Pizza Cosi

Pizza Cosi
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Italian
Kosher
46 Ben Yehuda
03-716-6432
Sunday – Thursday (11am–12am)
Friday (11am–3:30pm)

My friends and I may have ended up at Pizza Cosi on its first night open—I’m still not sure.  Either way, the group was quite happy to be seated in the attractive restaurant after roaming about the streets aimlessly, unable to settle on a place to eat.

I found the name of the restaurant to be deceptive. When I hear “Pizza Cosi,” I think of a simple pizza joint.  But don’t be fooled, the restaurant was quite lovely, with booth tables and simple décor.  The music, however, made it seem like they were trying a little too hard to be hip.

Pizza Cosi

Pizza Cosi

After we placed our orders, our oddball waiter (who looked like he must have had a second job as a mime) brought us some delicious, warm bread with a tasty olive tapenade.

Our oddball waiter…

Bread and olive tapenade

Doug and I a ordered fried goat cheese salad to start, which was delicious.  The nuggets of cheese were perfectly crispy, warm and creamy on the inside, doused with an amazing dressing.  A few juicy plum tomatoes and mushrooms that came with the cheese made the dish seem fuller, but without need.  As one of our friends commented, the fried goat cheese nuggets were “hella bomb”—they could have been a dish of their own.

Fried goat cheese salad

Our friends ordered the bruschetta antipasti, which was nothing special—doughy bread with grilled veggies.

Bruschetta antipasti

My gnocchi with Bulgarian cheese was good.  The gnocchi was light, chewy, and soft, providing a pleasantly delicate texture with each bite.  The Bulgarian cheese definitely contributed a salty touch that was just right at first, but managed to get a little overwhelming as I continued to eat.

Gnocchi with Bulgarian cheese

My friend’s Napoletana pasta was basic—a classic that wasn’t done excellently or poorly.  Meanwhile, Doug’s Pestito dish was a little lacking. It was a little too oily and could have used some cheese and, surprisingly enough, more pesto.

Napoletana pasta

Pestito pasta

Our other friend’s pasta dish, salmon fesa, was tasty.  The salmon was well cooked and had a good flavor, but the dish itself would have benefited from some spiciness.

Salmon fesa

All in all, our restaurant experience was solid.  The food was good, the waiter was incredibly attentive (perhaps because we were practically the restaurant’s only patrons), and the environment was lovely.  What they lacked, however, was diners.  I’ll chalk it up to bad publicity for the restaurant’s opening, though, and wish them more diners in the future.

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Hummus Gan Eden

Hummus Gan Eden
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Hummus, Ful
Not Kosher, Vegetarian
46 Yona Ha’Navi
03-510-2230
Saturday-Thursday (11:00-23:30)
Friday (11:00-18:00)

From the outside, Hummus Gan Eden looks like any other hummus joint in Tel Aviv: non-notable furniture, vinyl tablecloths, a small outdoor seating area, and a Coca-Cola refrigerator for drinks.  But just one look at the menu, which lists Special Hummus Darfur (consisting of egg, ful, tahini, tomato, and chickpeas) and Special Ful Darfur (egg, grated cheese, tomato, chickpeas, and onion), makes it clear that this isn’t a typical Israeli hummus restaurant.

Hummus Gan Eden

Hummus Gan Eden

Hummus Gan Eden

Hummus Gan Eden was opened in December 2009 by three Sudanese refugees, Adam, Hassan, and Muhi.   They each fled war-torn Darfur in the 2000s, making their way to Israel through Egypt.

More than five million people have been affected by the violent conflict that has overtaken Sudan since 2003.  Millions of people have been displaced and approximately 400,000 people have died as the Janjaweed, with the assistance and aid of the Sudanese government, fight against rebel guerrillas.  Genocide is ongoing in racially mixed Darfur, which is home to African peasant farmers and nomadic Arab herders; the Janjaweed are persecuting, displacing, and murdering African farmers and others in the region.  Many Darfurians have lost family and friends and have been forced to leave their nation. Homes have been torn asunder as millions have become refugees in foreign lands.

In 2007, Hassan left his hometown after the Janjaweed raided the area, burning houses and shooting people.  He survived the raid by hiding with his two brothers, but unfortunately his parents were killed during the raid.   He fled to Khartoum and then Cairo before making it to Israel with a group of Darfurian refugees.

Muhi, who also fled Darfur after an attack on his village that led to his brother’s death, lived in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum until government agents began searching for Darfurians on the run.  He moved to Egypt with his wife and lived in Cairo for 18 months before determining to make the journey to Israel on his own; he and his wife decided that she would join him later if he survived the journey.  He now lives in Tel Aviv with his wife and two children.

