Mar 23, 2011

Kurtosh, G-d's Gift to the World

Written by Chelsea Truesdell

You are guaranteed to find the best pastry in Tel Aviv, Israel in an unassuming bakery on 39 Bograshov named Kurtosh. You may walk right past this sliver of Bograshov unless you are drawn in by the smell of the fresh pastries being baked in the front window. I stumbled upon Kurtosh when I was famished walking to the beach on hot Thursday afternoon. I was in that mood where I could eat a cow but for some reason nothing was sounding appetizing to me. When I walked past Kurtosh I stopped dead in my tracks after the smell of sweet breads filled my nostrils. I had found exactly what I wanted.

Inside the little shop was one case lined with long Hungarian pastries known as “Kurtosh.” Along with these milky, caramel-coated hollow pastries, there were white-chocolate sweet strudels, chocolate-chip cakes, traditional Israeli cookies, and savory cheese strudels.

I knew I wanted something salty but I couldn’t pass up a taste of the sweet pastries teasing me behind the case. The young man behind the counter saw my mouth watering and laughed as he handed me a sample slice of the strudel. The sweet strudels made here are reason alone to come. They are baked in the style of rugelach, where the rich chocolate filling is folded between the layers of sweet dough. When you bite into this soft and sticky pastry, every layer hides a dulcet ingredient- milk chocolate filling, white chocolate drizzle, a light dusting of halva.

All these flavors came together in this moist cake-like dessert to create a flavor explosion in my mouth which I have yet to find in any Tel Aviv restaurants.

If the sweet strudel isn’t enough to draw you in, the “salty strudel” will do the trick. This was the pastry I ended up getting and I couldn’t have been happier. It was truly the kind of meal where you can’t help but say “Oh. My. G-d.” after every bite. The outside was a golden brown flaky dough topped with fresh poppy seeds. On the inside awaited a thick filling of feta cheese and sweet roasted red peppers ready to melt in my mouth. The combination of the sweet peppers and feta created the perfect blend of sweet and salty. I paid him the eighteen shekels and scarfed down my strudel, which provided me with the biggest smile the rest of the day.

All these affordable and mouth-watering pastries lie in the tiny Tel Aviv restaurant of Kurtosh on Bograshov, waiting to be properly enjoyed. I promise you won’t be disappointed, no matter what you order. Be prepared to go with an empty stomach because I can guarantee once you try one, you will want to order the entire case.

Mar 15, 2011

The Treasure of Neve Tzedek

Written by: Chelsea Truesdell

Since moving to Tel Aviv in February, I have yet to properly explore the surrounding neighborhoods outside of my walking distance. Sure, I have been dancing at the clubs in the Namal, dining at the Tel Aviv restaurants in the Florentine, and shopping at the boutiques in the center city. But something urged me to go beyond my boarders and journey deeper into my city. When I asked Judith and Kassandra where I should investigate, they answered at the same time, “Neve Tzedek.”

The only tidbit I knew about this quaint little neighborhood in south Tel Aviv was that it was the oldest neighborhood in the city. It was the first one built when Tel Aviv was born in 1887 and housed many of the artists and writers who moved here. Since then, it’s had its share of neglect but has bounced back in the recent twenty years. I was excited to walk around the neighborhood and see something new, or rather old, which I have yet to see in Tel Aviv.

Neve Tzedek welcomed me in with charming streets and a mix of aged and modern architecture. As I walked down Shabazi, I fell more and more in love with the neighborhood. The streets were lined with endearing ice cream parlors, picturesque cafes offering fresh baked croissants and hot coffee, and delectable restaurants with mouth-watering menus. Although some consider Neze Tzedek to be a stylish, yuppie neighborhood, I found the atmosphere to be relaxed and sincere. Every restaurant and café I peeked my head into offered me a smile from the host and a scene of happy customers enjoying delicious meals.

As I walked through the quiet narrow streets, I scribbled down names of cafes and restaurants that I needed to come back to. When I walked by the Anita Ice Cream parlor on Shebazi and Piness, I couldn’t resist stopping in.

Flavors such as banana-date, halva, fig-walnut, chocolate-mint, and white-chocolate-orange-ginger lined the windows of the ice cream case. I couldn’t help but taste one flavor, then two, then three, the four. The banana-date took my mouth on a paradise vacation; the rich chocolate melted my heart. Before I had to unbutton my pants, I forced myself to walk away and continue on my journey.

