Jan 18, 2012

Olei, Olei, Olei.... Good times at Olei Tzion

Written by: Judith Goldstein 

Last night, TasteTLV had the unique pleasure of attending a private tasting at Nir Zuk's newest venture, Ole Tzion, in Yaffo. The space of this new Tel Aviv restaurant actually used to be Shakuf, which unfortunately closed down a few months ago. Zuk quickly took over the beautiful, culinary expanse and in conjunction with Chef Natalie, created his own vision for the space. Other than decorative touches, not much has changed, which was a wise move by Zuk, because the open kitchen, presented like a stage, is what makes this space exciting, interesting, and stimulating. The bar seating that encircles the kitchen is lit, providing a effervescent background for each dish. Beautiful rocks fill the lining between the bar and  fill the sinks and glass displays in the bathroom. The organic essence of rocks and branches is mixed with a sense of playful modernity, as one wall is painted pepto bismol pink and in the corner sits a birdcage fitting for Big Bird himself. The upstairs seating provides a birds eye view into the kitchen. The tables and bar are adorned with antique silverware embellished with red and gold prints, adding somewhat of a Jaffa spirit.

The food at Olei Tzion is a direct inspiration of Jaffa cuisine. Hummus is ground up in a mortar and pestle as a line cook prepares the dish in front of the audience, like a supporting actor in the theater. Patrons sip on their drinks and listen to a lively mix of music while they steal glances into the kitchen watching a cook grind hummus or chop fresh vegetables for the fennel and tomato salad. Grilled eggplant is served with homemade bread and olive oil, garlic dip. The main courses include shrimp with a tomato coulis, sea bass served and garbanzo beans, shwarma and tehina, and ground beef patties ( Kofta)- recipe straight out of Zuk's grandmother's kitchen. The Kofta is especially fun because the chefs grind the beef right in front of you. This way you can see the quality of the beef that's put into the grinder and mixed with fresh herbs and spices.

 There is nothing life changing on the menu. Simple Arab/Israeli food found in any "home-style" restaurant. Zuk is actually not the main actor in the kitchen, he's more like the director. Zuk decided to give full culinary control to his protegee, Chef Natalie. This is her first attempt at creating and executing a menu, a daunting task for a any chef, especially one with no classical culinary training. Her modesty, perhaps her shyness is apparent in dishes as they lack any elements of bold spices or flavors and don't apply any complex technique. The main elements of the dishes, do maintain there natural flavors and this is especially good because you can taste the high quality of the proteins. If you try anything on the menu, make sure it's one of their beef dishes. It's one of the best quality beef I have had in this country, which is not a surprise, as Zuk get's most of his beef from his brother who has a private farm in the North. You could taste purity in the beef as flavors are both earthy and succulent. The simple dishes do come with a simple price tag, though, nothing on the menu costs more than 65NIS.

Stuffed Grapeleaves 

Shrimp with tomato coulis 

Beef shwarma

Zuk's famous kufte

Fennel and Tomato salad with yogurt sauce 

Sea Bass and Chickpeas 

The overall concept of Olei Tzion is having familiar, high quality dishes with an extremely tantalizing atmosphere. Fun is the name of the game and frivolous it is. An ultra hip DJ spins records at a convenient proximity to the bar. Guests can easily mingle with the staff as they watch chefs chop, grind, sautĂ©, and grill. The music is an eclectic mix of Arab, Israeli, drum and bass and basically anything with a good beat, marinating the room with a gleeful spirit. The staff seems to easily meld with the vibes as they work with a fluttering rhythm. Cute and inviting bartenders effortlessly pour drinks into large glass cups, mostly the house special, arak and fresh crimson pomegranate juice. When you're mingling with the eclectic crowd, it seems that Zuk and Natalie have achieved their vision, a lively theater, where the line between actor and the audience gets blurred and everything dissolves into a convivial merriment.

1 comment:

  1. *UPDATE* Oley Tzion is closing shortly... we'll let you know which eatery opens next in that wonderful space.

    -TasteTLV Staff