiful hotels I’ve ever stayed in, and also named number one boutique hotel in the world by Jetsetter.com. A revamped Eclectic-style mansion in the heart of the White City, its two restaurants offer a choice between traditional brasserie French cuisine (The Norman Restaurant) and Dinings, where on a rooftop terrace you can enjoy “Izakaya-style Japanese Tapas” fused with “modern European.” Repair afterwards to the intimate Library Bar for an altogether perfect evening. The Norman Hotel, Nakhmani St. 25.
The terrace at Tony and Esther. Web image.
Tony and Esther: This cafe is such a local haunt it doesn’t even have a website. Located in the Levinsky market, the cafe is named after the grandparents of its owners. Praised for its “Grandma”-style home cooking, it is especially known for its Libyan breakfast of fried eggs wrapped in pastry. And yes, the coffee. Tony and Esther, Levinsky 39.
Inside one of Cafelix’s three Tel Aviv-Jaffa locations. Photo by Discovering Coffee.
Cafelix: Normally we would hesitate to nominate what seems like a chain, but Cafelix is special. The creation of German-born coffee maestro Philipp Shefer, all coffee is made from small batch, locally roasted beans to produce some of the best coffee in Tel Aviv. Which is no small statement. Locations: 15 Sgula st, Jaffa; 12 Shlomo Hamelech st, Tel-Aviv; 23 Yohanan HaSandlar st, Tel-Aviv.