One of the dominant approaches to food and wine pairing is pairing local wines with traditional local cuisine. Ask any Italian or French wine drinker, and I'm sure they'll agree that the vino produced in the adjacent village pairs very well with their Sunday roast.
In an attempt to observe this theory from first hand and indulge on excellent food and wine from the Galilee and Golan Heights, we headed up north to visit Chef Chaim Tibi's Muscat Restaurant. Driving up the picturesque winding road from the small town Rosh Pina to sacred Safed, we made a right turn into the luxurious 37 acre Mizpe Hayamim resort, parked our car and made our way up to Muscat.
Tibi, a Safed native known as one of the leading chefs in the country, offers a unique seasonal menu drawing fresh organic produce from Mitzpe Hayamim's grounds: from chickens, geese, ducks, goats, various kinds of vegetables, lettuce and herbs, home made cheese, fruits and more. This self sufficiency (for the most part) is certainly the dream of every chef.
Seated by a window overlooking the Hula Valley and the Sea of Galilee (Kineret), we started off with a glass of dry Proseco, which, while not quite local, went very well with a tartar of fresh salmon, finely diced vegetables, and a dish consisting of thin seared slices of veal tongue topped with beat and pomegranate vinaigrette. The bubbly cut through the oily fish, cleansing the palate between bites.
From here on it was all local. The Yarden Gewürztraminer 09 from the Golan Heights Winery was served alongside our first courses. Off dry and very aromatic, showing various tropical fruit and spice aromas, the wine held its own and went very well with both the duck liver tortellini and the goat cheese gnocchi. The dishes, served with a creamy white root puree were cooked to perfection. The tortellini prepared al dente hid succulent pieces of duck liver and the gnocchi was light, fluffy and full of flavor.
Avi, the friendly and knowledgeable restaurant manager walked over and suggested a couple of red wines to go with the entrées. After a quick debate, we decided to keep it local and go for Galilee Mountain's Yiron 2006. A classic blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah, this is one of my favorite wines produced by this winery. Full bodied, it is showing generous aromas of dark berry fruits, fresh herbs and a touch of vanilla. The wine is approachable and pairs well with a wide variety of dishes.
Duck breast and duck thigh duet prepared in a stock, caramel and '5 passion spices' sauce for Oshrit, and a kid (young goat) and root vegetable roast for me. Again, the attention to detail and emphasis on excellent fresh produce was evident. The duck literally melted in our mouths and the unique flavorful sauce was wiped off the plate using the grilled vegetables. It's not every day that you see fresh organic kid on the menu and as soon as I noticed it, I placed my order. The dish was very generous and unique, consisting of two large chunks of distinctive yet delicate kid meat and a colorful assortment of root vegetables – needless to say, I was content.
Starting to feel slightly tipsy, we politely declined a glass of Yarden's Heights Wine (Golan Heights' version of an Ice wine) and focused on our next task - dessert. The best Cannoli I've had in years (including a recent trip to Italy), Muscat's version consists of a caramel based "tube" filled with rich sheep's milk cheese cream and refreshing basil sauce. From presentation through textures, balance, flavors, freshness and locality, Tibi and his team set very high standards all around. Next time you're in the area and are looking for a unique and indulgent culinary experience, pick up the phone and book a table at Muscat.
From August 12th to September 16th, Muscat will be hosting a culinary and wine festival dedicated to Israel's female chefs. The impressive list includes Chefs Ayelet Latovich, Michal Anski, Mika Sharon, Avivit Priel and others, all will prepare special dishes and host culinary workshops in Tibi's kitchen.