Dining in the Dark at Blackout

Blackout (NalaGa’at)
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
http://www.nalagaat.org.il/
Dairy
Kosher
Retsif Ha’Aliya Ha’Shniya, Yafo Port
(03) 633-0808
Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday
(6:30pm – Vegetarian Meal 90 NIS OR Fish Meal 110 NIS)
(8:30pm – Vegetarian Dinner 140 NIS OR Fish Dinner 160 NIS)

I recently enjoyed one of the most romantic dinners of my life. Think whispered conversations, stolen kisses, quiet giggles, and completely worriless enjoyment…  What do you imagine? Sharing bites of churros con chocolate in a quiet café in Europe?  A beachside meal eaten while a gentle Mediterranean sea breeze playfully ruffles your hair?  A small table for two at an intimate, candlelit restaurant?  Outdoor seating in a quaint garden under twinkling stars?

I doubt any of you instantly thought of a restaurant where you can see nothing, where you have to be led to your table in a human train and eat your meal in the absolutely pitch black darkness while sharing your table with people you’ve never met.  But believe it or not, despite not being able to make eye contact or even see the people you’re eating with, the experience is incredibly intimate.

Na’LaGaat is a center in Yafo for the deaf and blind.  They have a café, a theatre, and a restaurant.  After many attempts to make a reservation and many cancellations due to a number of scheduling conflicts, we finally made it to the restaurant, Blackout.

Na’LaGaat

Blackout has two seatings on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays—one at 6:30pm and one at 8:30pm.  The 8:30pm seating is longer and includes more food, but trust me when I say that the amount of food you get at the 6:30pm seating is plenty.

Before you enter, the staff provides you with a menu and explains how it all works.  You order your meal before entering, but you can order drinks from your waiter/waitress once inside.  The wait staff is comprised of those who are blind or severely visually impaired.  You are seated next to your dining partner, as it is far easier to interact with them this way, although you may be seated with other diners.  If you need anything during the meal, you simply call for your waiter, as they are always nearby.  Bibs are provided for those who want to avoid making a mess of themselves during the meal (we’d recommend taking one to wear as a bib and another to supplement your napkin).

Inside Na’LaGaat. This is the area where you lock up your belongings in a locker and choose your meal before entering the restaurant.

We giddily awaited to be seated, watching as couple after couple entered the restaurant with their bibs on.  We ended up being the last couple led in.  Before entering the restaurant, you enter a small “holding” area of sorts where you meet your waiter/waitress in a dimly lit environment.  After the introductions, our waitress explained that we’ll “human train” our way to our table.  A waitress-Taly-Doug train proceeded into the void of darkness that was the restaurant.

Our waitress helped us feel our way into our seats, told us that our napkin and silverware were to our right, and suggested that Doug try to pour water into our glasses from the jug on the table.  He cautiously did so, successfully filling both of our glasses without spilling (as far as we could feel, anyways, since we couldn’t actually see of course).

I spent the first few minutes convinced that my eyes would adjust to the dark and that at any moment I would turn my head and see shadows, at least.  I just couldn’t understand how they managed to make the restaurant so dark! I couldn’t help but put my hand directly in front of my face just to see if I would see something. I didn’t.  For the first time in as long as I can remember, I was in the complete, utter darkness.  There were no windows, clocks, watches, phones, or cameras inside – just blackness.

We managed to get through our breadbasket without incident, but our meals required a little more effort.  I had ordered the pistachio gnocchi in creamy poppy-seed and almond sauce while Doug, being more adventurous, ordered the surprise meal.

Our waitress put our meals in front of us.  Thinking it couldn’t be that hard to eat without seeing, I found my fork and stabbed it into the middle of my plate. Only when I put my fork in my mouth did I realize that it was empty.  It took several such instances before I became more attuned to and focused on the slight pressure difference in using my fork when I actually pierced a piece of gnocchi and the tiny weight at the end of my fork when it had something on it.  As the meal went on and my plate emptied, it also became increasingly difficult to find pieces of gnocchi.  I had to use my silverware to simply push things towards the center of my plate so I wouldn’t miss anything.  I couldn’t help but wonder how many meals went back to the kitchen only partly eaten, since people couldn’t find their food in the dark.

Doug, meanwhile, had an entirely different dilemma when he got his meal. He had ordered the “Surprise Meal” and had no idea how to approach it—what silverware to use, if it needed cutting, if it would be warm or cold. Luckily, it turned out to be a rather simple dish: spinach ravioli.

As if eating our own meals wasn’t enough of a challenge, we both wanted to try the other’s dish.  We wound up having to feel for each other’s hands in order to find the fork.

Getting past the enjoyment of the actual experience, I thought the food was rather tasty too. Nothing out of this world, but definitely good.

Throughout the meal, we chatted with the couple we shared a table with.  According to the waitress, the restaurant tried to avoid having parties sit together but ultimately couldn’t help it (why is beyond me as I obviously couldn’t see the layout, size, or shape of the restaurant).  While at first they were worried that people wouldn’t enjoy sharing tables, they found it was a blessing in the end.  It doesn’t surprise me at all, considering we thoroughly enjoyed talking to our faceless tablemates.  We talked to them about the experience at the restaurant, our meals (our neighbor got fish—I couldn’t imagine trying to eat that without seeing anything!), where we were from, where we lived, what we did, etc… all without knowing what the others looked like.   We joked that the restaurant would be an excellent location for a blind date, as the people would really get to know each other without any physical or visual influences.

