I often enjoy visiting a restaurant for the second time. One visit is just not enough to form a complete opinion about a place. By the second visit, however, one can easily decide what to order, is familiar with the chef’s fortes and, equally important, knows what not to order. I last visited HaChatzer (Hebrew for courtyard) about 18 months ago for one of my closest friend’s birthdays. As far as I recall from that long night, the food and service were very good and we also enjoyed a couple of shots of boucha – a traditional Tunisian fig-based spirit.
Situated in Jerusalem's old train station compound, a couple of blocks down from Emek Refaim, HaChatzer offers a wide variety of mezzes (small opening platters), fish, salads, grilled meats, chicken dishes, stews and more, inspired by traditional Middle Eastern cuisine along with classic French and Italian influences. The decor is warm and modern simultaneously maintaining a homey and familiar atmosphere.
After browsing the menu we decided not make selections, but rather to go for HaChatzer’s tasting menu. The diner is in the chef’s hands to select the best dishes the restaurant can offer. Also, this allows guests to sample a relatively wide variety of mini dishes. Dishes arrive to the table slowly, including sections of salads, fish, chicken liver paté, sweetbreads, several other meat dishes and dessert as well.
First to arrive at our table was an assortment of colorful mezzes and freshly baked house bread. The salads were all delicious, our favorites being their matboucha – a traditional Moroccan piquant tomato-based dish, a well-seasoned bulgur wheat mezze and a very refreshing salad finely chopped greens, dried cranberries and pomegranate seeds. Before moving on to the main course, or rather before moving on to the second round of first course, we also sampled the sesame crusted seared tuna with miso and caramelized figs and sea bream in a sweet pomegranate soy sauce. Both dishes were prepared well and presented nicely. The sea bream was served skin side up with the fish easily flaking off at the touch of a fork from the crispy skin.
Time to move on to the next round: beef carpaccio, veal sweetbreads served with a white bean and smoked goose breast stew and chicken liver pate served with homemade cherry tomato chutney. The carpaccio was thinly sliced, just as it should be, and the delicate meat was seasoned with olive and truffle oils. A dash of salt and olive oil on the beans and I was ready for the next dish. The sweetbreads were cooked to perfection, slightly crispy on the outside and juicy and moist within.
Our main course for the evening was the slow-cooked beef short ribs (asado) in a homemade barbeque sauce. The melt-in-your-mouth meat is slowly cooked for over six hours, absorbing the sweet flavors and aromas from the sauce and resulting in a very tender, rich dish. Desserts were OK, but I can not say that they were exciting -the petit fours were tasty but the parve (non-diary) vanilla Ice cream was a bit disappointing and a fruit sorbet would have been a better choice. To be honest, after all of that delicious savorty food, we did not have much room left for dessert anyways.
Overall, HaChatzer offers a very tasty and varied dining experience. The portions are generous, the food is fresh, the wine menu offers a variety of kosher selections to enjoy. The service is very friendly and, in my opinion, it is among the best kosher restaurants in town. Next time you are looking for a place in Jerusalem, HaChatzer should definitely be added to your short list.