Jan 30, 2011

Shoshana, By Any Other Name

By Nicholas Belzer 
Sometimes you just need to keep it simple. On a Thursday evening, I came home to a salmon steak marinating in a bowl of olive oil and red wine, bound by fresh sprigs of rosemary; bathed in rock salt. After half an hour broiling in a broken oven, that fish is cooked, enjoyed, and all is well. But is it?
 It is, after all, a Thursday evening, my liver is only mostly unsalvageable, and the bottle beckons. I have dined and now must snack, wherefore I sip (this is how I speak when my blood alcohol content approaches a civilized level – are we seeing the problem here?).
There is a gem downtown called Shoshana, which shares a wall with a local Chabad drinking association/front. Shoshana is what I call a bar hidden in plain sight: with windows positioned at the base of Shammai street, right in the smack of the city, it is accessible from a peaceful courtyard, just barely removed from the main streets, and sits above street level, overlooking the riffraff.
But the rabble does make its way in, of course. After all, this is an establishment that adorns its walls with large black and white portraits of Bob Dylan in sunglasses, silhouettes of Zeppelin, famous photographs of The Beatles, and posters that read “London’s Lyceum Ballroom Presents Harrison & Marley”. The menu displays a Rorschach inspired Bob Marley likeness on every page – this is something like the logo of the place. And still the tone is cozy, down to earth and anchored in forest greens and strong browns with black accents. More importantly, the crowd is by and large cool, and not hippie. Most importantly, they are one of three bars in Jerusalem with Sam Adams on tap, which is, obviously, itself the third greatest American brew after Yuengling and Rolling Rock. 
But just as the alcohol list is extensive, the menu itself is specialized: choose fries, or chicken nuggets, or fries and chicken nuggets. Despite some overlap between the three specialty dishes, do not be fooled – the munchies are good. I like a place where the chef doesn’t put on any airs. These ain’t pommes de frites. They are salty, greasy, crunchy, 15 shekel (not French) fries, accompanied by three dips: mayonnaise, ketchup, and an orange freckled molasses. Possibly a sweet and sour sauce. This Israeli sensibility becomes more forgivable as happy hour draws on, which is to say until 9pm. Fries, chicken nuggets and beer, these are staples of any bar, sure. But here, they are the foundation of a grease and booze swilled atmosphere.
By the smokes dispenser a postcard rack is mounted on the wall, featuring postcards with any number of disparate themes, from Christina Aguilera to Effy the lost cat. Patrons of the bar seem to take these at will and fold them into their pockets. I never saw them pay for the postcards; then again, I never saw them sober. As the soundtrack of the 70’s blast on at a respectable volume, an 18 year old Brazilian Birthrighter has stumbled in our humble corner of town. Immediately, the bartender makes clear the minimum age requirements of the place, 20 for gals, 22 for gents, and the crestfallen Brazilian saunters on ,despite the protests of two or three sympathetic revelers. 
I’ve heard good things about this bar in the past, but was hesitant to drink at a bar with such a fruity name. It’s true, and because of this I wasted a good amount of time at many unspectacular pubs in the area, at pubs coming off as poseurs, contrived and desperate for a niche. What's in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet. Shoshana, a bar called rose, is exactly that post-meal, pre-game venue, where frequently dispensed shots of arak complement an epic Sultans of Swing guitar solo to fuel a staring contest with Rorschach Bob Marley. The eats are simple, and incredibly satisfying. And though the Sam Adams tap has been replaced by a Guinness one (the Boston lager has gone the way of Arrested Development), this stead represents a haven at week’s end, not to reflect or reminisce, but to regress, in the soft light and wicked tunes of a still charming nook of downtown Jerusalem.

