Time Out Israel - Sept 2010
Check out page 88 for my article on Jewish food in Tel Aviv. Here's the original copy:
Jews on plate
Eater Ari Miller hits up most of the Jewish food restaurants in Tel Aviv so you don't have to. That's not to say you shouldn't eat Jew food, just not so much, cause it's so very heavy.
The category alone is highly suspect. Jewish Food. Cuisine, from the street to haute, is not something for which the Jews are renowned. We're good at math, science and money and bad at drinking and avoiding national trauma. We gave the world matza and we have been punished accordingly.
Jewish food refers to what we nicked from the Eastern Europeans. And rightfully so. They owed us for all those pogroms and genocides and taxation without representation. This means chopped liver, gefilte fish, ikra, brisket, stuffed spleen, kneidle, kreplah, kishke and that all-glorious sabbath meal, chulent.
Often, upon mentioning my intent to eat my way through the Jew food restaurants of Tel Aviv, I was met with the query, “What about Arab-Jewish food”? To which I would reply, that doesn't exist. Food brought here by the Arab-Jews is always referred to by its geographical origins: Moroccan food, Tunisian food, Egyptian food and you get the idea.
First up on this culinary trail through the transplanted shtetle is Shmulik Cohen. Never, since my culinary awakening that began with food writing and continues with chef's training, have I had any regard for any kosher restaurant. Aside from catering, kosher is one of the worst words one can use to describe food. Yet, here we are. This glatt kosher institution was the best of the bunch. It makes sense, that if kosher's gonna be good, it should come from the grassroots; not from some perverted French menu.
Located on the Southern end of Rehov Herzle since it's beginnings as a workers kiosk in 1936, Shmulik Cohen engulfs you in a world of Jewish glory that makes you wonder if the Hasmoneans really had anything to offer beyond fried dough and bubbameises. The walls are plastered with brick-a-brack befitting a Semitic TGI Fridays. Were TGI Fridays any place that I'd ever want to be. There's a Kadishman on the wall, pictures of all the Tel Aviv branja of yesteryear - poets, writers, artists and musicians who'd mix with politicians, policemen and those ubiquitous security-types, who'd all gather at 6:30 in the morning, along with Shmulik, to start their day with some vodka. Their spirit still haunts the place and it makes you smile.
Food was served to us by Tomer, Shmulik's grandson, and prepared for us by Tomer's mom, Shmulik's daughter. This is a family business that has been preparing the same recipes since day one. And they're good recipes. There was shmaltz, that goose fat in lieux of butter, unseen at any other establishment. There was marinated herring and herring (NIS 28), both sporting the most delicate flesh and taste reminiscent of my Mommom's (my maternal grandmother) offering of my youth. The egg salad “seasoned” with grivalach (NIS 27) was so surprising for it's similarity to bacon and eggs. I realized that I'll never make egg salad again without some sort of fried meat product.
Let me say a word about gefilte fish. This is a disgusting food item and ordering it is on par with a diagnosis of psychopathy. The one served at Shmulik Cohen (NIS 24) was the tastiest of all sampled, but still, I just didn't “get it”. The reason, I'll supply, is that it is a dish made from carp, one of the least tastiest fish. If you've ever had superb gefilte, most likely it was made from cod, which changes everything.
My dining buddy and I also sampled the kreplach soup (NIS 32), the broth of which was so Jewish it's on par with ritual male circumcision. For our main dish we split the chulent and kishke (NIS 65), the most authentic I've had in town. We washed everything down with the homemade lemon vodka, also available by the bottle, complete with campy label, making the perfect gift for any kitsch-loving alcoholic.
Next up is Cafe Batia. Opened in 1941, this place felt most like walking into an American-Jewish Deli. Immediately I wished for my Mommom's presence. I got the feeling she'd really dig the spot. Starting with the ikra (NIS 21) it was nicely creamy but lacking in that wonderful fishy goodness that is the whole point of the stuff. The chopped liver (NIS 19) here was the best we sampled. Though it's usually more ground than chopped, at Batia it at least maintains some if its integrity. The gefilte (NIS 19) still had the marks of the hand it was formed in. Apropos my earlier statement, at least this dish conjured up some romantic notions of an actual human preparing it with love. On weekends, the place fills up to capacity with scenesters and oldsters clamoring for spots to dine on chulent. During the winters homemade corned beef and roast beef are available, for which I'll return.