We spoke a little more as we waited for our desserts.  When they arrived, we and the couple across from us found that our waitress had brought us each an extra treat.  She told us that they brought us the extra treat as an apology for having made us wait so long. Our tablemates received an extra dessert because it was the guy’s birthday. And with that, the waitress started singing happy birthday… or rather, the entire restaurant started singing happy birthday with more gusto than I had ever witnessed in a restaurant birthday song.  As everyone clapped and sang, I couldn’t help but laugh.  It was as if everyone, with the knowledge that they couldn’t be seen in the darkness, lost their inhibitions.  Afterwards, our tablemate was quite pleased that, despite the fact that everyone in the restaurant just sang to him, he could soon walk out as an anonymous young man.

Our desserts were good.  Doug got a chocolate mousse with almond crumble that proved to be very rich.  Meanwhile, I got the white chocolate mousse with butter cookie crumble and fresh fruit.  Our extra treat was a cheesecake.  Our neighbors, who were kind enough to share, received a dish with marzipan in it.  While none of the desserts was incredibly memorable, they were all tasty enough.  But my favorite part about the dessert wasn’t the flavor… it was listening to our tablemates as they shared.

“OW!” screamed the birthday boy.

“What? What happened? I was just trying to give you a taste of the mousse…” His girlfriend replied, confused.

“I was just drinking! You hit me in the eye with your spoon!”

With that, I lost it.  The hilarity of it overwhelmed me.  While I couldn’t see anything, I imagined I could. The guy, one eye covered in mousse and squinting slightly after getting hit in the eye with a spoon, the girl confusedly holding a spoon only half-full of mousse.

I regained my composure just in time for our waitress’s visit.  She sat down with us and started chatting with us.  We talked about the layout of the restaurant, how she managed to navigate it, and how she managed to serve patrons’ food without knocking things over.  On a more serious note, she explained that as a young girl, she attended normal school as her mother insisted that there was nothing wrong with her.  Our waitress explained that she was blind in one eye and severely visually impaired in the other, so it was very difficult for her to attend a normal school.  But, as she talked about her children and grandchildren, she made it clear that her visual impairment did not preclude her living the life she wanted.  I couldn’t help but be awed by her strength and courage.  As she told us that she worked at the restaurant since its opening in 2007 and how the restaurant never did well financially, I couldn’t help but wish I could somehow help out.

Shortly after, our waitress led our tablemates to the exit (again, human train style).  More and more parties were leaving, so the restaurant became gradually quieter.  Awed by the experience, we sat for a short time holding hands, waiting for our waitress to fetch us (we had to wait for a few minutes as a traffic jam had developed by the exit, it appeared).  Eventually, our waitress led us back out the way we entered, where we paid and picked up a cup of hot tea. Tea in hand, we made our way to one of the outdoor café tables, where we finally saw our tablemates in person and put faces to the voices we heard over dinner.

I was surprised to see that the people were less attractive than I imagined. Not that they were unattractive, but for some reason I thought they would be rather good looking (based solely on our good conversation with them during the meal).  It’s truly amazing… the basic outline we create of people we interact with without seeing (like the person you speak with on the phone every day at work whose appearance surprises you when you finally meet them, or the book character whose image in your mind is shattered when you see the movie presentation of him).

We enjoyed tea after the meal.

Thinking back, it’s amazing how the night has become a blacked out area of my memory.  With no frame of reference whatsoever (silverware, plates, tables, food, waitress…), it has turned so easily into a memory of blank, dark nothingness.  Yet the blank, dark nothingness is accompanied by memories of scents, sounds, thoughts, and touches that are all the more amplified and memorable given that they are not linked with a particular site or image.  It’s hard to explain, but in a nutshell, it’s an eye-opening experience absolutely worth having.

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Cave o’ Yoezer

Yoezer Wine Bar
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
http://yoezer.com/
French, Wine Bar, Gourmet
Not kosher
2 Ish-Habira Street, Yafo
(03) 683-9115
Sunday – Thursday (12:30 – 1:00)
Friday – Saturday (11:00 – 1:00)

Valentine’s Day in Israel isn’t quite the same as it is in the United States.  Paper hearts in pink and red don’t decorate every restaurant and stores don’t sell boxes of chocolate en masse.  Nevertheless, the occasion gave Doug and me an excuse to make reservations at a fancy restaurant.  We wanted something new and different, so we picked Yoezer Wine Bar, a restaurant located in a cave in Yafo, despite having heard that the waiters were pretentious and terrible.  From our experience, the waiters seemed friendly enough… and seeing as we got a fair sampling of service as our waiter kept changing between the long waits for each dish, I’d like to think our experience is representative of the restaurant’s staff.

The restaurant was surprisingly spacious and airy for one that is located in a cave.  Candlelit interior and graceful stone arches contributed to a sense of intimacy and elegance, despite the packed, slightly chaotic restaurant.

Yoezer Wine Bar

Slightly limited by the meat-centric menu, we ordered pretty much every non-meat dish we could.  Before skipping over the meat dishes, I’d like to note that I’ve heard their meat is top-notch.

We started with blinis with red caviar and crème fraiche.  I was a little nervous when they put the dish in front of me as I had never tried caviar and for some reason the idea of eating fish eggs seemed somewhat strange to me. But the newness was also exciting and, as I took my first bite, I was rather surprised.  It simply tasted like salmon… liquid salmon in a bubble.  The blinis themselves were delicious—they were like fluffy mini pancakes.  They tasted a little like undercooked pancakes, in fact, but their mooshiness didn’t detract from their quality (as it would for actual pancakes).  The side of cooling, simple cheese, which tasted a little like ski (an Israeli cheese similar to sour cream) and smoked salmon pieces came together with the caviar and blinis quite nicely—the flavors and textures blended and complemented one another.

Blinis with red caviar and crème fraiche

As we ate the blini dish, our fresh polenta with poached egg and truffle was brought over.  It looked amazing—perfectly cooked polenta with a perfectly poached egg in the center, topped with an elegant truffle.  Luckily, it tasted as good as it looked.  The polenta was sweet and smooth, but with a little bit of grain that gave it texture.  As expected, the egg was perfect. The yolk cracked flawlessly, blending seamlessly into the polenta.  The dish itself was slightly salty with a touch of black pepper that you felt at the back of the palate, which was delightful.

