Doug and I spent this past New Year’s Eve in Tel Aviv. We were excited for it, if only because it didn’t involve going out in freezing temperatures (going out in New York in late December can try even the most seasoned northerner). We made reservations at a restaurant near our apartment that we had planned to go to for some time: Orna & Ella. We had heard wonderful things about this classy restaurant and were not disappointed.
Upon walking into Orna & Ella, we could tell something was different about the restaurant relative to all others… it was quiet. Surprise of surprises, there was no music playing. Of course, there was the soft din of chatter and the distant kitchen noises to frame the noises made by people walking around and cutting food—all to serve as the backdrop for our own conversations. It was relaxed and intimate, an incredibly refreshing change to the ordinarily loud Tel Aviv bar and restaurant scene. The restaurant’s simple decor, muted cream color palate, and soft lighting contributed to a dining experience that was utterly soothing.
As we reveled in the wonderful atmosphere, we munched on the various goodies in the breadbasket. It included delicious crunchy sticks with crushed red pepper pieces, a wheaty bread that had a great nutty flavor from what we think was walnuts (it was even greater since it reminded us of the bread Doug’s mom bakes), and a delicious, flavorful, and creamy mustard-mayo dip with whole mustard seeds. We didn’t think twice about saving room for our food before emptying the basket.
To follow our bread, we had soup. Since they had two wonderful-sounding soups for the day and we couldn’t choose which to order, we ordered both and split them. I started with the raw green pea soup and it tasted exactly like its name. It was like I was having a silky, liquefied version of peas. It wasn’t hot or cold, but perfectly lukewarm. Some scallions on top gave the simple soup an aromatic taste.
The other soup was a cauliflower spinach soup. It was just as silky as the raw pea soup but it had a creamy touch to it, as well. Similar to its raw pea counterpart, it tasted just like its main ingredient: cauliflowers. It had a splash of spinach puree in the center, which contributed a fuller, earthy flavor to the soup. Some candied nuts gave the delicious soup a great textural touch.
Sticking to our greens theme, we continued on to a baked vegetable entrée. It included sweet and hearty butternut squash, soft carrots with a zing of ginger, onions that had a good crunch and a sweet (but not biting) flavor, sweet potatoes that weren’t overly sweet, potatoes with creamy insides, and little raisins that tasted great with all of the other vegetables. They were all topped with a carrot sauce and were accompanied by a side of macadamia nut cream, whose light nutty flavor and slightly grainy texture was fantastic. By this point, we knew Orna & Ella were masters of vegetable purees.
A delicious dish of asparagus ricotta ravioli followed. It was gentle and delicate, with thin-pasta raviolis filled with a light ricotta and crisp asparagus pieces. A sharp, aged parmesan topped the raviolis, contributing a smoky touch. It was topped with a light cream sauce. The entire dish seemed almost underprepared, as if the ingredients were intentionally left somewhat raw to allow consumers to taste the natural flavors of the ingredients.
After happily finishing our ravioli, our waiter brought over a small dish of complimentary sweets. I’m not sure if this is the norm or if it was simply a perk of New Year’s Eve at Orna & Ella, but I’m definitely not complaining (they also gave us complimentary champagne because our entrees took an extra long time to come out of the kitchen for some reason–very tactful and classy of them). There was a dark chocolate that was delicious—nutty and so pure that you could almost taste the smell of cocoa. Then there was a sweet fruity lemon/coconut gel that was fabulous. But our favorite was definitely a morsel of date jelly covered in coconut shavings. It was sweet and slightly nutty and went down easily.
We couldn’t not order dessert after our complimentary sweets—if anything, the fact that they were so delicious made us want more dessert. We selected a chocolate hazelnut tart with whipped cream and a raspberry sauce. The dark chocolate tart was very thick and rich with an almost mousse-like texture. Its bottom was crunchy, like piecrust. The whipped cream was sweet but incredibly light, which contrasted well with the heavy flavor of the dark chocolate tart. The raspberry sauce was a wonderful touch, adding a complexity and refreshing excitement to the tart’s flavor.
In hindsight, we couldn’t have started off the New Year with a better dinner. It was all delicious and fresh, new and exciting. And luckily, our meals were from a special New Year’s Eve menu, which means the next time we go to the restaurant, they’ll have an entirely different menu. New Year, new Orna & Ella menu—we’re down.