Eating in Tel Aviv

My main impression of eating in Tel Aviv was that it reminded me a bit of SF – young chefs using fresh, local ingredients to drive what’s on their menus.  Frankly, though, what was on the menus in TA seemed more interesting and varied than what I see in SF – and I think there was less focus on interpreting a specific type of cuisine than there was on coming up with the tastiest dishes with the ingredients that were in-season. I ate remarkably well in Tel Aviv and at very reasonable prices – though again, coming from SF means “reasonable” can be in the eye of the beholder. I typically paid US$60-80 for dinner that included several glasses of wine (and usually made up about half the total bill).


This place was recommended by my gay, Jewish podiatrist. I had a lovely walk from my place at the northern end of Rothschild Blvd and was lucky enough to get the last two top out on the large patio in front of the place. Started off with labane and bread, followed up by some serviceable chicken skewers and rice. The food was good – perhaps not spectacular, but good – though it hardly mattered. Sitting out under the trees and stars on my first night in Tel Aviv, the weather balmy (a welcome change from the cold nights in Istanbul), the waiters so easy on the eyes – it was a marvelous way to spend my first evening in Israel.

Tzfon Abraxas

This was not my destination for the evening – I actually had a reservation at Mizlala, but Google Maps gave the wrong address. And I got lost on the way to the wrong address – so when I did finally find the place and it was an abandoned storefront, I was not enjoying myself to say the least.

But as I found my way back, I checked my list of restos I’d researched and realized I’d be passing right by Tzfon Abraxas. And lucky for me, they were able to squeeze me into the cozy (okay, maybe cramped) u-shaped counter. The menu was a bit hard to navigate for a single diner – most dishes are meant to be shared, so the server helped me figure out what to order that wouldn’t be a ridiculous amount of food for dainty me.

I didn’t take copious notes (I was still a little rattled from not showing up for my reservation at the other place). I started off with some simply sautéed beans – they were like tender skinned snap peas. With that, I also ordered onion bread – which was literally that: a piece of bread grilled with half an onion. This was followed up by a burger – came with pickles, cheese and juice-soaked bun. It was messy and darn good.

Oh, and they eschew plates here. Butcher paper is in front of every diner and food is served out of large bowls or on cardboard. Yeah, it sounds weird, but they make it work.  That atmosphere is super-lively. The counter is adjacent to the large, open kitchen so there’s plenty to watch. And there were lots of extras. At one point, everyone at the bar was served a shot of whiskey or vodka and we all “L’chaim”-d. Then one of the servers did something involving the setting on fire of sage and alcohol at the counter – it smelled great. Plus, I think the best thing I ate was the tomato bread. One of the chef’s came out from the kitchen with a giant, shallow plan filled with bread, tomatoes and herbs that had been crusted up under the fire. Everyone was invited to grab a handful as he went around the counter. Simple and delicious.

By the time I left, the bad start to the evening was long-forgotten, as I was happily full and satisfied – and maybe just a bit tipsy (it was that shot of vodka!).

On my way home, I actually stumbled across my original destination, Mizlala – I had been within 50 meters of the place earlier! Anyway, I stopped in and apologized for not showing up. The hostess was as nice as could be and booked me a seat for the following evening.


This was probably my “fanciest” meal in Tel Aviv – though don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t hoity-toity or anything. In fact, I quite liked the set up. A large counter on one side, the kitchen at the back and a smaller room of tables on the left. But the menu was a bit more sophisticated in its offerings than some other places.

When I arrived at 830, the place was very quiet – there were maybe four or five other folks at the counter which I think seats 25-30. So, I was just a tad irked that I was specifically shown to the very last seat on the end in front, i.e. the Mary Ann Singleton seat. Well, at least there wasn’t a spotlight trained on me…

Started off with a really good rosé and a calamari dish served with cauliflower, chickpeas, onion, okra and a tangy-yet-sweet sheep’s milk labane. It was great (though I did make a note that I thought the amount of squid in the dish seemed just a tad stingy – my other note was “Every male member of the staff is hot. Per usual”).

For my main, I had veal loin, which was grilled with onions and served in a date sauce with cilantro and tortellini filled with I-don’t-what – though my notes say they were filled with magic. It reminded me of butternut squash texturally, but was a bit sweeter I thought. And the veal was sublime – tender and a marvelous foil for the date sauce. Really, really good. I think my only quibble was the candied walnuts in the dish – it may have been gilding the lily.

For dessert: Indian fig panna cotta, fresh fig, pistachio, Indian halva, tapioca, chai ice cream and date cookie. It was definitely trying too hard. The tapioca was good, but there were just too many ingredients fighting for attention – and the spiral date cookies were too doughy.


