I'd been hearing about the new business lunch at Carmela BeNachala for quite some time: all the modern Mediterranean gourmet offerings of the night menu at lunchtime prices.
It was a cold and rainy third of Hanukah when my poor cousin Jenny finally arrived on a snowstorm delayed flight from Toronto via many unwanted hours in Warsaw. She deserved a proper welcome to Tel Aviv winter. And coming from a food family as we most certainly do, what better way than a winter lunch of fresh market fare at Carmela.
In a stunningly restored building which dates back to the early days of Tel Aviv, Carmela's Nachalat Binyamin pedestrian mall location next to the Carmel Market makes it the ultimate choice for impressing visiting friends and family. In my own particular case, visiting family also means identifying vegetarian friendly location – another reason why Carmela tops my list of favourite Tel Aviv restaurants.
The Carmela lunch special (or business menu as it's called in Israel) consists of a menu of individually priced starters and mains. With the order of any main, any starter is complementary. This structure allows smaller eaters to choose only a starter, or to add-on more than one starter per main; which is exactly what Jenny and I decided to do…
One cannot eat at Carmela without trying the herb salad – a dish synonymous with the restaurant. This fresh and tasty dish is not only veggie friendly, but also veggie satiating, due to the abundance of toasted cashews. Veggie Jenny also enjoyed the halumi with beets, honey and fresh hyssop, but like many before her, declared the herb salad to be 'the absolute best' and polished it off down to the last parsley leaf.
Feeling obligated to represent the carnivorous side of the family, I started with the dominant, flavourful cured sirloin carpaccio, as well as the milder salmon carpaccio with shaved avocado, refreshing pieces of orange and grapefruit and little bits of fresh chili. I tried to go easy on the warm crusty bread that accompanied our starters, but unfortunately exceeded my single slice limit.
Between the starters and the mains, we sampled the homemade traditional German-style pretzels – another Carmela claim to fame. The doughy pretzels come stuffed with a variety of fillings (including egg salad, homemade ikra, and salmon and cream cheese) which have become so popular that Chef Daniel Zach opted to start baking the pretzels into a more filling accommodating baguette style, instead of the traditional pretzel shape.
Following a short post pretzel break, 2 deep bowls arrived at the table containing our mains. A dish of pan fried potato gnocchi in chestnut and porcini cream for the vegetarian (one of 2 veggie mains, the other a risotto) and grilled calamari on super smoky eggplant in tomatoes, yoghurt, lemon and garlic. Sampling our dishes, and then trading bites (Jenny being of the laid back vegetarian variety, willing to eat around the animal) we decided that the gnocchi was our favourite of the two. The ultra-rich flavourful sauce, complete with slices of porcini and chunks of hazelnut amongst the tender gnocchi, was the perfect palate pleaser and belly warmer on this winter day.
After such a rich lunch, dessert seemed a bit obscene, so we opted instead for cups of cappuccino to warm us and wake us (at least the jet-lagged one of us) before heading out into the rain.
Wandering through the Carmel Market on our way home, Jenny mentioned that lunch at Carmela aught to become a new family Hanukah tradition. Coming from a girl who's insisted on the same seating plan for every family function for the last 20 years, I have a feeling that this was the first of many a lunch to come.
46 Hatavor St. Tel Aviv