Somehow over the past couple of months Monday night has turned into date night. Every Monday, my partner and I try to find a bar or restaurant that we haven’t visited in a while or even better, one that we haven’t visited at all.
This time it was back to HaChatzer, one of our favorite Jerusalem eateries. Situated in Jerusalem’s old train station compound, HaChatzer, Hebrew for “The Courtyard” offers a well rounded menu including various starters, fish, pasta, grilled meat, hearty flavorful stews and even excellent parve desserts, a section that is often the Achilles heel at many kosher restaurants. It is also important to note that HaChatzer’s wine menu offers a good selection of fine Israeli wine at some of the most reasonable prices that I’ve seen on any wine menu.
After completing his studies at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu in Sydney, Australia and working in several restaurants around the world, Chef Moti Ochana decided to return to his homeland and demonstrate his cooking prowess. Moti’s approach to cooking is very straight forward, using excellent fresh produce, emphasizing local Mediterranean flavors while incorporating classic cooking techniques.
Diners can simply order off the A-La-Carte menu but if you are a party of four or more, I would strongly recommend opting for the tasting menu. This is where the diners literally put themselves in the hands of the Chef who gradually sends an assortment of dishes over to their table. Every tasting session starts with a variety of fresh colorful mezzes and homemade frena bread, some like the delicious Moroccan matbucha and cooked carrots with cumin are more on the traditional side while others, like the finely chopped greens with walnuts and cranberries are more contemporary. Next to arrive was a duet of sashimi - red tuna, with citrus sections, green onions, slivers of red chili and fresh ginger. The ingredients were all very fresh and the tuna-ginger-citrus trio really went well together with an extra kick provided by the ginger. The second sashimi dish included thin slices of sea bream placed atop cubes of steamed eggplant, tasos olives and again, paper thin slices of red chili. Both raw fish dishes were very tasty but the next one really took these sea creatures to the next level. A great demonstration of Mediterranean cuisine – sautéed eggplant and okra, perfectly seared pieces of sea bass, fresh zaatar (hyssop) and black olives on a delicious grilled tomato puree – highly recommended.
HaChatzer also offers a good variety of innards based dishes. While I know that this isn’t every ones cup of tea, if you are willing to try it, you will not be disappointed. The sweetbread risotto was quite tasty with good proportions between rice and meat but the batter-fried veal spine was the winner of this round being one of the best versions that I have had in a while. Crispy on the outside and very moist and tender within, this is the closest thing in taste and texture to deep fried calamari, and of course it is all kosher.
Scaling up, it was time to move on to the heartier meat dishes. Moti’s slow cooked stews are a real treat. On my last visit, I enjoyed the ox tail stew with chickpeas and plenty of garlic and this time I requested the veal cheek stew. After cooking for over 5 hours, a generous portion of melt in your mouth meat is placed on a plate along side crunchy root vegetables – carrots, Jerusalem artichokes, celery root and green beans, now this is real comfort food. Our second meat dish included small medallions of tender beef fillet in a delicious porcini and veal-stock glaze.
Rolling off our chairs, it was time for dessert. HaChatzer’s new pastry chef recently joined the team and all of the desserts are made on the premises. The praline platter was very generous and could easily be enough for 3-4 people – surprisingly good parve white chocolate, home made marzipan, strawberry marmalade and more. The usual double espresso and a glass of mint tea and it was time to call it a night.
By the way, on Friday afternoons Hachatzer offers a special homey Shabbat menu for NIS 75 per person and during the summer/spring also holds private events in the outside garden. Enjoy!