Fresh polenta with poached egg and truffle

Our next dish was the cheese platter, comprised of four types of goat cheese.

Cheese platter, comprised of four types of goat cheese

The first, which was my least favorite, had a strong bleu cheese flavor and was very creamy and smooth with a sour rind.

My least favorite cheese from the cheese platter

My third favorite was a brie with a rind with a bleu-cheese flavor.  The creamy, thick cheese in the center of the brie also had a tinge of bleu cheese, but it wasn’t as strong.  The brie was buttery and slightly sweet, smooth with just a touch of graininess.  While the flavors weren’t my favorite (as I’m not a huge fan of bleu cheese), I loved the way the cheese seemed to melt in my mouth.

My third favorite cheese from the cheese platter

The cheese that was best with the bread (which was quite plain) turned out to be my second favorite.  It appeared to be a hard cheese but was surprisingly soft and easy to cut into.  With a nutty flavor and texture that came with a little tang, it was a lovely cheese.

My second favorite cheese from the cheese platter

Bread basket

My favorite cheese was the thickest of them.  Its rind had a bleu cheese flavor, but the rest didn’t, which was fantastic for me.  It was soft, gentle, and incredibly creamy—the perfect texture for goat cheese. Delish!

My favorite cheese from the cheese platter

Our next treat was the truffle ravioli special.  It was made with egg noodles, which are slightly stiffer than normal noodles.  It was a welcome flavor and gave the perfectly tender ravioli a nice bite and yolky flavor.  The raviolis were filled with cheese and peppercorns, which gave the dish a hot touch that was immediately cooled by the cheese.  The proportion between noodle and filling was great, allowing us to really taste and appreciate both.  There wasn’t much sauce, but it wasn’t dry, either.  The truffles were present in scent and flavor, giving the dish a warm and homey earthiness.

Egg yolk truffle ravioli special

We finished our meal with vanilla clouds and passion fruit.  The vanilla clouds, which were dollops of vanilla bean mousse, were drizzled with passion fruit juice and seeds.  The mousse was silky and fluffy and thankfully not too sweet, as mousses can often be.  It was so light and airy that it almost seemed healthy.  What sweetness the mousse did have was tempered by the sour tang of the passion fruit.

Vanilla clouds and passion fruit

By the end of the evening, we were happily full. Each dish was modestly sized, providing just enough to satiate cravings without becoming overwhelming, boring, or too filling.  All in all, a wonderful meal to have enjoyed in a candlelit cave.

 

*Please excuse the belated Valentine’s Day dinner post and blurry pictures!

A Taste of Turkey at Pasha

Pasha
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
http://www.2eat.co.il/pasha/
Turkish
Kosher
8 Ha’Arba’a
03-561-7778
Sunday-Thursday (12:00 – last customer)
Friday (12:00 – 5:00)

Despite my Turkish roots (my mom’s half of the family is Turkish), I know very little about Turkish cuisine.  I grew up eating food that was classified as either Iraqi or Israeli.  I’m not sure why, but my mother’s native cuisine just didn’t end up on our plates.  When I ask her about Turkish food nowadays, she says she doesn’t know much about it.

Luckily, our familiarity with Turkish food has little bearing on its quality.  The cuisine is rich and the preferred spices, grains, desserts, and oils vary by region.  Unfortunately, I don’t know whether Pasha’s food focuses on a particular type of Turkish cuisine, but I know that the food was delicious.

Pasha was a large, airy restaurant.  The entire space is open and there is an area of the kitchen that is visible from the dining area, fostering the feeling that you’re eating a large, festive meal in someone’s home (albeit with people you’ve never met and won’t speak with during the meal… not an entirely uncommon experience for some around the holidays, I would say).

Pasha

Pasha

Pasha

We started with bread that was cloudy-soft and delicious.  A touch of salt made it absolutely addictive, but an incredible oil-based dip with pomegranate juice at the bottom was what made it truly stand out.  The pomegranate juice was syrupy in consistency, giving the oil a honey-like texture.  It was unlike any dip I’d ever had before.

The bread and amazing pomegranate-oil dip

Our next treat was lahma joun, a slightly spicy meat pizza that was surprisingly elegant and sophisticated.  The crust was thin and crispy, a perfect base for the well-seasoned Mediterranean-spiced tomato- and cilantro-filled topping.

Lahma joun, a slightly spicy meat pizza

We also shared the kubbeh hamousta, which the waitress told us was the best of their kubbehs.  While we didn’t have a chance to verify that it was better than the others, I can definitely say that it was delicious.  The outer shell was thick but soft, and the stringy-steak filling on the inside was absolutely delectable.  The slightly lemony sauce was a little bitter, but went well with the kubbeh.  Each bite left a taste for more.

Kubbeh hamousta

My urfa kebab dish similarly left me wanting more.  Each nugget of deliciously seasoned lamb was incredibly juicy and full of flavor.  While they were peppery, they weren’t too hot, which was almost a shame since I like my kebabs spicy.  The tomato that came with the kebabs was lightly charred and was marked by beautiful grill lines.  There was a side of tahini, as well, but I’m generally not a huge fan of tahini so I ate my kebabs plain.

Urfa kebab

Doug’s mom ordered the chicken steak with pistachio and cashew dish, which involved nuts wrapped in chicken breast.  Although I think it’s more common than I realize, the idea seemed novel to me.  Beyond that, the dish was amazing.  The chicken was crispy but still moist while the nuts that filled the chicken roll gave each bite a nice crunch.