Had a simple and tasty meal out on their patio – which may not have been the best choice, given it’s on a busy intersection. Salad to start, followed by a surprisingly simple and beefy sirloin steak.


A tiny place next to the Shuk Carmel with a small counter inside and some more tables out front. I inadvertently chose the best seat in the house, since I had a great view into the kitchen and watched the chef cooking things up on a stove that appeared to be about as small as the one in my tiny kitchen at home.

Started off with a traditional bread salad – tangy, savory, fresh and perfect on a warm Tel Aviv night.

Had a difficult time choosing a main – was tempted by the pasta with meatballs – but went with the crab served with cheese in puff pastry per the server’s recommendation. Oh boy – it was good. Very rich, but the serving size wasn’t too much and the crab was excellent. I made fast work of it.

Besides keeping my wine glass filled, shots were proffered (this is a custom in Tel Aviv restaurants that I both heartily endorse and am very leery of…) and consumed. I chatted up the other couple at the counter, NYers who spend a lot of time in Israel. They got the meatballs and sang their praises – they also insisted I try some of the excellent red wine they were drinking. So, in other words, I had rather a lot to drink. So, when it came time for dessert, I think the couple offered to share their warm chocolate budino with me – though it’s certainly possible that I was like, “OH, HEY! I’ll take some of that!” I guess we’ll never know…  But it was a simple and well-executed chocolate dessert – which I appreciate, since there’s really no need to get fancy with chocolate.

Café 48

I’d spied this place across from Mizlala and liked the looks of it – plus I’d highjacked onto their wifi whilst at Mizlala and I love me some free wifi.

Well, this turned out to be a great choice. I took a seat at the bar and the lady at the bar, after pouring me some wine and giving me the menu, described the entire specials board to me (it was written in Hebrew, obv) and made several recommendations.

Started off with a Thai salad with pork. Wow – so good. Fresh mint and other herbs and greens, along with some shrimp chips piled atop a tender serving of mildly spicy pulled pork. Delicious.

I’d noticed several of their specialty cocktails on the menu, including one with gin and cucumber, which sounded great. But I’d already had some wine and didn’t want to tempt fate… But someone ordered one and I watched as my waitress prepared it, muddling the ingredients and then lining a crystal tumbler with cucumber slices before pouring the drink in. There was more cocktail than could fit in the glass – so out came the shot glasses and me and the two fellows next to me were treated to a sample. And yes, it was great – I mean, c’mon, it’s cucumber and gin!

For my main course, sea bream (a semi-firm white fish) served simply atop broccoli and green beans. Perfectly cooked and just the right amount.

And for dessert? Panna cotta topped with diced celery and pineapple. It was surprising and really tasty combination – the celery adding texture and it’s mild flavor to the creamy panna and the sweet pineapple. A big success.

This was one of my favorites of the trip – not only because the food was so good, but because the service was so genuinely friendly and helpful. Highly recommended.

The Bun

Stopped here for lunch. Their specialty is sandwiches served on Asian-style steamed buns. I started with a carrot and radish salad, followed by a couple of buns stuffed with pulled shortrib. Pretty yummy – though I might’ve liked squirt of Sriracha to zip them up a bit.

The pide place around the corner

My Airbnb host told me about this place and I was glad I took his advice. On the northwest corner of Dizengoff and Ibn Gabriol is Frank’s Hot Dogs (which, judging from this write-up, I should’ve visited too) – right next door on Ibn Gabriol is the pide place. The chalkboard menu is all in Hebrew, but if you ask for an English menu, they’ll give you one. On both my visits, the fellows taking orders were very friendly. One visit, I tried the kofte – and it was great. But rather amazingly, the pide that knocked my socks off was the cauliflower one – big chunks of grilled cauliflower, mixed up with tomato, cucumber and tahini. It was pretty great.

UPDATE: I’ve been advised the pide place is Miznon, from chef Eyal Shani of Tzfon Abraxas.

Gedera 26

Another small place near the Carmel Market. It was pretty quiet and I grabbed a seat at the small bar – which was great since the kitchen is right there and I literally watched my meal prepared about a meter in front of me.

I must say, I was a little skeptical when I saw the bread being prepped for me. The lovely brown oval was popped into the microwave, then put onto the grill to crisp up the outside. WELL. It was so good – crispy and doughy and hot. Served with some labane (yum) and a cilantro pesto that I advised the chef he should sell by the gallon. I could have made an entire meal of just that bread and pesto. But obviously didn’t…

First up, a simple dish of sautéed calamari. Tender and a heaping helping.

