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Report on some nice places in Israel

queenscook | Jan 3, 201107:26 PM

Thought I’d report on some very nice places I ate at on my recent trip to Israel.

The first, Ryu, is an Asian fusion place on Emek Refaim that is in the same spot as the previous Asian fusion place on Emek Refaim, Yo-Ja. I had actually liked Yo-Ja better, but Ryu wasn’t bad. My husband and I shared two main courses, Chicken tempura and a steak, and both were very nice. The starter we had, steamed dumplings, was tasty (though they really didn’t hold a candle to the ones Yo-Ja used to have). The most interesting course was dessert. We shared a very tasty banana tempura, which I think came with some parve ice cream. The other dessert we ordered was a special, and I don’t recall the name, but it was quite interesting. I couldn’t exactly picture what it was going to be when the waitress described it as cake and sorbet in tempura batter, but what it turned out to be was something that looked like a sushi roll. In other words, the sorbet was spooned down the middle of a flat base of cake, rolled up, dunked in batter, then fried. It was cut into pieces, like a sushi roll would be. The hot and cold together was interesting, but truthfully, I didn’t like it as much as I thought I would. The banana tempura was better. (Now that I read this back, I realize how much of our dinner that night was tempura-ed!)

The next was a small place called Margot’s Cafe, located on Kibbutz Tzora, which is a ten-minute ride from Beit Shemesh. I’m surprised, considering how many Americans live in the Beit Shemesh area, at how I’ve rarely, if ever, seen a mention here of any restaurant in that area of Israel. Anyway, we were treated to brunch there on Friday morning, so I don’t know how it functions the rest of the time, but at that time, there was no menu . . . just a one-price buffet with a wide variety of Israeli brunchy type things. I’ll try to remember as many of the things available as I can, but since I did not try everything, I may forget some. First there was a small table which had a granola mix, some flake-type cereal, yogurt, and a big bowl of a fruit mix. The main table had many types of cheese, a couple of salads, quiche, premade omelette-type eggs (but with no filling, just some herbs mixed in), tuna, sweet potatoes in some type of sweet sauce, grilled veggies, breads, muffins, spreads including pesto, a sun-dried tomato spread, an olive spread, jams, date honey, butter, and possibly more that I just can’t recall right now. There was a dessert table that included three types of cake: carrot, chocolate, and a third which was good, but I can’t recall what it was, as well as slices of halva. A cold drink table had many carafes of lemonade (I believe it was freshly squeezed), orange juice (also freshly squeezed, I think), and water. The hot drink table had a variety of instant coffees (can’t be specific since I don’t drink coffee), and they must have had some sort of espresso or cappuchino machine, because my hosts were drinking some sort of coffee with some frothy top to it (forgive my total ignorance of the coffee culture!). There were a couple types of tea bags available, as well as a pre-sweetened pot of a homemade herbal tea mixture. One of the waitresses brought around glasses of this latter tea to the tables so all could try it, and once I drank that small glass, I found more at the hot beverage table. I think there was another pot of prepared tea, which I imagine was regular, but I won’t swear to that. My husband had been there this past summer, and he said he ordered off a menu, so I don’t know if this buffet is just a Friday thing or not, but it was very nice. I think it was 69 shekels a person, which currently converts to $19.50.

Our favorite place of these three new (to us) places is the restaurant of the Gush Etzion winery, located right outside the south gate of Alon Shvut, the site of the well-known yeshiva, “Yeshiva Har Etzion,” generally called “Gush.” My husband and I took out two girls, daughters of friends of ours, and we all tried a number of each others’ dishes, so I’ll try to mention as much as I can remember. We all shared two starters: a foccacia that came with 3 or 4 spreads (olive, pesto, sun-dried tomato, and maybe a yogurt-spread), and a marinated mushrooms & tomatoes dish. I think the marinade was balsamic-vinegar based. I don’t like mushrooms, but the tomatoes were really good. The four main courses that we had were as follows: a Thai Stir-Fry with Tofu, some sort of creamy noodle dish with cubes of sweet potatoes, a salmon and noodle dish, and Beer-Battered Fish and Chips. The latter came with so many chips that among the four of us, we didn’t even finish every last one. The fish came with Chili-Mayo, but I asked if they had some vinegar for the fish. The waitress seemed very surprised at the request, and asked in a sort of humorous/not mean-spirited way at all about whether it was an American thing. I told them that, in fact, it was actually the traditional British way to eat fish and chips. She did bring it, though, with no problem. We ordered the large serving of the fish and chips (small was 65 shekels, large 85), and it really was too much. The desserts were really excellent. I ordered a slice of chocolate mousse cake that had three layers: a dark chocolate pastry crust, the chocolate mousse layer, and a layer similar to, but not exactly, whipped cream. The size of the slice was really large, and enough that we all shared it. My husband had a dish called “Drunken Fruit,” which was fruit (mainly pears, I think) cooked in a wine sauce. This was served with a scoop of ice cream, and whipped cream. My husband didn’t want the whipped cream, so we asked for it in a bowl on the side, and the rest of us shared it on the other desserts. The girls shared a molten chocolate cake with a scoop of ice cream, but I didn’t taste it, as I had just had the same dessert at a bar mitzvah a couple of days before. It was probably of a higher quality here, but I’m just assuming. Since the place is connected with a winery, they have many wines available for tasting, but as I am not a wine lover, I didn’t try any. My husband did try a couple, though, and we bought one bottle. We also asked if they had any mevushal wine (for a gift for someone with a non-Jewish worker who lives in the house). They don’t make any mevushal wines, but said that they had a cherry liqueur that people buy for that situation. They offered us a taste, and we were so impressed that we bought two bottles: one for the gift, one for us. The meal for the four of us (not including the wine or liqueurs) came to the equivalent of $100, which I thought was extremely fair for all we got.

In all three places, by the way, the service was very friendly and helpful. They accomodated all our requests, spoke both Hebrew and English, and were just, overall, examples of excellent service.

As long as I’m mentioning a couple of restaurants in out-of-the-normal places, I’ll very briefly refer to another place out in the Gush area. I haven’t been there in a year and a half, but it’s a nice place on the grounds of the yishuv “Bat Ayin,” which is a bit farther out than Alon Shvut. It’s an absolutely beautiful place to watch sunset, if you can manage to be there at the right time and eat at an outdoor table. I don’t recall so well what the food was, but I do remember it was good enough that we ate there more than once. This place, by the way, is chalavi.

I hope I convince someone to try one or more of these places, especially the cafe of the Gush Winery.

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