Chicken steak with pistachio and cashew dish

Doug, meanwhile, ordered the chicken fillet – mas’hana. What is chicken fillet – mas’hana, you ask? It looks like foccacia bread topped with chicken and vegetables.  The chicken was tender and tasted like it was prepared shishlik-style (i.e. on a skewer).  The crust below was soft and doughy.  The spicing was lovely, but the paprika really carried the day on this dish.

Chicken fillet - mas’hana

We all shared the vegetables from the oven (also known as grilled vegetables) as a side, which were very simple but tasty.

"Vegetables from the oven" (aka grilled vegetables)

We also shared the vanilla ice cream with silan sauce and halva dessert, which was absolutely delicious.  While a little sweeter than ideal, between the smooth ice cream and crumbly halva, it had a wonderful texture.

Vanilla ice cream with silan sauce and halva dessert

As our meal at Pasha wound to a close, I couldn’t help but wish that I had grown up eating more Turkish food.

The 6-Day Trip (to Israel)

It’s been some time since Doug’s parents’ visit to Israel in January, but with the recent end of my own parents’ visit, I can’t help but reminisce.

It was their first trip to Israel.  We were excited to show them around, but were at a loss as to where to start.  Their trip was relatively short (only 6 days) and we had to work during their visit, so scheduling was very tight.

Thankfully, my organizational instincts kicked in quite quickly—I threw together an itinerary that covered most of Tel Aviv’s neighborhoods and had us in Jerusalem for a day.  I don’t know about Doug’s parents, but I was definitely exhausted by the end of the week!

Tuesday

Doug’s parents arrived in the afternoon, so Doug made his way to the airport to pick them up.  He took them to their hotel, where I later met them.  We walked along the tayelet for a short time before making our way to dinner at Piccola Pasta (a restaurant absolutely worth checking out! Read about the food here).  It was close to their hotel and we figured it was a safe bet for their first night.  We had an early dinner and took them back to their hotel, where I think they promptly fell asleep.  Mission: retrieve parents from airport and ferry them to sleep late enough to avoid jet lag = success!

We had a lovely dinner at Piccola Pasta

Wednesday

We originally planned to spend Wednesday in Tel Aviv and go to Jerusalem on Thursday, but the weather forecast for Thursday indicated rain all day.  In the interest of not spending a day soaked and unhappy in Jerusalem, we switched our schedule around a little.  We met up bright and early and made our way to the Central Bus Station, where we hopped on a sherut to Jerusalem.

For those who don’t know what a sherut is, it’s basically a taxi van.  Prices are comparable to buses.

  • Cons: Depending on the time of day, you may have to wait a bit for it to leave. They wait until they’re full before heading off to their destination.  They also don’t offer any monthly/weekly pass, as far as I know.
  • Pros: They can be quicker than buses since they only stop to drop people off (or pick people up, when they have empty seats). They also run on Shabbat.

We made it to Jerusalem with enough time to stop in at an Aroma and grab something warm to drink before making our way to the Old City.  In the interest of seeing as much of Jerusalem as possible in a short time, we took them to the Old City via Mamilla Mall.

Mamilla Mall is a modern construction built very close to the Old City.  A pedestrian walkway cuts through its center, allowing you to stroll along while looking in at the posh stores and contemporary sculptures than line the walkway.

Although not from our trip to Jerusalem with Doug's parents, here's a picture of Mamilla Mall on the eve before Yom Kippur

Another picture of Mamilla Mall on the eve before Yom Kippur

At long last, we came upon the Old City.  While we planned to enter through Dung Gate since it was closest to the Kotel (also known as the Western Wall and the Wailing Wall), we ended up going through Yafo Gate.  Initially, I was pretty worried that I wouldn’t be able to navigate the narrow, winding, indistinguishable streets of the Old City.  We had tickets for Minarot HaKotel, a tour that takes you into the tunnels under the Old City by the Kotel.  I looked at our map and craned my neck left and right, trying to find the street signs tacked onto the sides of walls.  I quickly grew frustrated by the complete lack of any side streets on my map.  As I did so, though, I realized I didn’t need the map.

While my memory usually fails me, it was astonishingly impressive in getting us to the Kotel.  I couldn’t tell you what turns to take, what stores to look for, what streets to go down—but somehow I just remembered where to go.  Within moments, we were by the entrance to the tunnels, with a few minutes to spare.  Doug’s parents finally had a moment to look around and take in the splendor of the Old City.  The cobblestone streets, secret doorways, and little stairwells charmed them.  The Kotel itself, the likes of which they had never seen before, impressed them.

Minarot HaKotel impressed them further, providing a wealth of historical information about Jerusalem and the Kotel that put things into a contextual perspective.  It emphasized just how remarkable the second temple was, of which the Western Wall was only a fraction of a much larger piece that only served as its architectural base.  We emerged from the tunnels on Via Dolorosa, each of us a pound heavier from the incredibly educational tour.

We tried to follow the Stations of the Cross (the path Jesus took, carrying the cross, from the place of his trial and condemnation by Pontius Pilate to the site of his crucifixion and burial) for a little bit, using Fodor as our guide.  Unfortunately, even the 7th edition of Fodor’s doesn’t have a built-in GPS, so we ended up giving up somewhere between where Jesus addresses the women in the crowd and where he is stripped of his garments.

Luckily, Jesus’s final path took us right through the Arab Market, which we planned to check out anyways.  There’s really nothing like it—vendors smoking in their tiny shops, hookahs laying out left and right, lemonade and pomegranate juice being purchased by thirsty tourists, all immersed amidst countless Jerusalem-themed souvenirs for people of the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian faiths.

The Arab Market in Jerusalem

By 11:30, we were hungry from the day’s walking and sightseeing.  We went to eat at Abu Shukri, a famed hummus restaurant in the Muslim Quarter.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite as delicious as we’d heard, but the restaurant itself was pretty cool (it felt cave-like, in a way) and it was energizing enough (check out my post about Abu Shukri’s food).

