Doug and I ran by Manta Ray on almost a daily basis since arriving in Tel Aviv in September… and each and every time, we were driven crazy by the extraordinary, amazing smells emanating from the restaurant.
“We’re going to eat there one day,” we kept telling ourselves as we trudged onwards. “Maybe we’ll go for brunch on Saturday,” we thought hopefully, week after week. It took until January, when Doug’s parents visited, for us to make the journey to Manta Ray to gain calories rather than just burn them off by running.
We were seated by the window, happily overlooking the Mediterranean on an overcast, chilly day. Despite the grey whether, the sea was beautiful as ever, crashing against the rocks rhythmically.
As we enjoyed the view, our waiter came over and explained how their appetizers worked. He would bring over a tray of appetizers, from which we would select the ones we wanted. The ones we didn’t want would get whisked away just as quickly as they arrived.
Despite numerous options, we ended up just getting the beets and toasted goat cheese starter along with some bread. The beets had a pure, distinct flavor. The cheese, meanwhile, was wonderfully crispy on the outside but had an incredibly creamy center. When eaten in the same bite, the creamy cheese tempered the strong flavor of the beets. Our one complaint about the delicious appetizer? The cheese was a little cold for what we imagined as “toasted” cheese.
The bread, meanwhile, was quite tasty. The outside was crusty and the sea salt it was served with was absolutely addictive (I was actually quite disappointed when someone whisked away the tray of sea salt after we finished the bread).
From there, the meal honestly went a little downhill. I ordered the fillet blue bream served on organic red rice with mango and chili butter. The fish was rather plain and bland—I found myself wishing it were crispier and hankering for a lemon wedge to douse it with throughout the meal. But it was nicely flakey and soft with meat that fell off the skin, at least. While the fish was flavorless, the rice it came with was rather scrumptious. The crunchy red rice was peppered with carrots and pineapples (rather than the mangos indicated on the menu), which gave each bite a fresh, tropical zing.
Doug, meanwhile, ordered the sweet potato soup with ginger, cream, and sesame oil. According to Doug, it was very sweet potato-y with a slight nutty flavor from the sesame oil. It was a simple, unremarkable sweet potato soup.
Doug’s mom ordered the fillet croaker served with herbs and potato puree in olive oil and lima beans in date honey and pomegranate vinaigrette. I can’t speak for how it tasted, but it looked good, if nothing else.
Doug’s dad got the bouillabaisee, a fish stew Marseilles style, largely unaware of what he would be receiving. He seemed shocked and almost frightened by the dish put in front of him, but he powered through it and was happy to let us take his leftovers to the stray cats that lived along the tayelet.
From my perspective, Manta Ray was largely a disappointment. We had heard so much about it and smelled the amazing scent of fried fish daily, only to find out that the aroma wasn’t nearly as good as the flavor. But, by the virtue of tasty bread, a good appetizer, delicious (albeit not accurately described on the menu) rice, and a killer view, I ultimately give the restaurant three out of five stars.