I walked along a little further until I hit Nina Café on the corner of Shabazi and Neve Tzedek. I saw a woman indulging in a sandwich filled with feta, roasted peppers, tomatoes, and basil through the window. Just the smell alone coming out from the café drew me in.

The menu was filled with salads, sandwiches, and beverages- the quinoa salad with cucumbers, parsley, onions, olive oil, and bell peppers; the Nina baguette with pickled lemon, capers, spicy pepper spread, tuna, egg, potato, and tomatoes; the cheese plate with camembert, goat cheese, feta, Roquefort, and gouda... I could go on all day! Although these are common foods you see in Tel Aviv restaurants, I could tell by the preparation of the food and the genuine atmosphere of the café that the food offered here would be worth every shekel.

When I left Nina Café, I was hit with a downpour of mid-afternoon rain. I knew I had to head back to my apartment soon before I was swept away in a gutter. I put my hood on and was reluctantly hurrying out of the neighborhood to the nearest bus station when a restaurant caught my eye. I had to go with my gut and take a peek inside; something about this restaurant wouldn’t let me pass it by. I walked in drenched with rain and asked to see a menu in my broken Hebrew. As the hostess grabbed me one, I fell in love with the place instantly.

There was an outdoor eating area that even in the rain looked enjoyable to relax in. The inside of the restaurant was filled with tables meant for two people only- the perfect date night restaurant. She handed me the menu and I fell in love all over again. At the top read the name “Suzana” and under it was a list of delectable dishes, from puff pastries filled with shrimp, calamari, and garlic cream to roasted goose leg with root vegetables.

I was almost drooling when I read over the list of “Stuffed” which included pastries stuffed with chicken, almond, and prune sauce; eggplant, goat cheese and tomatoes; and liver, onion, and pear sauce. I couldn’t help but indulge and order the chicken, almond, and prune stuffed pastry and the vegetable root salad. When I took my first bite, a true food orgasm exploded in my mouth. The vegetable root salad was filled with slices of beets and carrots sprinkled with peanuts, feta, and a light dressing. The pastry was stuffed full of chopped up chicken breast mixed with toasted almonds and surrounded with a tangy, fruity prune sauce. The combination of the two took my mouth to a flavor oasis. This was truly the best dish I have had in a restaurant in Tel Aviv.

There are a multitude of restaurants in Tel Aviv that are yearning to be discovered, tucked in every little corner of the city. Neve Tzedek is a true treasure filled with charismatic cafes and tempting restaurants. If you’re looking for an enchanting afternoon to wander aimlessly and enjoy carefully crafted food, let Neve Tzedek welcome you in.

Mar 13, 2011

Popping the Bubble

Written by: Chelsea Truesdell

When you come to Israel, you can expect to encounter an array of Mediterranean food; rich hummus, hot falafel, fresh salads, or creamy feta. As your mouth salivates at the thought of all these delicious foods, I want to stop and introduce you to something different to our traditional concept “Israeli” food.
Modern-day Israel has slowly become a melting pot of different cultures, religions, and customs. Some may think of Israel as the “Jewish homeland,” but just like any other country dealing with contemporary issues, Israel is not only becoming the Jewish homeland, but an asylum for immigrant refugees coming from all parts of the world. Major influxes of these refugees are coming from Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia. As political turmoil occurs in these countries, civilians seek refuge in other economically stable nations such as Israel. When these refugees come to Israel, they contribute elements of their own cultures; language, customs and of course, cuisine.
As I took a tour through South Tel Aviv, an area where most refugees work,live and congregate, a whole new world within Tel Aviv unveiled itself. It is easy to stay within the bubble of beaches, night clubs, restaurants, and boutiques when living in the heart of Tel Aviv, but to completely understand Tel Aviv, it’s important to pop that bubble and explore outside the familiar parameters.
The refugees in Israel are far from home, however they have built a community in Israel with the resources they have been given. Today refugees own and run their own businesses and stores, they have boutiques with customary dress from their homeland,and of course, restaurants serving traditional foods of their birth land. In this neighborhood the smells emanating from each food stand are so good it’s intoxicating. I’ve never had Sudanese food in my life, but I knew now was the time to change that.
My friends and I settled on a random restaurant with delicious scents permeating out the front door. The atmosphere in the restaurant was unlike any Tel Aviv restaurant I had encountered.We requested that the cook bring us “traditional” food. The next thing we knew, there were a slew of trays at our table filled with fresh cut vegetables, warm slices of pita, spicy pieces of meat, rich bean stews, and hot rice. The bean dish was savory and zesty at the same time- its creamy texture melted in in my mouth while leaving a fresh aftertaste. I never knew beans and rice could be so ambrosial! As we poured the beans over the pita stuffed with veggies and rice, our mouths watered. We devoured the meat dish, eating pieces of it as if it were popcorn. As soon as one dish was finished, they enthusiastically served us aother fresh hot dish in its place. Although we were stuffed, we couldn’t resist filling our plates again and again. When we couldn’t fit even another grain our rice into our engorged belles, we had the opportunity to sit back, relax, and thank the humble chefs. We we’re truly satisfied customers, in every sense of the word.
In my experience, a lavish atmosphere, superb service, or inflated prices do not an amazing meal make. Sure, these help. But it’s the love that makes great food. With every bite we had, you could taste the chef's pride and love for Sudan and their enthusiasm to share their culture with us through their cuisine.
As the diversity in Israel grows, the culture and the land become more well rounded, today’s reality in Israel is that the cultural dynamics are changing, therefore we need to acknowledge that. I will never forget my meal, or my experience, and I encourage everyone to pop their bubble and start exploring the world around them- bite by bite.