Jan 25, 2011

Tasting Humus for it's own Sake

By Nicholas Belzer 

The new year is going as planned, shawarma-free, as per my New Year’s resolution. It is precisely this shawarma denial which brought me to my current understanding of ‘the situation’, the implications of which we can only begin to understand, the consequences of which are potentially dire, and the reality of which is, at every turn, presented to the masses of diners as fable and hearsay only, and none dare call it conspiracy.
The situation is this: shawarma is in league with hummus. 
The evidence is circumstantial, the scene is a bar called Uganda, just a skip away from Kikar Tzion. It is a bar accessed by walking up HaChavozelet street Yaffo, and making your first right into an enclave that harbors a parking lot and a nightclub called Tza’tzua. In fact, as Uganda seems to have no sign on or around its glass window wall whatsoever, the best way to identify this place would be to go to the nightclub Tza’tzua, liquor up, stumble out at follow the light emanating from the windows of Uganda, which I’m sure has no official closing time. The distance from club to bar is roughly two and a half lifeless bodies; but this figure is only an estimate, factoring in stilettos, and with no help from the strewn about figures (the bodies were in uncooperative contortions).
Back to Uganda: this is a place that I am not wont to frequent, as it can be fairly described as a hippy place. It draws hippy crowds. It has a hippy atmosphere. There is a picture of Theodore Herzl on a wall in the corner wearing a stern face. The place is called Uganda. I only ended up here because I noticed a Beck’s on tap for 24 shekel, two for the price of one, thanks to its late happy hour (until 9:30pm). I was parched. I was not lured in by the live DJ on the premise mixing Britney Spears with Rick Ross – but I was concerned.
The point is, here I am, in such an odd crowd, enjoying a Beck’s in Jerusalem, when inexplicably I need hummus. Why now do I need hummus, I have never eaten hummus for its own sake, after all, I’m a tehina guy. Hummus is ever present in this country, to a disconcerting degree. I tried to blend in once by buying a tub (or vat) of the stuff at the market, but it just seemed forced when I ate it. As a condiment mixed with meat or whatever, understandable. As a meal, criminal.
Long story short, the patrons are ordering plates of hummus en masse and this time, the hummus looks pretty appetizing. I order, the same shaggy chap who poured my beer is now on a side board pouring stuff into a plate and in 3 minutes, I’m looking at a fine paste of hummus, as if the chickpeas were taken to mortar and pestle, it was a creamy kind of grinding process that took place it seemed. Olive oil was drizzled over it, whole chickpeas sprinkled on top and chopped parsley mixed in….some lemon in the mix could be detected. A couple pitas, some chopped onions, tomatoes and pickles, and things were looking good. Nothing elaborate, it was hummus after all, but I really enjoyed eating the stuff, at a bar, as a meal, with a beer.
It was interesting, being among such an eclectic group of people, Uganda struck me as a nexus for the lonely traveler and the dejected townie. Its unofficial theme is counterculture, and still they serve good old pop culture hummus – so powerful is the chickpea. Did the lack of shawarma in my diet compel me to consume hummus? It is known that the two have a delicate symbiotic relationship, and keen observers have hypothesized that the one cannot do without the other. If I am now drawn to eating hummus, and plates of it, is it really so sinister? After my experience at Uganda, I think I can get used to this.
Finishing up (I literally licked the plate clean), I heard a middle-aged Korean looking man tell a couple of Italians, in English (with an Australian accent), that he was a linguist. He proceeded to name dozens of languages that he was fluent in, Norwegian being among them. As I passed through the group, I thought I would indulge in my knowledge of Bokmål and I approached him speaking only in the official Norwegian dialect. Caught off guard, he responded in kind and we had something of an interesting conversation going on. It wasn’t until about two minutes into speaking with him that I noticed that he was speaking Norwegian with a French accent, that the Italians were all crowded around a plate of hummus sans beers, and that I felt like I could order another round of hummus without the need for a beer as well.

Jan 19, 2011

Love Letter to Tel Aviv

 Tel Aviv
By Laura Goldstein

As I pack up and get ready to leave Tel Aviv, I am in a reflective mood about my five months in this complex city of both beauty and balagan.  After almost half a year of exploring  I am still discovering new exciting corners around the city. Being a girl who thinks with her stomach,  some of my best memories of my time here are food related. The following are my favorite restaurant moments from my time in Tel Aviv, they reflect the ups and downs of living in this place.

