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Middle East & Africa

Jerusalem Restaurant Report (Part II)


Restaurants & Bars Middle East & Africa

Jerusalem Restaurant Report (Part II)

Indy 67 | | Jan 9, 2009 02:28 AM

The following review of Eucalyptus was first posted as a reply to someone else's review of the restaurant. For the sake of completeness, I'm including my reply along with new information: my review of Darna, our remaining restaurant in Jerusalem, and some places for lunch. All are kosher.

I'll second the high praise for Eucalyptus. We ate there twice on our recent trip to Jerusalem.

I have a bit of a history with this restaurant. I was first introduced to chef Moshe Bassan's cooking over a decade ago when he gave a lecture/demonstration about the foods of the Bible at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. The evening ended with dinner being served to the lecture crowd of more than 100 attendee in the KenCen restaurant (prepared by the restaurant's chefs following Bassan's recipes). The food wasn't fabulous since it had been prepared/served under banquet conditions, but the promise was there.

In 2000, I visited Jerusalem and had my first chance to dine at Eucalpytus. Delish!

At first, when we went to the restaurant this time, I wasn't sure I was in the same restaurant . The Biblical focus was the same, but the setting/location had changed from a large modern retail/office complex evoking ancient construction to a funky, slightly shabby space on Horkanos. I don't know what prompted the change, but I think it was an improvement! The more intimate space and the homey decorations in the new location are a better fit with the restaurant's personality. The hostess, executive chef, and, when in town, Bassan himself are constantly circling the restaurant chatting with guests and showing the herbs and other ingredients that are the foundation of the cuisine.

Our first meal there, we ordered the middle-priced tasting menu. Actually, tasting menu is a misnomer, since I think of tasting meals as offering miniscule portions intended to introduce diners to the full range of a chef's talent. This meal was a multi-course extravaganza of food.

I can remember many of the dishes, but far from all.

The meal began with a trio of soups served in demi-tasse cups including Jerusalem artichoke soup and lentil soup. Then, we were served small plates of approximately six mezze. I can't remember too many of these since they were overtaken by a later round of mezze. (We loved the potatoes with parsley and the black-eyed peas in the second round of mezze. I would never have ordered either of those dishes if I had been choosing a la carte, but I'm sure glad we got a chance to taste these dishes.) I know we were also served stuffed Jersualem sage leaves, eggplant in pomegranate syrup, a portion of Ma'aluba from the communal preparation (a chicken, vegetable and rice casserole), lamb over smoked green wheat, and a beef dish from someone's grandmother's kitchen that was heady with spice and fruit. Dessert was the weakest part of the meal. A bottle of red wine and pitchers of lemonade and pomegranate juice accompanied the meal.

As fabulous as our dining experience was, I had one small disappointment. The figs stuffed with chicken in tamarind sauce that I had adored from the lecture and my years-ago visit was not part of the meal. As we were waiting for the check, the hostess bustled over and said that the chef was making some stuffed figs for us. Major dilemma! We couldn't eat another bite, but those figs sure are good. We asked the chef to stop the cooking and we made a second reservation. At this meal, we ordered a la carte. We had a lamb preparation, again from someone's mother's or grandmother's home and an individual portion of the ma'aluba. (This wasn't as good as the portion from the communal batch. The vegetables that form the upside-down crust hadn't gotten as caramelized.)

Here's a link to the restaurant's web site. The photograph of the restaurant on the home page is the exterior of the old location.

Our final restaurant in a week of good eating was Darna, a well-reviewed restaurant elsewhere on this board. We agree with that verdict. The atmospheric decoration, costumes of the servers, music and exotic spicing produced a memorable evening. (Of course, it didn't hurt that we were seated next to a former student of mine, now studying at the Weitzman Institute. We began chatting with the young couple at the next table in the way that travelers often do and realized the connection although easily six-seven years had gone by.


We ordered the lower price of the two fixed-price menus. If I recall correctly, the diner chooses a pastilla (from among three choices), a couscous or tagine (from among many options), and a dessert (from among four choices). Otherwise harira soup and a profusion of salads come automatically.

The salads are served on a tray that is placed in the center of the table on a rotating stand for easy access. Each table, whether occupied by two or six diners, receives the same 24" diameter tray loaded with the same-size portions of many, many mezze. The tomato salad (Matboucha) was spiced with so much chili that I found it painful to do more than taste. Otherwise, the mezze were really appealing. For what it's worth, the harira soup course could have used a bit more harissa (a spicy-hot condiment) so I found the extreme level of heat in the tomato salad surprising.

My husband and I shared the fish and vegetable pastillas. He had the lamb-only tagine (as opposed to the lamb with fruit option which turns out to be prunes only) and I had the Cornish hen with olives and lemons version. We were each happy with our choices.

After this extravaganza of food, we selected the dessert of orange and grapefruit slices. Much richer and more complex options were available, but this was the perfect ending for us.

Brief lunch mentions:
We ate lunch twice at Quarter Cafe, a kosher restaurant overlooking the Kotel. As I've already mentioned, this places gets dismissive mentions in the main stream guidebooks, but we don't understand the put-downs. I wasn't thrilled with the feta and spinach stuffed blintz I ate at the first lunch, but the salads accompanying the crepe were delicious. The problem was that the crepe was a heavy, dense version and at the ends where the blintz was many layers thick, the ratio of crepe to filling was way off. Easy solution: I ate the section of the crepe that had a better ratio and certainly didn't go hungry with all the accompanying salads. My husband's baked layered eggplant dish was extra-ordinary. We both ordered eggplant the second visit.

I'm going to need help naming the place where we ate lunch one day visiting the sites in greater Jerusalem. It's located in a building across the valley from the Old City. (There are tables on a terrace that would be a lovely place to eat in warmer weather. Even in the sun, our winter weather was just a bit too cool to take advantage of the incredible view.) You can see the portion of walls of the Old City that I believe is close to the Jaffa Gate. I KNOW that you can see the museum which houses the pulley system that the resistance used to re-supply the people trapped in the Old City during the siege of '48. On the grounds of the museum housing the restaurant are the remains of some of the oldest graves in existence. If any of these clues trigger a museum or restaurant name, that would be useful for others since the restaurant was appealing.

At any rate, the restaurant space in the museum proper is temporarily occuped by a restaurant whose own premises are being removated. This arrangement will last for a couple of years. I ordered tomato soup and a salad. I was served a bowl of tomato soup that was large enough for two people to make a whole meal from the portion and for four people to share with a salad. The tomato soup had a nice kick to it, but it wasn't so spicy that eating it was unpleasant. The salad was yet another excuse to eat the lovely fresh Israeli produce. Still, the dominant impression was one of unnecessarily large portions.

On a visit to Gush Etzion, we ate a nice lunch at a cafe run by a near-by winery. I don't know the name of the winery. I ordered the soup and salad combination. Pumpkin soup this time. Again, delicious food and too-large portions.

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