Lunching at Abu Shukri in Jerusalem's Old City

From there, we went back to the Kotel.  We spent a few minutes at the wall, saying our private prayers.

The Kotel

People's notes are scattered all around on the ground--there are simply too many to fit in the wall's cracks

We then made our way to our next tour: Sharsheret HaDorot.  It took more than 5000 years of Jewish history and condensed it into an itty-bitty 45-minute audiotape tour.  If that wasn’t impressive enough, the varyingly-constructed glass pillars that were representative of the many chains of Jewish history definitely were.

Glass pillars representing the first generations of Jews at Sharsheret HaDorot

The pillar of glass with missing pieces represents the loss of millions of Jews during the Holocaust at Sharsheret HaDorot

After the tour, we left the Old City through Dung Gate.  We made our way on foot to Mount Zion, where King David’s Tomb and the site of the last supper are located.  I don’t know about Doug or his parents, but I was shocked by the lack of large masses of tourists. I actually had trouble finding the right building (they’re in the same place) because it was so deserted. For now I’ll chalk it up to drizzly weather, which reared its cold and unavoidable head.

King David’s Tomb was tucked away in a small synagogue.  Whether King David’s remains truly lie there is debated; even so, it drew a small crowd of pious individuals who hoped to pray by the great king’s resting spot.

The half of King David's tomb in the women's part of the synagogue

With King David

Just a hop, skip, and jump to a room upstairs and we were in the room where Jesus supposedly ate his last meal.  To be honest, what intrigued me most about the room were the cats that took residence there.  One sat stoically by a golden tree sculpture while another huddled atop a light on the floor, seemingly trying to keep warm and dry despite the weather.

The room where Jesus supposedly had his last meal

A (blurry) picture of a cat sitting stoically by a golden tree sculpture in the room where Jesus supposedly ate his final meal

A cat huddled above a light in an effort to keep warm in the room where Jesus supposedly had his last meal

I was soon to envy those cats, dry (if not warm) under a roof.  Our next stop on the itinerary was Shuk Machane Yehuda, which meant we needed to take a cab, which meant we needed to go outside to hail one.  Unfortunately, many people were hailing cabs, given the terrible weather.  By the time we got one, I was uncomfortably dampened.  Tired from the day’s sightseeing so far and cold from the rain, I enjoyed the ride in a catatonic state.

We got out of the cab and made our way into the heart of the shuk, stopping at the famed bakery Marzipan on our way.  We grabbed a few rugelach before heading over to Melech HaHalva on Eitz Chaim Street.

The famed rugelach at Marzipan in Jerusalem

Doug’s mom, Patty, had been looking for a suitable, non-denominational present to bring home.  Of course, an edible gift is almost always welcomed, so she loved the idea of getting halva, a sesame-based dessert. In fact, she loved the idea so much that she bought a kilo of halva… a KILO of halva.  For anyone who’s wondering, the chunk she bought was about the size of a cantaloupe.  I’m pretty sure that’s more halva than my entire family consumes in a year.  But on the bright side, it meant she didn’t have to gift shop for anyone for the rest of the trip.

Halva options at Melech HaHalva

Our kilo of halva in tow, we went to our second Aroma for the day to grab something warm to drink while recapping on the day’s activities.  We munched on our rugelach and some cookies while pouring over various maps of the city and reading little pieces out of the guidebook about things we saw during the day.

Relaxing and regrouping over coffee at the Aroma in Machane Yehuda in Jerusalem

Somewhat re-energized, somewhat exhausted, we made our way to Ima’s for dinner.  We initially planned to eat at Machneyuda, but our reservation was for 11pm and we knew our internal batteries weren’t going to last until then (if only we were the Energizer Bunny!)  Had we been able to stay busy and go to the Night Spectacular Show at the King David Tower after the shuk, maybe we would have been able to make it to a later dinner.  But unfortunately, the show was canceled because of bad weather. So, instead, we had a lovely dinner at the Kurdish/Iraqi-themed restaurant (check out my post about Ima for more details about the food), before making our way to the Central Bus Station, hopping on an intra-city bus, and heading back to Tel Aviv.

Thursday & Friday

Stay tuned and check out Doug’s upcoming post about exploring Yafo, Shuk HaCarmel, Nachalat Binyamin, Namal Tel Aviv, and Neve Tzedek!

Saturday

Saturdays in Israel can be tough if you don’t have a car.  While we could have taken a sherut somewhere, we would have probably needed to take a cab at some point… and the majority of things are closed regardless.  How lame would it be to take a sherut to Jerusalem only to see empty streets?  Or getting to Haifa just to find out that you can’t tour the Baha’i gardens on Saturday?

So I decided to keep things local and stay in Tel Aviv.  HaTachana (literally “The Station”) was open on Saturday, so I figured it’d be a good opportunity to check it out.  Doug and I had never been, but were curious about it: it was a 49-acre compound just a mile away from us, after all, and we hardly even remembered hearing about it in passing.

HaTachana was once the terminus of the railway line that traveled between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.  Its use was discontinued in 1948 and the station fell into disrepair.  In 2005, the renovation process began; by 2010, it had been restored to its former glory.  While there is still an old-school train car outside the station and another one just behind it that you can watch a short, informational show about the station on, HaTachana is no longer in operation as a train station.  Instead, it is a shopping complex full of fun stores to roam about in aimlessly.

Upon arriving, we went straight into what I imagine used to be the main building at the station.  It was restored and converted into a café/souvenir shop and had an array of Tel Aviv souvenirs.