Barnash  and Beginnings
Eating at Cafe Barnash with my roommates was one of my first meals in Tel Aviv. I remember how excited I was to start my new life on King George Street surrounded by so many funky places like Barnash. I ordered the classic Schnitzel with mashed potatoes, it reminded me of  what my family calls "Grandma Rosie Chicken", her signature dish of breaded chicken. Lauren ordered the Barnash Burger which she said was the best burger she had ever eaten. We knew if the rest of the restaurants in Tel Aviv served food like this it would be a happy five months. To end the meal we all ordered the delicious frozen margaritas and toasted l'chaim, to life and to Tel Aviv.

My savior, Falafel Gaby
 Falafel Gaby Pick Me Up
In October my parents sent me a care package and I was having a particularly hard time dealing with the post office. I was going back and forth between different post offices for a week chasing my package while trying to decipher the Israeli postal bureaucracy. One afternoon, coming back from one of those offices, I was disheartened and hungry, then I spotted Falafel Gaby on Bograshov. I instantly felt better about my situation after watching the man behind the counter frying balls of fresh falafel and stuffing pita bread with roasted eggplant. My smile grew wider when I got my own and smothered the falafel with mango sauce. With that the post office debacle became a distant memory.

Ruben's Picnic in HaYarkon Park
Juicy Ruben's Sandwich
My roommate and I were determined to have a own picnic in HaYarkon Park going there on Shabbat and seeing all of the families enjoying themselves in the sun on the banks of the river . The next week we took a bus down Dizengoff, picked up some Ruben's sandwiches and beer, and we were ready for our picnic. We lay a blanket down on the grass in a patch of sunlight near the water and unwrapped our delectable sandwiches. Both of us ordered the turkey/corned beef mix on rye and couldn't have been happier. A dog wandered over and tried to eat the last bits of our sandwiches and we ended up chatting with the friendly owner for twenty minutes about life and the virtue of exploring places not your own. It was a lovely afternoon. 

Sonya Lasana during the First Rain of the Season 
One day at the beginning of winter I met a friend in the beautiful courtyard of Sonya off of King George. It started to drizzle as I was walking over. My initial reaction was, mah ze? What's this falling from the sky? 
There had been a drought and I temporarily forgot what rain was. I was reminded as the drops became heavier and faster. With the restaurant in sight I rushed to the door and thankfully my friend was sitting under the protective plastic cover in the courtyard. We we were cozy with our hot tea and warm lasana as we watched the storm increased in power and heard the thunder and lightning. The drought was over in the land of Israel. 

Par Derriere Wine & Cheese
Last week I went with Lauren and Debra to a wine bar called Par Derriere. It is one of the most romantic restaurants in Tel Aviv. You sip your wine while soft candle light and overgrown foliage surround you and the stereo plays smooth soulful music by the likes of Al Green. We all sighed and commented on how great it would be to have a date there but we were glad to be together to celebrate the end of our program.  In the spirit of celebration we ordered a bottle of wine to share and the cheese platter. The cheeses were incredible especially after being deprived of cheddar and other European cheeses that you don't see very much in Israel. We ate each and every bite on the platter, satisfied with our night we went back to our apartments to get ready for the impeding goodbyes.

Jan 16, 2011

Israel's First Beer Festival

By Ariella Amshalem

This week the annual Israeli Beer Expo was held at the Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv. I was lucky to secure an invitation to the pre-opening evening for industry professionals on Wednesday, and attend with a group of Israeli food bloggers who came from near and far to sample this what Israel's budding microbreweries (along with a large number of brewers from outside of Israel ) have to offer. There was a lot of excitement, energy and good humor as we made our way from booth to booth, chatting with friendly beer reps as well as the brewers themselves. 
At first glance the selection seemed a bit overwhelming and I wasn’t sure I’d make it full circle ‘round the arena in an upright position. However, it quickly became apparent that a lot of the vendors were from outside Israel, just along for the ride, and with the guidance of my fellow bloggers I steered towards the Israeli breweries, which was, after all, the reason we were there in the first place. 

