Monday, October 21, 2013

The Best Things I Ate in Israel

Just returned from another epic trip to the Holy Land. Been three years since I'd checked in and yes, things have changed. Jerusalem is still the chaotic-lovely-congested-quiet-filthy-picturesque bag of contrasts that I love. But it's definitely gotten a bit more posh in certain areas, like the revamped "Tachanah," or Old Train Station with its industrial-cool restaurants and artisanal food market. The once-seedy Mahane Yehuda produce market is now on its way to being a cosmopolitan nosh-nexus similar to Seattle's Pike Street Market and San Fran's Ferry Building. Now amidst the stalls hawking nuts, pickles and figs there are trendy pasta restaurants and even a fish and chips place. I tried Georgian food for the fist time and was impressed with the strong flavors and hints of Eastern spices and influences. And while this trip was by no means an exhaustive tour of all that is current and trending in Israeli cuisine (I was traveling with two toddlers, meaning, I drank about a gallon of wine every night and it was a miracle my iphone was not covered in hummus and phyllo grease by the end of the trip), I was able to taste some spectacular things.

Herewith, my culinary adventures in pictures.
The menu at Azura, a Slow Food-approved spot and the first stop on my Sephardic soul food pilgrimage. It's a no-frills spot hidden inside the Mahane Yehuda market..
Nanuchka, Tel Aviv, home to Georgian cooking and funky decor.

Fantastic Khinkali - meat dumplings at Nanuchka.

Lunch at Hamotzi restaurant - owned by Avi Levy, winner of Israel's Master Chef (like Top Chef in the US).

Fried battered fish in a spicy Moroccan sauce at Homotzi.
Oh, just a little feast our Aunt Shoshana whipped up (while recovering from knee surgery no less!) consisting of homemade techina, fried eggplant, tomato salad and kubbeh soup (semolina dumplings, beets, lemon)
Fresh-pressed pomegranate juice at Mahane Yehuda market.

A salad topped with fried haloumi cheese - this one needs to make it on to the next Saffron Supper Club menu!
The beer garden and food court at the revamped Old Train Station in Jerusalem.

Epic baklava selection at the Old Train Station.

Look! Paletas in Israel.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Miami Attractions Month

Had a blast this weekend hanging out with the manatees, sea lions and dolphins at The Miami Seaquarium in honor of Miami Attractions month. From now until the end of October enjoy buy 1 admision, get 1 admission at places like Jungle Island, Vizcaya, and yep - the Seaquarium. The Seaquarium appeals to me because it still retains its mid-century charms with period-era signage and architectural curiosities like the geodesic dome covering the sea lion stadium. And they still put on the "Flipper" dolphin show with Beach Boys songs. It's the perfect soundtrack to a throwback Miami day.
The iconic golden dome stadium designed by Buckminster Fuller in 1960.

Preservation, Sunny Isles

The motto of Preservation is “cured, pickled, smoked.”  Yes, this new spot in Sunny Isles is all about the brine. When I found out about this spot thanks to culinary super-sleuth Wokstar I was excited: finally a place that is as obsessed with pickles as I am. And indeed Partners Nicole Richaud and Ryan Harrison are interested in producing honest, well-sourced food that is both upscale and refreshingly unpretentious. They revamped a strip mall space into a stylish, slightly-zen dining room outfitted with reclaimed wood tables, concrete walls pressed with leaves and nine flat screen TV’s. A small retail area in the front stocks the kitchen’s homemade pickled vegetables and fruit preserves.
The menu comprises modern American cooking with a focus on smoked and cured meats. All bread is made in-house, including rye for sandwiches and buns for burgers. Smoked fish, sausages and condiments like ketchup, mustard and their house preserves are all house made. Harrison is the chef and has worked with John Besh in New Orleans as well as the Smoke Truck in Philadelphia. Prices are in keeping with artisanal fare with starters $8-$16, and mains $12-$25. A meal starts with battered pickles with a grain mustard dipping sauce. From there it’s on to the smoked tomato soup with basil mousse or the smoked salmon platter with dill cream and topped with bright pink pickled onions. Sandwiches include a brisket cheesesteak and a pastrami with smoked pickled slaw. Blackboard specials can include homemade ravioli stuffed with lamb or a Scottish salmon with sake glaze and a preserved Meyer Lemon quinoa. The place also excels at desserts, as exemplified by this towering carrot cake, which, like most of the offerings at Preservation was well-balanced and fresh.