Mar 1, 2011

Misadat Salimi

By Zoe Jick

This afternoon, Judith and I wanted to eat lunch at Elimelech but when we arrived in Florentin, we were unfortunately met with a locked front door. Elimelech was closed. Our disappointment didn't last long. Luckily, just one block over, Florentin boasts a street lined with Persian restaurants. We looked for the most inconspicuous exterior, knowing full well that unobtrusive restaurants are always the best, not needing any fancy decorations to make a great dining experience. Misadat Salimi's disheveled facade won our hearts, and of course, this was the most crowded restaurants on the street. 

Judith unassumingly ordered our food in Farsi, a woman whose Iranian pride emanates from her core. Within minutes, our table was filled with rice and kebabs and gondi. Since Persian cooking often relies on soaking, stewing, simmering, and sitting, Persian restaurants usually have food ready on the spot. However, fast service does not equal fast food. The time and effort needed to let the flavors of turmeric, saffron and herbs really seep into the meat and the rice make Persian cooking a product of deep attention, care and love. 

One quick word on gondi. Judith is the real gondi expert, and I can't claim to understand the intricacy of these meatballs as well as she does. However, this characteristically Jewish Iranian comfort food really stood out amongst our feast and it would be a shame to let these go unmentioned. Gondi were created back in the Tehran ghetto, a Persian meat version of a matzo ball. These fluffy and moist meatballs are made of ground chicken and turkey, and left in their own broth, so there's really no chance for a dry or bland bite. Supposedly, this dish is one of the few that is solely a Jewish Persian invention, and have since become a point of pride for Iranian Jewish mothers across the world as the epitome of Jewish home cooking. 

I highly recommend stopping by Misadat Salimi, and especially trying the Gondi. Transporting this authentic Persian cuisine to the back alleys of Tel Aviv truly speaks to the beauty of eating in Israel, a celebration of Jewish heritage across the world, bite by bite. 