I actually had a bit of a hard time choosing a main, since so much of it sounded good. But I decided on bratwurst – not really sure why, just sounded good. They are made in-house, seasoned with sage and ginger and they were fantastic. When the chef was serving them up, I was going to ask for mustard, but he was already preparing a little bowl to go alongside – though as it turned out, these brats needed nothing else. They were so wonderfully flavored on their own, I wouldn’t add a drop of mustard. Served with a great potato salad and a kind of sweet-and-sour kraut/slaw.  I think this was my favorite dish of the whole trip.

The chef (I think his name was Lee? I didn’t write it down… Oops! I am the worst) was really personable and was happy to chat with me about food and travel – and he encouraged me to take photos while he was working. Oh, and at some point, shots were served… I didn’t even bat an eye this time.

Café 48 (again!)

For my last night in Tel Aviv, it was a toss-up between Gedera 26 and Café 48. I’d really enjoyed both of them – and since Gedera 26 closes on Shabbat, back I went to Café 48.

I had the same lovely server, whose name I learned is Darya. She was as gracious and helpful as on my first visit.

This time I started with a Vietnamese-style shrimp and vermicelli salad. Fantastic – and frankly better than any I’ve had in SF. Not to mention that I think there were a dozen plump shrimp in here – along with a very spicy chili-infused sauce. It was the best starter of any place I’d been.

For dinner: steak and potatoes. That is literally all it was. A perfectly medium-rare steak served with wedges of oven broiled potato. Hearty, delicious, a great cut of beef. And a really nice part? I asked for salt and was provided a small bowl of sea salt flakes rather than a shaker full of Morton’s. It’s a small thing, but speaks volumes about the care with which the food is served.

For dessert – an oat-and-butter cake-pie hybrid. Sticky and sweet, a crispy-buttery crust, a dollop of cream on top. Wonderful. And really nice way to say farewell to Tel Aviv.

The Cats (and a Few Dogs) of Istanbul

THERE ARE CATS EVERYWHERE IN ISTANBUL! And, I must say, for the most part, they seem in relatively decent shape. Though I’m sure it’s still a fairly tough life out on the street. And, as much as I wanted to, I refrained from cuddling with them. I do love cats, but I also value my stunningly-beautiful countenance and didn’t want it slashed to ribbons.

Oh and there is also a pretty decent size cat population in Tel Aviv – so the last few photos are actually from Israel.


Presented myself at the Arlozorov Terminal in Tel Aviv to catch bus 480 to Jerusalem. Bus had AC and wifi, so the hour trip to Jerusalem’s Central Bus Station went by quickly.

Managed to find my way to the Jaffa Gate of the Old City with not too much difficulty and then wandered a bit as I waited for the walking tour I’d signed up for – namely Holy City Tour with Sandeman’s. Essentially, it’s a souped up version of their free tour, going for four hours rather than two and with much more depth – and it was a bargain at €17.

Happily, it was a reasonably small group – about ten people – and our guide, Jeremy, was really great. Originally from Liverpool, he’s been living in Israel for six years. And his enthusiasm for the subject matter of the tour was evident throughout – we explored all four quarters (Armenian, Jewish, Christian, Muslim) of the Old City and Jeremy provided a really solid foundation for understanding both the ancient and modern history of an extraordinarily complicated place. His take on Jerusalem was especially engaging – namely, that it is a city that is made up of stories.

Are the stories true? Well, that’s really not necessarily important, as Jeremy opined, given that the history of the Jerusalem is so intimately entwined with religions – and that faith can make the historical veracity of story beside the point.

Jeremy started his tour off in front of the Tower of David by reading a poem by Yehuda Amichai.

The air over Jerusalem is saturated with prayers 
and dreams 
like the air over industrial cities.
It’s hard to breathe.
And from time to time a new shipment of history 
and the houses and towers are its packing materials. 
Later these are discarded and piled up in dumps.
And sometimes candles arrive instead of people 
and then it’s quiet. 
And sometimes people come instead of candles 
and then there’s noise.
And in enclosed gardens heavy with jasmine 
foreign consulates, 
like wicked brides that have been rejected, 
lie in wait for their moment.

It was an apt selection as we began our walk.

Oh, and another great thing about Jeremy? He spoke up! That is, I could hear him throughout our tour – at one point, he was even shushed by the priest outside of the Cathedral of St. James (which Jeremy sincerely blamed on how excited he gets talking about the history of Jerusalem – for example, here pointing out that a long ago proscription on Christians ringing bells lead to the pounding of wooden “cymbals,” here seen hanging on either side of the door).