The culture of beer is very new to Israel and brewing beer is not a native idea, as was explained to us by Susan, of the Lone Tree brewery out of Gush Etzion. Because of this, most of the beers being produced in Israel right now are heavily influenced by one of two things: either an Israeli who has brought his/her knowledge and taste of beer from somewhere outside of Israel (such as India or South America—a lot of the beers we sampled were light, IPA-style, perfect for hot days), or a company within Israel bring in a beer-expert from the outside (one company mentioned that they had imported a German brewer to help them formulate and produce their beers). 
Our first stop was the Abir אביר company’s booth (abir means knight in Hebrew). Abir is named for a non-branded beer that was served to British troops during the Palestinian mandate, when soldiers would come into bars demanding “A Beer.” The company makes a light, hoppy, IPA style beer, which is very refreshing and is a good choice for casual beer drinkers and summer cookouts. 

Next we tasted Dubim’s Virgin IPA, which my new friend Michelle described perfectly as tasting very much like grapefruit. If tangy, citrusy beer is your thing, then this beer might be for you. 

A former Israeli food blogger, Irene Sharon Hodes, was working the Golan Brewery’s booth and was more than happy to chat with us about their Bazelet beers, which include a dark double malt (very creamy and delicious), an amber ale that seemed to me like a perfect party beer (fun and tasty, and neither too mild nor too serious) and four different kinds of malt (there was no way I was trying them all -- we were barely halfway through the booths!). The Golan Brewery uses an Irish-German brewing style and they are partners with a German brewing expert. The most significant piece of information about them, however, is that they do not pasteurize their beer, which means that it is very fresh and that bars and restaurants that serve it must use their supply within 3 days or less. The Golan Brewery definitely stood out to me as one of the stars of the event.

We sampled the ‘passiflora’ (passion fruit) beer from the Negev Brewery. A couple of the other bloggers liked it, but some, including me, felt that is was “too fruity” and “weird.” I think people who like the taste of beer probably want to steer clear of this one. 
The Lone Tree Brewery out of Gush Etzion had some very memorable beers, including Oatmeal Ale and the Belgian Pirate (a great beer). They also seemed quite passionate and were helpful in educating us a bit on the beer scene here in Israel. I also loved the oak beer from the Golda Brewery. It was full-bodied but not heavy. 

My last stop at the festival was the Taybeh Brewery, out of the Christian village Taybeh, right outside Ramallah. They make five different beers: golden, dark, light, amber, and a non-alcoholic, apple-flavored beer. All are100% natural and quite tasty. The brewer and his daughter Madees were there to answer our questions and to invite us to the brewery’s annual Oktoberfest, which I believe is open to the public next fall. 

Other memorable (non-Israeli) beers were the German Spaten beer from Erdinger, and the Czech beer Budweiser (not be confused with the American beer by the same name). 
There was no shortage of food at the expo, nor comfortable places to sit. I was impressed by the way the whole shebang was put on and would highly recommend attending next year! 

Jan 12, 2011

Bubbe's Blintzes

This blog post is dedicated to my Grandma Koss who taught me many important life lessons including how to make delicious blintzes, I can’t wait to see her when I get home.

A few years ago my grandmother moved from Arizona to Maryland to be closer to family. We started spending a lot more time together and when she came to the house we would often cook. We made traditional Ashkenazi dishes that she used to cook for my mom when she was little like kugel, mondel bread, and blintzes. 