The entrance building at HaTachana which now serves as a souvenir shop

Another model train at HaTachana in Tel Aviv

Once we finished perusing the gift shop, we entered the shopping complex area.  It was smaller than expected (definitely not 49 acres, although I’m thinking not all of it is a shopping complex and we may not have seen it all), but was incredibly quaint.  Stone paths led to posh stores with glass-front windows, which sat across from stores tucked away into stone edifices.  It almost felt like we were in a small, medieval village gone modern.

My favorite store was what I now call the Dumb-Dumb store.  Why, you ask? Because it makes you feel dumb.  The store carries countless puzzles and mind-exercising games and gadgets.  Upon entering, they give you puzzles to solve. While at first you may think there’s no way two pieces of wood that combine into a pyramid could stump you, you soon realize you’re not as smart as you thought.  I could probably have spent hours trying out all the different puzzles… but unfortunately, time was short (and, as I later discovered on a separate visit there, the staff doesn’t take well to people trying the puzzles just for fun—if you aren’t going to buy anything, they won’t let you loiter long).

We had brunch planned at Manta Ray, a restaurant along the tayelet that Doug and I often ran by.  I’m not sure if it was the obviously amazing view, the renown of the restaurant, or the achingly delicious smell we inhaled every time we ran by, but we knew we wanted to take Doug’s parents there (check out my post about Manta Ray for more details about the food).

Manta Ray in Tel Aviv

After a meal enjoyed overlooking the tumultuous Mediterranean Sea on an overcast day, we strolled north along the tayelet.  Doug’s dad had some leftover seafood from his meal, which we took to go in the hopes of feeding stray cats.  We told Doug’s parents about the monster cat countless times during their short trip and were hoping they would be able to see him.  Unfortunately, the monster cat was not in his usual area (he was probably busy ordering his henchmen to off disloyal cats).

Nevertheless, we weren’t disappointed.  Cats crawled out of every crevice and nook along the tayelet once they smelled the food.  They descending on Doug before he even managed to open the leftovers box and dump the contents on the ground.  While several cats went for the food once it hit the ground, one of the monster cat’s henchmen (black and white like the monster cat, but smaller) batted them away.  He feasted alone while the other cats watched anxiously.  Three black cats ringed him, waiting for their turn, while the rest of the cat colony sat further away.  Once the henchman cat had his fill, the three black cats had their turn (I like to think of them as the second most powerful clan in the colony, often challenging the monster cat’s clan).

The cats of the Tel Aviv tayelet colony were racing to get a taste of the seafood leftovers

With our new perspective on cat dynamics, we continued our walk along the tayelet.  We stopped for a cup of tea at a café along the beach.   While there, we replanned our evening.  We initially planned to eat dinner at Raphael’s, but we decided that our big breakfast, followed shortly after by Manta Ray, left us far too full for a big sit-down dinner.  We decided to grab pizza for dinner instead.  Doug and I promptly concluded that HaPizza would be an excellent place for a light pizza dinner, so we began our stroll down Bograshov.  We enjoyed a nice, quite dinner while reminiscing over the previous days’ events and lamenting that their stay was so short—Sunday was going to be their last day in Israel.  We couldn’t believe how quickly the time flew by.

After dinner, Doug’s mom was hankering for dessert.  Remembering that a well-known ice cream store was just down the block, on the way to Doug’s parents’ hotel, made ice cream the natural conclusion.

We walked over to Vaniglia and enjoyed a fair number of samples before picking our sweet treats.  It was a lovely way to end our last full evening together in Tel Aviv.

Sunday

Check out Doug’s upcoming post about the visit to the Rabin Memorial and the Eretz Yisrael Museum, the final destinations his parents visited before returning to Ben Gurion Airport for their flight home!

Top 5 Sabich in Tel Aviv

Despite my Iraqi roots, I only recently discovered the wonder of sabich.  What is sabich, you ask? A pita stuffed with fried eggplant, hard-boiled eggs, hummus, tahini, Israeli salad, amba (a spicy pickled mango paste), and parsley.  Some places even include a potato.  It was invented by Iraqi Jews who fled anti-Semitic violence in the 1940s and 1950s.  It is traditionally eaten on Shabbat, when no cooking is allowed, as the ingredients can be prepared in advance.  In recent years it has also become a popular Israeli fast-food item.  But sabich isn’t just about a combination of specific ingredients, it’s also about how it’s constructed.  Here are the top five places in Tel Aviv that have mastered the craft of sabich making.

The majority of photographs (aka all the good ones) were taken by the very talented Samantha Bearman.  Check out her site!

Sabich Tchernichovsky
Tchernichovsky 2, Tel Aviv
Sunday-Thursday (10:00-20:30), Friday (10:00-15:30), Saturday (closed)
17 shekels

While on the more expensive end for sabich, Sabich Tchernichovsky is definitely worth the extra few shekels.  This hole-in-the-wall sabich joint makes sabich so delicious that it rivals my grandmother’s.  From the moment you walk in, you know you’re in good hands.  Despite the ever-existent line, the employees take their time constructing each and every sabich.  Each ingredient is layered artfully in the perfect pita, providing the ideal combination of flavors in every bite.  The delicious eggplant is thin and crispy, packing a flavorful kick with its unique and unidentifiable seasoning.  It combines well with the soft creaminess of the boiled egg and pickled flavor of the amba.  Sabich Tchernichovsky also includes red cabbage, a wonderfully crunchy addition to the stuffed pita.  You also have the option of ordering your sabich with a cheese that is both gentle and tart, balancing the smoky eggplant and flavorful egg yolk.

Carefully constructing my sabich. Photo by Samantha Bearman.

Masterfully constructed sabich. Photo by Samantha Bearman.

Unique feature: They have a sign behind the counter that reads, “No sale of sabich without eggplant”—they’re obviously serious about their sabich but they still have a sense of humor.

Their “No sale of sabich without eggplant” sign.  Photo by Samantha Bearman.