The tour proceeded at a reasonably rapid clip – we certainly weren’t rushed, but Jeremy wanted to be sure we not only saw everything on his itinerary but also had time to answer our questions.

He took us up to a rooftop overlooking the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock (we were at the end of a Muslim holy week, meaning access to parts of the Muslim Quarter was limited to Muslims) – it was a rather amazing vantage point. He then told us all about the Western Wall – and that rather than take us to the “famous” portion of it that we could see, would be taking us to the Small Wailing Wall – a tiny section of the same wall that for hundreds of years had been the part of the wall that faithful Jews sought out for prayers and lamentations.

When we arrived, he encouraged us all to hew to tradition and write our prayers on slips of paper and put them into the wall. He also pointed out that both Obama and Romney had visited the Western Wall during the 2012 campaign – but only one put a prayer in the wall… and he won the election.

We also had a brief stop for lunch – I wound up at a falafel place with a group of jolly fellows from Belfast who’d been in Israel to watch a football match, followed up by a few days sightseeing. We kind of got busted for being too chatty (I was just getting tips on visiting South Korea from one of them!) when Jeremy rousted us from our table to get moving once again.

Through the Muslim Quarter, populated by 30,000 residents – versus about 2500 each in the Jewish and Christian Quarters of the same physical size. It’s pretty clearly not an easy place to live…

Followed part of the Via Dolorosa to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, with Jeremy stopping periodically at the Stations of the Cross. Once we arrived at the church, we spent a good amount of time out front with Jeremy telling us a variety of stories about the place (the Immovable Ladder is both an entertaining example of the Status Quo at the church, but also a rather telling symbol of how fraught with the competing faiths and sects Jerusalem remains) – and also advising us that the pilgrims within the church were generally not shy about using sharp elbows to make their way through this holy site.

It was certainly crowded inside – but relatively orderly, all things considered. After visiting the various sections of the church (each under the “control” of one of the six Christian sects), we ended our visit at the Chapel of Adam, the site under Calvary where Adam’s skull is buried – and where Christ’s blood from his crucifixion seeped through the ground to redeem Adam’s original sin. Or so it’s said…

We wrapped up the tour shortly thereafter, back at Jaffa Gate. My only regret? That I had a bike tour scheduled for that evening, meaning I had to decline an offer to hoist a few with Jeremy and the Northern Irish fellows. It was really a great tour – it provided an amazingly robust view of both the ancient and contemporary Old City. I heartily endorse this tour – especially if Jeremy is leading it.

Of course, at this point, I was exhausted and sweaty (and I’m sure I stank), so I was eager to get to my place for the night, Zach and Roi’s extra bedroom that they let on Airbnb. Found their place easily enough and was greeted warmly by my hosts (they didn’t even remark on my odor!). Had a much needed shower and a lie-down, before heading back out to meet up with my bike tour.

I stopped for a bite at Café Yehoshua on my way and had a couple of tasty sliders to fuel up for the evening’s activity. Cool place…

Found my way to the Jerusalem Midnight Bike Ride meet-up site, just down the road from the Jaffa Gate. I was a bit early, but luckily so were some other riders. None of us were quite sure if we were in the right place, but if we weren’t, at least we had company… But we were pretty close – one of the fellows got a message to proceed down the road and look for the guys with bikes in the parking garage.

The bikes provided were pretty nice – though I’ve never ridden a bike with shocks and thought my tire was flat! But they were well-maintained and comfortable. Of course for me (warning: bike snobbery ahead) it was really weird riding a bike with front and rear derailleurs. I’m used to my internal 8-speed hub… which of course led to my dropping my chain early in our ride. Kinda ruined my well-deserved bike cred, but what’re you gonna do?

This, by the way, was the only drawback to the tour – and completely not the fault of the tour company. They are very specific that this ride is for seasoned bike riders – and I’d venture to say I was the only person in the group who met that qualification. The other folks were OK – but I got caught behind one gal who never shifted out of low; some other dude was tailgating and smashed into me at a red light; and a couple of times our guide had to stop and go back when the laggards got lost because they couldn’t keep up… Oh well.

Anyway, despite that, I really loved this tour. After two weeks of traveling and tons of walking, it was great to be back on two wheels. I made a conscious decision not to schlep my DSLR along – and was glad. Though I don’t really have any photos, it was nice to simply be engaged in the activity at hand rather than fumbling for my camera at every stop.

We first rode through the outskirts of the Old City, with a couple of stops for explanations. Wended our way through some parks up to a hill overlooking the Old City, with Jordan visible on the horizon. It was pretty great.