Chocolate Creme Blintzes at HaBlintzim
Being in Tel Aviv, Israel I miss cooking with my bubbe so when I saw HaBlintzim Hungarian Blintzes on Yirmiyahu, across from FU Sushi and Ruben's, I was so excited for the chance to savor the sweet memories and the deliciousness of blintzes. If you don't know, blintzes are a sort of Eastern European crepe (blini in Russian) with the texture of a thin American pancake. The pancake is wrapped around either sweet or savory fillings. The typical fillings are sweet cheese, apple, or potato but there are countless variations and possible shmears to enhance the blintz.
The Pretty Porch of HaBlintzim

I dragged my roommate Lauren to Hablinzim as soon as I could and we tried the most popular flavors chocolate creme and sweet cheese and raisin. We added whipped creme and ice cream to the mix for just 3 NIS. The chocolate blintz was warm, overflowing with decadent chocolate, and incredibly decadent. The more traditional sweet cheese and raisin, the kind that I made with grandma, brought me back to our kitchen with it's rich, thick slightly sweetened cheese and fluffy pancake shell. Our dessert was completed with complementary homemade eggnog and chocolate liqueurs, a perfect end to our self-indulgent treats.

Potato Blinzes with Paprika
I told my friend Debra about HaBlintzim but she had never heard of blintzes! So of course I had to take her there to experience the wonder that are warm delicious blintzes. Last night Debra, Lauren, and I went again to HaBlintzim. They ordered the chocolate creme and Lauren added bananas to hers. I decided to try something new and looked through the savory section. I choose the potato blintzes filled with mashed potatoes cooked with onion and spicy Hungarian paprika. The potato filling was creamy, smooth, and very satisfying. I enjoyed my savory blintzes but I still favor the sweet variety. 

I am so glad that I finally got a taste of  the comforting blintzes that I missed so much at the unique Tel Aviv Restaurant HaBlintzim and at the same time they make me excited to get cooking with my grandma again as soon as I get home!

HaBlintzim Hungarian Blintzes is located at 35 Yirmiyahu and is Kosher dairy

Jan 10, 2011

Sha-Shu-What? by Andrea Mann

If you had told me that I would one day actually crave shakshuka, I would never have believed you. Prior to moving to Israel, I had never heard even heard the word shakshuka mentioned. So when my program announced that they were taking the entire 120+ person group to dinner at Doktor Shakshuka, a world-renowned shakshuka establishment in the heart of Jaffa, I believe my reaction was a rather quizzical facial expression followed by a meek utterance of "Sha-Shu-What?"
Israeli Shakshuka from Yotvato in the City
Unable to mask my confusion, a friend explained to me that shakshuka is a popular breakfast dish and a staple in the israeli diet. Essentially, it is poached eggs in a spicy tomato sauce concoction served hot from the stove in a cast-iron skillet. But really, it is so much more.

Italian Shakshuka at Sonia's Cafe on Simta Almoit
These past few months I have studied Tel Aviv restaurant menus meticulously. I have read hundreds of different shakshuka descriptions and tasted several variations, so I can now attest to the fact that shakshuka definitely lives up to it's hebrew-to-english translation "all mixed up". The healthy and deliciously satisfying dish can be made from endless combinations of fresh ingredients such as peppers, mushrooms, onions,  garlic, spinach, basil, minced meat, mozzarella, feta, and goat cheese. Although the recipes and techniques have been debated through the years, the gist of the recipe is rather simple. After sauteing your desired vegetables in oil in a deep skillet until cooked, add crushed tomatoes or tomato paste and continue to cook for several more minutes. Season as you'd like with salt, pepper, spice. Crack the eggs directly into the skillet, turn down the heat, and allow them to poach nicely on top of the beautiful tomato concoction. When your patience runs out and you just can't quite take the amazing smell wafting up from the pan any longer, grab a fork and dig right in.