Added perk: You can get your sabich in a whole-wheat pita for only a shekel more.

Ovadia’s Sabich
Rashi 22, Tel Aviv
Sunday-Thursday (10:00-22:00), Friday (10:00-1 hour before Shabbat)
16 shekels (sabich), 20 shekels (sabich and lemonade)

Ovadia’s Sabich. Photo by Samantha Bearman.

Located on a quiet side street off of King George, Ovadia’s Sabich feels like a secret treasure.  The walls are painted a deep blue, the woodwork is colored pizza-shop red, and a doorway leading to the kitchen is built within a brick frame, creating an atmosphere that feels like a relaxing bar where you’d go to grab a warm slice of pizza and a cold beer, but way cleaner.  Despite its reminiscence of a great local pizza place, Ovadia’s Sabich deals in incredible Iraqi food only.

The nice guy at Ovadia’s Sabich, constructing an amazing sabich. Photo by Samantha Bearman.

Their sabich is constructed in a surprisingly thin pita that, even more surprisingly, stayed together quite well and allowed you to really taste all of the ingredients.  The eggplant had a great texture and was layered in with crunchy, fresh salad and drizzled with tahini.  Not only was the flavor of the sabich itself great, but the aftertaste was amazing, too!  With a bar full of stools inside, a few tables outside, and an incredibly friendly staff, I have no doubt that Ovadia’s Sabich gets very busy during rush hours.

Sabich from Ovadia’s Sabich. Photo by Samantha Bearman.

Unique feature: They make delicious fresh lemonade and offer a sabich-lemonade combo for 20 shekels.
Added perk: They have well-seasoned and perfectly-cooked vegetable ktzitzot (little fried vegetable patties).

Ktzitzot from Ovadia’s Sabich. Photo by Samantha Bearman.

Sabich Frishman
Frishman 42, Tel Aviv
Sunday-Thursday (until midnight), Friday (until an hour before Shabbat), Saturday (opens an hour after Shabbat)
18 shekels (sabich with cheese)

Sabich Frishman

Sabich Frishman tends to be the first place people recommend for sabich.  If lines and smell give any hint as to quality, it’s hardly a surprise why.  My first sabich ever was actually from Sabich Frishman—if my writing this piece now doesn’t clue you in on how quickly I subsequently fell in love with sabich and how amazing Sabich Frishman must be, I hope it’s now clear.

Odds and ends at Sabich Frishman

Despite the ever-growing line behind me, the staff had all the patience in the world in putting together my sabich and talking to me about the ingredients.  I watched as the guy behind the counter masterfully stuffed my pita with amba, hummus, salad, parsley, cabbage, egg, cheese and of course, eggplant.  There’s a super tiny seating area for those who wish to devour their sabich while they’re fresh, but it’s always crowded.  We opted to take our sabich home, where we probably ended up eating just as quickly since it was just so darn good.  The texture of the crunchy eggplant with smooth hummus was fantastic and the flavorful egg yolk, fresh salad, and cool cheese only made it better.  The tangy amba gave each bite a refreshing and addictive kick, making it impossible to put down.

Mid-sabich construction

Sabich from Sabich Frishman

Unique feature: Its location is fantastic.  If, like us, you’d prefer not to wait for a table, you could certainly walk along the beautiful tree-lined Dizengoff Street and enjoy watching people as they dart in and out of the countless stores.
Added perk: Falafel Frishman is located right next door. So, if you’re with someone who would like both sabich and falafel (because let’s be serious, no one would prefer falafel over sabich), you’re all set.

HaKosem
Shlomo HaMelech 1, Tel Aviv
Sunday-Thursday (10:00-23:00)
18 shekels

HaKosem. Photo by Samantha Bearman.

A larger establishment on the corner of King George and Shlomo HaMelech, HaKosem serves up falafel and sabich and has a considerable seating area.  Their pita-construction station had huge heaps of tomatoes, cabbage, pickles, and salad.  After we placed our orders, the staff gave us all a free falafel ball.  We had heard about their amazing falafel, and it didn’t disappoint.  We munched on the warm, crispy, delicious falafel, excited to see if their sabich was as good.

Free falafel balls at HaKosem. Photo by Samantha Bearman.

For a place whose name means “The Wizard”, their sabich was indeed enchanting—it was full-flavored, with a great balance of all of the traditional sabich ingredients.  Unlike in most sabich, you could really taste the parsley in this one.  The addition of tangy pickles really put the pita over the top.

Sabich construction. Photo by Samantha Bearman.

Sabich from HaKosem. Photo by Samantha Bearman.

Unique feature: HaKosem put falafel in their sabich.  While I prefer my sabich without, so as to better taste the eggplant, egg, and amba flavors, their falafel is quite tasty.
Added perk: Seating.  Of the sabich establishments in Tel Aviv, HaKosem best combines a large, uncrowded setting with great sabich.

Falafel Gina
22 Schocken, Tel Aviv (they also recently opened another branch on King George off Allenby)
Sunday – Friday (10:00 – 17:30)
072-240-1392
16 shekels in a pita, 21 shekels in a laffa or baguette, 24 shekels in a plate, 10 shekels for a mini
http://www.falafelgina.com/

Falafel Gina

Falafel Gina is a relatively large sabich-enjoyment spot. There are tables both inside and outside and it’s always busy.  Despite the red-yellow sidewalk paint that indicates no parking by the curb, cars park precariously all around the restaurant while patrons quickly order their meals.  While named for its falafel, the sabich here is solid in more ways than one.  Its flavor was good and the pita held up, despite tight ingredient packing.  The eggplant was very creamy and had tons of body.

Sabich from Falafel Gina

Unique feature: They dress up the falafel balls they give out with a dollop of tahini and parsley so it looks a little like a head with hair.
Added perk: The staff isn’t just friendly, but they’re also incredibly entertaining.  The guy who put together our order put on a show of miscellaneous antics throughout our meal.

