When I mentioned to my friend Heather that my dinner date for that night had cancelled on me, I was met with a reaction of glee. Apparently, the thought of seafood by the sea – at the Tel Aviv Port, to be specific – was enough to warrant hopping on the next 2 hour train from Jerusalem.
After complaining about the appalling Tel Aviv humidity and boasting about Jerusalem's utterly superior weather, Heather settled back into her patio chair to watch the last remnants of sun set behind the pier. Just as I was about to resume our city rivalry by pointing out that Jerusalem is completely lacking in seaside, along came Isaac, the charming purveyor of no less than 8 different mezes sized salads. There is nothing like a lovely waiter and a million things to taste to get the meal started right.
It being nearly eight o'clock, we dug in to the freshly baked pita (including a za'atar flatbread) and started sampling. Then along came Arabic salad (or Israeli salad, depending on whom you would like to credit with this wonderful invention of finely chopped tomato, cucumber and onion), and a few appetizers. The shrimp tartar wrapped in smoked salmon, roquefort and spinach stuffed mushrooms and fried haloumi cheese were alright – but somehow the fresh Israeli vegetables beat them out for space on our plates.
Meanwhile, over wandered Ovadia Saba, proprietor and chief, who moved his veteran Jaffa restaurant over to the trendy Tel Aviv port 2 years back. Ovadia tells us that he comes from a long line of fisherman and grew up eating fish 'before it was so popular' and 'at least 6 days a week', along with his 9 brothers and sisters, some of whom carried on in the fisherman trade. As for him, he 'loved the fish, but not the fishing' – which is how he ended up in the restaurant business.
Many fishing stories later, we still hadn't ordered our mains. According to Isaac, everything was good. 'Then why not go for the gold', Heather and I pig-ishly agreed, and asked Isaac for the seafood stuffed fish and the seafood platter for 2. What can I say – we were hungry girls after a long day's work – and seafood is known to be served in rather tightfisted portions…right?
Umm …so we were wrong. Sometimes – as in, this time – seafood comes in enormous portions. As Isaac and his assistant set down a fish large enough to feed a family of five bursting with shrimp, calamari and mussels and a platter consisting of fried baby barbounia (red mullet), three types of shrimp, mussels, calamari, and whole grilled crab that was fit for kings (at least eight of them), Heather and I gasped in awe and understood that our eyes may have been bigger than our stomachs.
45 minutes later, Isaac refused to believe that we could not eat any more. After begging him to remove our plates before we exploded, we sat back, taking deep breaths as we gazed out at the sea. A cup of digestion aiding fresh mint tea (for me) and espresso (for Heather) later, we somehow decided that splitting dessert was an acceptable idea. The chocolate crunch was indeed a lovely end to our outdoor evening of seafood by the sea. Now, if only they could figure out what to do about the humidity.
1 Yordei Hasira St., Hangar 4, Tel Aviv Port, Tel Aviv