Greek Shakshuka from Sonia's Cafe on Simta Almonit
Of all the shakshuka's I have smelled, seen, and tasted thus far in Tel Aviv, no chef or restaurant has mastered the Israeli dish quite like Sonia's on Simta Almonit. Hidden on a quiet, dead-end street, only steps away from the hustle and bustle of King George, Sonia Getzel Shapira's garden cafe is a shakshuka paradise.  When you first turn on to the tree-shaded street, you may feel a little lost. But once you enter through the doors to Sonia's garden and patio, take a seat in the colorful plastic chairs, wrap yourself in a fleece blanket, and begin reading through the menu, you will be in for a treat. From Syrian Shakshuka to Italian shakshuka to Mexican to Greek, and even to Canaanite... there is bound to be a selection that will satisfy your cravings. Served with the steam still rising from the pan, with a loaf of freshly baked Moroccan bread for dipping, Sonia's shakshuka is the perfect comfort food for any time of the day. Whether you're a vegetarian or a meat eater, a spice lover or a spice hater, one bite of Sonia's shakshuka is sure to have you coming back for more.
Shakshuka from the bistro at Hotel Miguel
If I have learned one thing while eating in Tel Aviv, it is that Shakshuka is shockingly delicious.

Jan 7, 2011

Istanbulis Forever

by Nicholas Belzer

          This is very emotional for me – as part of my New Year’s resolution, I have vowed to deny shawarma a portion of my diet. Previously, it had been a veritable staple, but now it is going the way of other steady comforts: the twinkie, the slim jim, mauve foodstuffs….the list ends there. So, for my final shawarma of 2010, I patronized an old favorite, Istanbuli, on Agrippas Street, which is that party cobbled walkway from King George straight up to the Shuk, or Machane Yehuda.
I don’t like to write about shawarma. I don’t even like to spell it (shwarmuh just seems so intuitive), but still I’m compelled to bring this eatery to the good peoples’ attention. There are two marks of kavod ( thumbs up)  that are due this place, the primary one being the fact that they are called, and continue to be called, ‘Istanbuli’. You know a place has street credibility when immediately after the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident this schawarma restaurant was just as popular and enjoyed as any other day.
Why am I forsaking the staple food of 1/18 of the world’s population? There is a phenomenon peculiar to this region affecting resident expats known as the ‘banality of the schawarma’ in reputable gastronomic circles. Non sequitur- I had referred to the schawarma in a former article as the local version of the burrito, yet no such ‘banality of the burrito’ has ever been confirmed or seriously entertained in the West. In any event, I have been afflicted by the B.O.T.S. and soon must forage for tapas, indefinitely. 
The spacious counter (by shawarma shop standards) to the immediate left when you enter Istanbuli’s is manned by a pair of religious professionals, each playing his part in the frying of the schnitzel breasts, the trimming of the shawarma roast, the de’skewering of the shipudim (grilled meat), and the hurried barking at the customers. The pair present themselves as something of an odd couple, the older fellow probably being the owner struggling with a usurious small business loan, while the young man appears to have been conscripted to this station from a freight ship operating a mizrachi hesder. Alas, their spirit of mutual cooperation and contempt betrays the blood bond, as palpable as the rotating, searing, sweaty spit of shawarma wafting itself over the counter, folds of flan-consistent fat marinating the crisped and raw-tanned meat like beads of agave sap distancing themselves from an unforgiving Mexican sun. Oddly, amidst a scene as distinctively redolent as this - the evocative burrito haunts my mind’s eye…
The second point of kavod for my favorite shawarma dispenser in Jerusalem is the glorious promotion which Istanbuli’s has promoted very suddenly, where they offer shawarma in a laffa for 15 shekels. Considering the quality of the meat here, and the fact that I had always paid 22 shekels for the same thing, I really believe that this is now the best deal in town. The shawarma served is not beef, but a kind of poultry for sure, and I can’t help feeling that the sanitary conditions here are superior to most of their competitors. Their stash of sautéed onions in a pan by the fries, along with accessible condiment bottles of tehina really go appreciated too. For a hot kick, mix some of their turkiye with the hummus to the laffa, but for the love of God do not accept a spoonfull of the yellow stuff! This curried syrup is intended for the melancholic and Sri Lankan tourist groups.
Coming here over the months, I’ve always admired the true grit of this place, keeping an unpopular name for their business and just focusing on roasting that good stuff. Realizing this, and appreciating this resolve in the face of Turkish tensions, I could only ponder how long it would take – how long until the French would somehow compel this brazen shop to cower and change their name to something more benign, perhaps more commercial, or French. But for now, the tricolour of the dreaded Republic could not be seen as I enjoyed my last shawarma of the year, and for some time to come.