Kiton is another establishment like the others. Opened in 1945, it's roots are also in a kiosk. Like Cafe Batia, it is not kosher, meaning open on weekends and milk products available but not necessarily mixed with the meat. We started with the kneidle soup (NIS 28), disappointing in how dry the kneidle was. The ikra (NIS 26) was the real treat, creamy and fishy and served with a fresh and fluffy mini-challah bread. Here was available stuffed spleen (NIS 29), a dish I love and happily ate. It was topped with some wonderfully deep-fried onions, also found on the chopped liver (NIS 26), not as good as the spleen.
The atmosphere at Kiton is what makes it most special. Upon entering I had the feeling of being back at my great aunt Edie and uncle Murray's apartment for Passover dinner, where I first fell in love with chopped liver lovingly prepared by the former. The art was also the same as that apartment of my early youth, consisting of Judaica kitsch that I'll never really get outside of nostalgia.
Our main course was chulent with kishke and meat (NIS 54), which lined our ribs nicely on a hot Saturday afternoon. The highlight was the apricot soda, mixed on premises and served in an old-timey, rubber-corked glass bottle.
Elimelec was the least exciting of all the places sampled. Though as far as atmosphere goes, this place rocks. A rather masculine environment, Elimelec is known as much for their slow-poured Goldstar as for its Jewish food. The theory behind this pour, which resembles that of a stout, is that the gas is dispensed in such a way that the imbiber can intake a few more beers than otherwise. Also, this was how it was done with the hand-pump taps of yesteryear. These days it's more of a gimmick, albeit a romantic one. The only point on food here is avoid the chopped liver and, if you order the chulent, get it without the meat, which was so dry it bordered on impressive. An interesting note, this place is kosher, but certified through an alternative organization that is not beholden to the state sanctioned rabbinate.
Honorable mention goes to the fish restaurant Hashaked. Opened in 1964 as a cross between a Greek taverna and Jewish food, it still gives nod to it roots with an awesome egg salad – brown and meaty, chocked full of friend onions, two amazing herrings – pickled or cured, an ikra worth eating if you're there, a mediocre chopped liver and a gefilte that you should order due to psychopathy.
Then there's La Maison, on page 96. If you haven't been there, get there. If you keep kosher, stop it! And get there. Original copy:
I am in love with two men and their meats. Specifically, I'm talking about Ben and Ilan over at La Maison, their new delicatessen where everything is made in house by their skilled hands. The two mastered their craft at the wonderful Yoezer Wine Bar, where they served as the previous head chefs. Opened three months ago, walking in is the perfect place to escape the heat – their a/c is always on full blast – or to escape the mundane local deli scene. From their copa to their bacon to the pickled herring to their sauerkraut, you will taste here what you can find no where else in Tel Aviv. La Maison is not just about buying your meats, be it the boudin noir or the suckling veal pate, and heading home. Rather, sit at the counter or an outdoor table and enjoy a plate of their charcuterie in advance of deciding what you take with. Or have a sandwich accompanied by a glass or bottle of Belgian beer or organic cider. Do yourself a favor and try the smoked pork neck in fennel seed. This is my favorite, having been whisked away in mind to the Italian market in South Philly. Totally awesome. Prices, of course, are not as cheap as the industrial equivalents, should there even be a local equivalent. But they're also not outrageous. NIS 35 for the best sandwich you can get in town is more than fair. Homemade sausages range from NIS 62-96/kilo. Cold cuts are NIS 12-28/100g. And, you'll have satisfaction in your stomach and soul, knowing you've supported one of the greatest food endeavors in Tel Aviv yet. Ari Miller
La Maison Rehov Tchernikofski 1, 03-620-6022 Open Sunday-Thursday noon till 20:00 and Friday from 10:00 till 16:00. Plans are to extend hours till later in the evening, coming soon.