by Ari Samuel
If farm-to-table produce, tehina-topped dishes of hummus inspired by generations-old recipes and daily caught seafood excite your stomach then Tel Aviv could be the place for you. Strategically located on the land bridge between Europe, Africa and Asia, the micro-metropolis of Tel Aviv is home to a thriving culinary scene which literally melts the pot of world heritage, from Austria and Bulgaria to Greece, Tunisia, Morocco and back across the ocean. From effortlessly stylish hotels and al fresco dining set-ups to pop-up restaurants, sidewalk cafes serving up artisanal soda and high-end markets with homegrown culinary outposts, Tel Aviv is a beacon of foodie experiences boasting some of the world’s most innovative new and ephemeral culinary concepts on the Mediterranean that alone necessitate a visit.
Benny Briga’s Levinsky 41 Cafe
A beloved fixture in Tel Aviv’s renowned Levinsky outdoor food market, Benny Briga’s Levinsky 41 is a windowsill café heralded for its organic, artisanal spin off of the traditional gazoz soda drinks that were commonplace in the formative years of Tel Aviv-Jaffa. Levinsky 41 serves up a colorful array of sodas handmade on the spot with slow-cooked syrup bases of apricot, kiwi, passion fruit and pomegranate made onsite by Benny himself, complete with indigenous herbs and flowers of which this incredible beverage is comprised. Benny also makes a powerful kombucha, perfectly suited for a morning cleanse of the prior evening’s raucous activities.
Hotel Montefiore has long-ruled as the stalwart of stylish Tel Aviv dining. Earlier this year, the city’s pioneering boutique property revamped its menu to deploy a weekly-changing selection of French-Vietnamese fare based upon locavore produce and ingredients conceptualized by the brilliant team behind the R2M restaurant group. Try the beef carpaccio, fennel and artichoke with smoked aioli; or the beef fillet and goose liver “Tournedos Rossini” which rule the plates of discerning travelers and locals. Couple it with signature cocktails created with locally produced liquor and bitters or a glass from the meticulously curated wine list.
Tel Aviv’s gourmet establishment by SF transplant Chef Rima Olivera, a city resident for 20+ years, Oasis recently reopened in a stunning new location adjacent to the tree-lined Rothschild Boulevard. Oasis is a world-tour of tastes and inspirations with a daily menu on which dishes including king shrimp, locally grown vegetables, finely sliced entrecote and gold leaves are no surprise. Chef Olivera is steadfast in her culinary integrity and absolves her diners of bread-fillers. (We suggest the soft-shell crab risotto and the powerful Bloody Mary.) The adventurous dishes are served amongst a backdrop of black-slated walls and elegant lighting schemes, whether indoors or in its backyard patio.
Salva Vida at Brown TLV hotel
Chef Yuval Fachler journeyed across the seven seas of culinary cultures before conceptualizing his Salva Vida “restaurant in movement” where the Mediterranean meets California, and seasonal produce and daily caught seafood transform into a masterful artwork. Following several years as the Head Chef of the acclaimed Herbert Samuel restaurant in Tel Aviv, Chef Fachler has partnered with Brown TLV hotel to open the latest incarnation of his outpost this March. Diners can anticipate innovative dishes of smoked trout, artichoke, parmesan and quail egg to olive-oil based cake that plays on peanut butter and jelly. Open Wednesday-Saturdays.
Tel Aviv’s newest and high-end indoor culinary market blends the best of the old-school market tradition with the grand-scale markets of NYC, London and beyond. Sarona Market is a mecca of homegrown Tel Aviv specialty shops—hosting homegrown purveyors of Israeli and Middle Eastern delicacies such as Falafel Gina, Fishbar, Abu Hassan (the city’s beloved hummus eatery) and Chef Israel Aharoni’s Freestyle Ramen Bar—possibly the most coveted seat in town on Saturday afternoons. Sarona Market has taken Tel Aviv by storm, making the finest ingredients, dishes, and products accessible to any gourmets who set out to explore this market. It’s located in the historic Sarona neighborhood, boasting restored 19th-century German Templar-buildings.
Uri Buri restaurant in Akko
While it’s easy to get stuck in the Tel Aviv bubble, it’s equally important to remember one simple rule: Israel is only the size of New Jersey, making day-trips and short-excursions not only feasible, but encouraged. Uri Buri—set in a crumbling-yet-chic seafront Ottoman-edifice with the Old City’s Akko fortified walls in the foreground—is the creation of Chef Uri Jeremias, a Galilee-born restaurateur, hotelier and peace monger. The white bearded fellow traverses the fish and seafood stalls of the Akko market and greets guests in his restaurant with salmon sashimi and homemade wasabi sorbet; rainbow trout in a cast-iron pot, amberjack ceviche, and dehydrated watermelon stuffed with feta cheese and olives. A cradle of civilization and port for ancient wine and spice routes, Akko is also home to the majestic Efendi Hotel, a former Ottoman-era palace restored over eight years, where travelers can taste with local wines in the wine cellar—just a three-minute walk from Uri Buri.
Hero, Uri Buri, Levinsky and Hotel Montefiore images by Ari Samuel; all others courtesy of respective venues