The staff at Falafel Gina really put on a show for us

View the locations of the Top 5 Sabich Restaurants in Tel Aviv here!

The Strangest, Least Enjoyable Hummus I’ve Ever Eaten

Abu Dhabi
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Hummus
Not Kosher
81 King George
03-525-9090
Sunday – Thursday (11:00 – 12:00)
Friday (10:00 – 5:00)
Saturday (11:00 – 12:00)

After spending four months living near Abu Dahbi hummus and hearing tales of its glorious hummus, Doug and I figured we should check it out before moving out of Tel Aviv to Nof Yam.  Although we had leftovers in our fridge that needed to be eaten before we moved, we intentionally went out to eat dinner.  To be honest, I wish we hadn’t.

The restaurant is Rastafarian themed, complete with tie-dye color-schemes, Bob Marley photos, and hippie-esque waiters.  The staff was incredibly friendly, and, sensing our indecisiveness, let us sample some fresh hummus mashoosha.

Abu Dhabi

At Abu Dhabi, you can purchase a used book for 20 shekels. Saving the world, one recycled book at a time.

What is hummus mashoosha, you ask? It’s hot chickpeas mixed with garlic, lemon, and tahini.  The warm hummus had a tangy taste from the lemon and a nice bite from the chunks of garlic.  There was just enough tahini for the flavor, but not too much to overwhelm the hummus.  The chickpeas were super soft and disintegrated into the hummus once it touched your tongue.  It had a grainy porridge texture I’ve never experienced in hummus before, which set it apart from all other hummus.  All in all, though, it was a rather plain dish.  Unique, but plain.

Hummus mashoosha at Abu Dhabi

After much contemplation, we decided to order the plain hummus.  The other offerings were intriguing, but none sounded quite as good as regular hummus.

While we waited for our order, we munched on some olives.  Unfortunately, they were of the bitter and sour variety.  I love olives, but I prefer those that are meaty and easy to bite, not the type that are tough and thin.  Abu Dahbi’s were much the latter.  They also tasted alcoholic, in a way.

Pickles and olives at Abu Dhabi

Our hummus arrived, beautifully arranged with a handful of whole chickpeas, a hard-boiled egg splayed out, and paprika, parsley, and olive oil sprinkled on top.  Sadly, the dish didn’t taste as good as it looked.  The whole chickpeas were firmer than those in the hummus mashoosha, but were entirely tasteless.  The hummus itself was incredibly creamy, like a yogurt.  It was so smooth that it seemed airy and insubstantial.  As the hummus-loving daughter of Israeli hummus lovers who are the children of Sephardic hummus makers, I’ve eaten a ton of hummus in my lifetime—Abu Dahbi’s hummus did not taste like any I’d ever eaten before.   By the second, confused bite, I missed the grainy texture I’m accustomed to in hummus.  Whatever we had in front of us just didn’t seem like hummus.  To add some flavor and excitement to the dish, we mixed in some schkug they gave us on the side.  It was hotter than schkug usually is, but the creamy egg yolk was able to cool the burn.

Regular hummus at Abu Dhabi

I left Doug to finish the hummus.  He wasn’t a huge fan of what he considered chickpea-flavored yogurt, but with the schkug and a pita, it was filling enough.  When he finished (which for once in his hummus-eating life didn’t mean wiping the plate clean), the waitress brought us espresso shots.  We sipped them, spending the time trying to figure out how Abu Dahbi made such (overly) smooth hummus.  The espresso was strong and flavorful and, contrary to most espressos from my perspective, drinkable.

While the hummus definitely didn’t satisfy our hummus cravings, we were happy that the bill was only 21 shekels.  Cheap, if not good.

Abu Dhabi

Vaniglia

Vaniglia
http://www.vaniglia.co.il/
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Ice Cream
Not Kosher
33 Bograshov
For other locations, see site
03-525-2545
Sunday-Saturday (11:00 – 12:00)

Vaniglia tempted us for a long time.  But for a plethora of reasons (we had ice cream at home, it was too late, we had just eaten meat and couldn’t eat dairy for another few hours, it was too cold out), we never went.  Not only did we walk by countless times, but we even went in a few times and eyed up the numerous ice cream options.  Only when Doug’s parents were visiting and his mom wanted something sweet after our HaPizza dinner did we finally get past just thinking about getting ice cream at Vaniglia.

I can’t remember how many flavors I tasted or how many I wanted to order, but I do remember the lucky ones Doug and I did end up picking: white chocolate with chocolate chips, cinnamon, and the 10 spice. While they were all absolutely amazing, the 10 spice was hands down one of the best ice cream flavors I’d ever eaten.  But, just like I did when eating my ice cream, I’ll save the best for last.

The white chocolate with chocolate chips was simple, but delicious.  The ice cream wasn’t too sweet, which was a refreshing change from the usual, saccharine ice creams found in Israeli supermarkets (we’d actually heard this somewhat implausible fact: Israeli ice creams are made using the same recipes as American ice creams… but have double the sugar).  The chocolate pieces kept the gentle ice cream exciting.

The cinnamon ice cream was cool and refreshing.  The flavor was aromatic, light, and simple.

But the star of the night was the 10 spice.  I’m not sure what 10 spices are in this ice cream (pepper, cinnamon, and chai are the three I remember from the server’s description), but it was utterly fantastic.  You could smell the spices (although my not-so-finely tuned nose couldn’t identify them), which were surprisingly gentle in their complexity.

Before we knew it, we had finished our ice creams and the evening.  Doug’s parents made their way back to their hotel as Doug and I headed home to our apartment (which we have since moved from), lauding the 10 spice ice cream and lamenting our upcoming move away from its origin, Vaniglia.