Adam, meanwhile, left Darfur after a Janjaweed attack destroyed his village.  His family escaped to neighboring Chad while he fled to Egypt alone, where he lived for two years.  Circumstances were difficult there, he said, and Sudanese refugees were not welcome.  He left after Egyptian soldiers killed a number of Darfurian refugees.  After running from Arab country to Arab country, he said, he decided to go to the Jewish country of Israel to seek safety.  He knew close to nothing about Israel but had heard a lot of negative things.  He expected to find warfare and fighting in Israel but found nothing of the sort.  Instead, upon his arrival in 2007, he found people who were helpful and caring.  He worked at a hotel in Eilat for a year before moving to Tel Aviv, where he worked full-time at a metal factory in Azur before opening Hummus Gan Eden with Hassan and Muhi.  While at first he continued to work full-time at the metal factory and only helped at the restaurant on Fridays and Saturdays, he currently only works the restaurant’s evening shift, spending his mornings in Ulpan.  One of his partners, Hassan, spends his mornings at the restaurant before heading to English classes.

“I am Israeli,” Adam says.  While he knew nothing of Israeli culture or history and knew no Hebrew upon his arrival, he now feels comfortable in Israel.  But, he clarified, he would never forget his past and would gladly return to Darfur when there is peace.

Adam at Hummus Gan Eden

The combination of an Israeli present and the recollections of a Darfurian past can be seen in the food at Hummus Gan Eden.  The Special Hummus Darfur combines Israeli hummus and tahini with classic Darfurian ful and cooked, tender chickpeas.  In Darfur, Adam explains, they eat cooked chickpeas during Ramadan as they’re healthy and provide much-needed energy and nutrition.  They also eat ful (mashed fava beans) like Israelis eat hummus.  Not only is it a divine combination, including a hard-boiled egg and some fresh tomato, but each element also stands wonderfully on its own.  The hummus has a perfect texture—not too creamy and not too chunky—and is served warm with paprika sprinkled over it and olive oil drizzled on top.  The ful, meanwhile, is amazing.  It has a gentle, soft flavor and is both well seasoned and textured.  I almost wished I had a whole plateful of it.

The Special Hummus Darfur combines Israeli hummus and tahini with classic Darfurian ful and cooked, tender chickpeas

Luckily, I had a plateful of something else that was delicious: Hummus Shakshuka.  Traditionally, shakshuka is a dish comprised of an egg poached in a spiced tomato sauce.  Hummus Gan Eden’s version, however, was a little different.  Rather than poach the egg, it was scrambled into the tomato sauce.  I don’t know whether that made the dish that much tastier than its poached counterpart or if it was the combination of sweet paprika and warming, earthy cumin with the refreshingly garlic undertone that did it.

Hummus Shakshuka

I was hooked.  The only thing that was missing from the meal? Darfur-Style Eggplant.  The restaurant’s eggplant dish is so good that they were out of it when I visited!

As I wiped my plates clean with a fluffy, warm pita, I finally allowed my eyes the opportunity to wander away from my food.  I was in the smaller seating area in the back of the restaurant, which, with red brick accents and an inset floral painting on one wall, had a homier and more intimate feel to it than the front space.  The overall feel of the restaurant is very relaxed, even understated.  Ultimately, the restaurant’s appearance is rather unremarkable.  The story of the restaurant’s three owners, however, who fled their homelands and now found themselves preparing Israeli-style hummus with a Darfurian twist in a country they knew nothing about only a decade ago, is nothing short of remarkable.

Special Hummus Darfur and Hummus Shakshuka

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.

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

Looks Better Than It Tastes

Manta Ray
http://mantaray.co.il/
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Seafood
Not Kosher
Along the water on Alma Beach (near Dan Panorama Hotel)
03-517-4773
Sunday-Saturday (9:00-12:00)

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.

The newly renovated exterior of Manta Ray

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.

The view from our table

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.

The interior of the restaurant

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.

Beets and toasted cheese appetizer

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).

Bread and absolutely addictive sea salt

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.

Fillet blue bream served on organic red rice with pineapple, carrot, and chili butter

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.

Sweet potato soup with ginger, cream, and sesame oil

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.

Fillet croaker served with herbs and potato puree in olive oil and lima beans in date honey and pomegranate vinaigrette

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.

How the bouillabaisee, a fish stew Marseilles style, was served

Bouillabaisee, a fish stew Marseilles style

At least the cats that lived along the tayelet seemed to thoroughly enjoy Manta Ray's seafood... here you can see them devouring the leftovers from Doug's dad's bouillabaisee

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.