A Sweet Sixteen for Barood

by Nicholas Belzer
In the antechamber of the stony den, I defer to my teen-age, gap-yearing Californian cousin. I’m at a loss; I need an opinion. Her candor was spot on: ‘ They seem a bit confused’. Of course. 
The official leitmotif here is Spanish Jerusalem, although I’m sure the Armada never made it to this side of purgatory (I mean this far east). It was difficult to find the right words for my environment, especially as chunks of beef with the consistency of beef stroganoff were melting in my mouth, liberating echoes of a simmering red wine. The food was almost unreal in its earthy, healthy, richness. The beef stafado, a bowl of rice pilaf with a halo of moist beef chunks and onions; a tartor soup where diced cucumber and parsley mixed with yoghurt provide the buoyancy for split walnuts and an archipelago of lemon juice a and olive oil. The food was an anchor in a sea of distractions. 
I’ve never seen this many references to Guinness outside a Gaelic halfway house, and it struck me as an ambitious attempt to establish the place firmly as a dispenser of beer, lest wanderers amble past this brief encounter of a hamlet.
And a hamlet of sorts this hearthy domicile struck me as – at least initially. Sitting in this antechamber, nursing this cold and robust tartor soup, I figured myself a peasant in the foothills of Moravian Wallachia. The walls here were grey stone, the lighting was wooded and smoky; I suspected a cauldron in the kitchen. And still the wall immediate to my table was dressed in every known vintage Guinness tin produced; the wall opposite hung a tapestry weaved in the style of the Navajo Nation, interrupted by a mirror framed in a Lilliputian mahogany veranda in the center of the fabric. The residual smudge of a babe’s hand obscured any reflection. I questioned their alleged theme.
What’s not in question is their superb collection of alcohols.  Italian chianti, Spanish reserves, Israeli merlots, and although I was assured they stocked no French wine, I spied a Gewurztraminer from the soil of Pfaffenheim., but I’m willing to write this off as a Teutonic concession.
One step down, the walls lose their rocks and become washed a tan stucco, the hacienda is manifest, I think I see it. Still a Guinness reference is never too far. I suppose if I had to characterize the air in the hacienda-now-hamlet, it would be a kind of Iberian lactic. But this place could also conceivably be a leprechaun’s nest- remember the miniature hand print from the other room? The patron, a kindly older Israeli woman of possibly Sephardic descent keeps watch at  the bar.
In the atmospheric clutter of the room (the floorspace was tight but fine) I searched for clues. What can be gleaned from the glut of tchotchkes (a more dignified flair)? A portrait of a quail hangs mounted beside a stuffed quail, surprisingly unassuming, maybe telling, given the fact that I didn’t see any fowl in the menu. Perhaps the perched carcass was fixed in the direction of a sax-wielding porcelain bust to reference The Bird; here, the garden-gnome sized Charlie Parker stands protectively amongst the bottles of marinating and musking home-made vodka: pickled apricots, pickled figs, pickled madarins and more, all coloring their respective bottles interesting cloud pastels.
Below the Charlie Parker and moonshine orchestra, saloon doors demarcate the W.C. – a place of large red candles and other confusing paraphernalia. A place where the men’s door says otherwise in Cyrillic. The search for the spirit of the place is made elusive, what with a vanity plate of a certain Danielle from Texas nailed onto a wine shelf. Or the Corona St. sign displayed above the saloon doors. 
If you were to simply focus on the bar in the hacienda portion of the restaurant, you would immediately admire it for its beautiful appearance, and silenty assume its black market function as a Flemish apothecary. A chandelier of wine flutes and steins hang like icicles above the serving board, reflecting the dim lights of the dining room; below, a topless marble statue in the Greek fashion serves as a handle for one of the several beers on tap – no Corona. Like the walls of this place, the bar area is crowded, but not exactly cluttered, with Hindu currencies, impressive collections of corkscrews (some framed) and various trinkets, some Spanish, some just ‘ish’. An inflatable brown Guinness glass parked above the AC unit behind the bar does not escape my attention.
I think the key here to understanding the ‘Spanish Jerusalem’ idea behind Barood is to be found in the food first and foremost. The menu is rich and is in flux, with new homemade dishes being offered pretty frequently. Calamari shrimp, spare ribs in bbq sauce, homemade truffles and all manner of flavorful meat is to be found here. Really, the food here is flavorful, and I want to stress the ‘home cooked’ vibe to the meals. Even the bread was toasted just the right kind of crisp, still soft, and hearty with butter that was actually churned and salted.
Final verdict? A century ago, in the mines of Jerusalem, the Arab quarriers would shout out ‘Barood!’ before exploding large rocks that went flying hither and thither. Barood this March is celebrating its Sweet Sixteen as a restaurant with a Spanish attitude under the black awning of Guinness. To celebrate, they plan to step up their now occasional Saturday evenings hosting live Andalusian bands, where the syncopations of ‘french soft’ arpeggios can be enjoyed with some sambuca or a port with grapefruit juice, or something like this. Also about sixteen years ago, Gratuitious Sax and Senseless Violins, the sixteenth album released by Sparks, was released.
I certainly hope that Barood has a longer run than Sparks did, although both share in a certain genus of confusion. The scene here is decidedly more gratuitous than senseless. And the food, has a personable sit – it is a handcrafted, warm experience. In fact, very few (like one ) places substitute Happy Hour for Business Lunch better than this homey-kitschy demesne on the upper declivity of the Feingold House courtyard. I hope that many more will barood, or take cover here, for some unique nosh and spirits.