Saturday 27 November 2010
Hot Plates | Israel’s Creative Cooking
The creative streak coursing through many a Tel Aviv kitchen has spilled over to Jaffa, its ancient and often aesthetically unruly sister. Fittingly for a place that has served as a port since the Bronze Age, one of the new entrants sits in a retrofitted relic by the water: Container (Warehouse 2, Jaffa Port; 011-972-3-683-6321; entrees about $20 to $27) makes its home inside a hangar that dates from the 1920s, when Jaffa was part of the British Mandate of Palestine. The space fuses Red Hook grit with Levantine glam, incorporating a sweeping, 45-seat horseshoe-shaped bar under a warehouse-high ceiling that affords nice views of both the oversize wood oven in the open kitchen and the rotating exhibits on the walls. Adding to the mix is a three-times-a-week D.J. set.
About that oven: what goes in and out of it is largely overseen by Vince Muster, the chef who’s also behind Charcuterie, a hip restaurant in Jaffa’s flea market area known for its homemade sausages. From Muster’s uncomplicated menu at Container, you can chase a snappy salad of, say, Israeli zebra tomatoes and smoked tomatoes with entrées like drum fish with olives and parsley or salmon with horseradish, white wine and cream. It all goes down well with a frozen arak-grapefruit cocktail. Or two.
Shakuf (Magen Avraham 2; 011-972-3-758-6888; prix fixe $50) needs no infusion of alcohol to keep its motor running, so concentrated is its concept of precisely prepared, systematically sourced food. Its name is Hebrew for “transparent,” and you’ll see why as soon as you find the place, tucked into a narrow side street off of busy Jerusalem Boulevard, Jaffa’s main thoroughfare leading into Tel Aviv proper. Past the video projections of nature images in the dark narrow entrance is a brightly lit inner sanctum where a gleaming, elongated bar that seats 40 wraps in L-formation around an open kitchen run by the rising chef Eldad Shem-Tov. He’s cooked at Alain Ducasse and Per Se in New York, and been schooled in culinary alchemy at Wylie Dufresne’s Lower East Side molecular-cuisine mainstay WD-50.
If Container is more about fun, Shakuf courts fashion — in this case, one-upping the trend of emphasizing organic, locally sourced ingredients by downright insisting on it. Which results in some pretty improbable pairings, like root vegetable soup with parsley and rosemary ice cream, and spring lamb with veggies and curried beer sauce. Your senses have to be on high alert to truly plug into the menu, which changes daily. But no one’s complaining. They’re reserving.