Update: Istanbuli’s has recently changed their name to ‘Shawarma 15’. Whether this is a reference to their location on Agrippas street, the price of their shawarma, or the fact that their deals, like tobacco and butterfly knives, appeal greatly to the local teenage demographic, is not so perspicuous as to warrant an educated guess. 

Jan 3, 2011

Reuniting with Persian Kebab in Florentin

By Laura Goldstein

Melt in your mouth beef kabobs and rice at Beit Hashef
One of my favorite meals in the world is kebab e-koobideh, Persian ground beef kebabs. Where I come from in Maryland there is a big population of Persian immigrants and kebab restaurants are spread throughout the area. I am in love with this food, the succulent grilled meats, flavorful stews and rice dishes, and sweets that compliment a hot glass of tea.
This love of Persian food was first sparked by my neighbor and best friend growing up, Najva. When I went over to her place her mom and grandma would offer me rice dishes with chicken and dried fruit, savory lentil soup with cream, and tea made with a special Persian technique. After being introduced to that wonderful food I was hooked.
The bountiful salad bar at Beit Hashef
When I decided to move to Tel Aviv I was sure that I would find some amazing Persian food. Jews have a long history in Persia, now Iran. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Persian Jews trace their presence in Iran from the first exile from Jerusalem in the 6th century BCE. However, most of the Jewish community emigrated from Iran after the revolution in 1979 to either Israel or the United States. The BBC  reports that Israel has the world's largest proportion of Iranians in its population, outside Iran itself. With all of these Persian immigrants in Israel,  I figured that there must be some great Persian restaurants in Tel Aviv, the country's cultural capital.

I did some searching and hit the jackpot on Nachalat Binyamin in the Florentin neighborhood. There are a few Persian places on the block between Levinski and Derech Yafo. I decided on Beit HaShef because of the wonderful smell of grilled meats wafting from the door.  

To the left of the door were raw kebabs (meat on skewers) of chicken and beef seasoned and waiting to be grilled. I chose my favorite, the delectable ground beef. To augment the meal there were also three types of rice, I selected the one with lentils and dill, and a myriad of salads to choose from. To top it off I order a piping hot tea.
The Shah and wife and pre-revolutionary flag 

Awaiting my grilling kebabs I looked around the restaurant. The walls were full of pre-revolutionary Iran paraphernalia, the flag, the last Shah, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, in military garb with his wife, and a nod to the new regime with a doctored picture of Ahmadinejad's face on a monkey's body. The flat screen TV on the far wall was playing Persian dance music videos with the occasional American rap mixed in.  

The waiter then nodded for me to try some of the salads, I ate some creamy delicious baba ghanoush like eggplant dip with the fluffy pita bread that I discovered in a basket on my table. Then he brought my tea, rice, and soup (a surprise!)and, finally, my beloved kebab!

Seeing the juices drip off of the tender meat I knew that it would be incredible before even taking a bite. I used my knife to cut the kebab off the still hot skewer and let it fall into the bed of rice. Taking a bite of what I had been missing for so long I savored the soft beef mixed with chopped onions and Persian spices. The rice had it's own flavor that complimented the beef instead of overpowering it. The waiter gave me a thumbs up from a across the room, asking me if everything was alright, I just answered him with a huge grin. My craving for Persian food and one of my favorite dishes was satisfied for the moment. My joy was only increased by the fact that I was only spending 39 NIS on all of that food!

Beit Hashef is located at 78 Nachalat Binyamin and is Kosher