Then back down and biked through the cobbled streets of the Old City. What a difference from that afternoon! It was devoid of tourists, the streets quiet and cool. It was really an amazing ride. If you like to bike (and know how to do so!), don’t miss this tour in Jerusalem.

Headed back to my place, had a great night’s sleep and bade farewell to Zach and Roi as I trudged off to the Israel Museum. And what a trudge it was! Not the easiest place to find, despite being visible at the top of a hill, but I made it just in time to take the hour-long Highlights of the Museum tour at noon.

The lady who gave the tour, who’d studied archeology when she migrated from the Netherlands back in the ‘60s, was a fine guide. She shared a wealth of information in our short time together and had a great sense of humor.

We saw a bit of each of the three major parts of the collection: archeology, Judaica and fine art. Perhaps the most amazing piece was the Ketef Hinnom, a pair of tiny silver scrolls discovered in 1979. The inscription on the scroll includes a Jewish prayer that is still in use today and proves that “some of the material found in the Five Books of Moses existed in the First Temple period.” I tend not to be all that moved by archaeology – but this was breathtaking.

In the Judaica section, one of the highlights was a reconstructed temple interior from Cochin, India. What a marvelous room!

And then, for me, the highlight from the museum’s contemporary wing, Adi Nes’ untitled photograph depicting the Last Supper with Israeli soldiers. What an amazing work.

One of the other folks on the tour asked, “Which one is Judas?” and our guide indicated it wasn’t clear, despite the highly-structured composition of the piece.

Now, my philistinism is well-known – but I opined that the one soldier seated second-to-the-right from the Jesus-figure’s was the only one at the table whose gaze wasn’t actively engaged with anyone else’s. And that the half-eaten apple in front of him could represent Adam’s original sin. And that the silver coffee pot in front of him could represent the 40-pieces of silver. I was quite proud of myself for making a trenchant observation!

Even better: our guide said, “Well, from now on, I can tell people on my tour that ‘according to an expert from San Francisco, this is probably the Judas-figure.’” I like her!

Took a quick look at the Dead Sea Scrolls (probably more interesting if I’d taken the time to do the audio tour – the philistine is back!) and then caught a cab to the Central Bus Station.

I’d planned to take the bus again – but it was a 20-minute wait ‘til the next one. Plus the line was quite long, meaning I might not get on until the one in 40 minutes. So, I went back outside and boarded a sherut – a shared taxi. The driver touts his destination and once all nine seats are full, he goes. I boarded and it took another ten minutes to fill up, then we were off. It was very easy.

Once back in Tel Aviv, I actually knew where I was – sufficiently so that I was able to take the bus back home! That’s really one of my favorite things about staying in one place for awhile – feeling like I’m getting to know the place.

Shower, nap, dinner, then home to pack and head back to Istanbul for the weekend. Shalom, Israel! It’s been great.

Israel – Day 1

So, I actually arrived in Tel Aviv yesterday. The trip from Turkey was something – Ataturk Airport is quite a scene and Turkish Airlines is kinda cray-cray. I actually plan to write all about the various flights on this trip once I’m on my way home.

I’ve really no pictures to post of Israel thus far – which is actually a good thing. I’m just getting into the laid-back vibe of the place. It’s really warm here – a nice change from the unseasonably cold weather in Istanbul. And this city is, despite the insane traffic, quite relaxing in its way. Mostly easy to navigate, very friendly locals (a lady on the street was happy to lend me her phone during the kerfuffle getting into my apartment here). It’s a nice change from the intensity of Istanbul and its 20 million residents. Not better per se – but a much mellower feel.

Plus, my agenda here is a lot quieter. I was concerned I’d be bored – but really I’ve just had to adjust to having only one thing to do or see each day rather than three or four.

Had a lovely dinner last night at Cafe Suzanna – per my gay Jewish podiatrist’s recommendation. Today I had a late breakfast at Orna and Ella, then walked along the shore for an hour or so after that. Home to meet my host Jacob, who explained to me where the washing machine was and where the best wine shop is nearby. Dinner started off disastrously when I got hopelessly lost trying to find Mizlala – but managed to find my way to Abraxas North, had a wonderful meal and then miraculously stumbled across Mizlala on the way home, apologized for failing to show up and was able to book for tomorrow evening.

Tomorrow I’m taking a walking tour with the Bauhaus Center at 10AM. Then I have dinner plans at 8PM. I’m hoping I can make it out to a gay bar or two, but apparently things don’t really get started until midnight. And, jet lag or no, that is asking a lot of this old gal… We’ll see how it goes.