I first visited Scala almost four years ago; it was several months after the opening and over time I have dined there on four or five different occasions. There are very few truly high-end-kosher-gourmet restaurants in Jerusalem and after a recent visit at Scala, it was good to see that Chef Oren Yerushalmi still offers one of the best meals in town. Situated in the heart of Jerusalem, adjacent to the Mamila shopping plaza, Scala offers a varied, seasonal menu relying primarily on local ingredients and traditional dishes while incorporating classic French and Italian cooking techniques. The restaurant, located on the second floor of the David Citadel Hotel, was designed by the Italian architect Piero Lissoni (who also designed the Mirror Bar in the Mamilla Hotel), combining elements of dark marble, wood and glass, all of which create a warm, clean and very stylish décor. The "see through" wine cellar is also very impressive, relying entirely on Israeli vinos (with the exception of a couple of French Champagnes). Scala’s wine "cellar" is actually a massive wine shelf covering an entire wall at the far end of the restaurant and facing out to diners who can have a peak at the bottles.
After working as a sous chef at Tel Aviv’s renowned Catit restaurant and spending a couple of years in the big apple interning at some of New York’s top restaurants including WD 50, Café Bouley and Grey, Chef Oren Yerushalmi returned to Israel and soon after assumed position as the head chef at Scala.
The menu at Scala has changed a bit since I was there last, and today, aside from the concise dinner menu, it also includes a creative bar menu that offers tasty and stylish snacks. Another fact that I noticed was Yerushalmi’s decision to focus more on his interpretation to traditional Middle Eastern dishes which proved to be quite interesting and for the most part, very tasty as well.
We decided to sample a couple of the bar “snacks” before delving into the menu. First to arrive was a very tasty and crispy tortilla with minced meat, guacamole and other garnishes. The tortilla was devoured in no time – it was nothing fancy, but order this dish along with a cold-one and you won’t be disappointed. The second starter was a flatbread (pita) with minced lamb, onions, tomatoes and tahini. The dish was OK but there was one add-on that really hit the spot – tangy pickled mango. The pickled mango along with the potent flavors of the lamb is an excellent combination and also brought back memories of a small Jerusalem eatery that unfortunately closed down – Chaim Piro. I am not sure if this was homage to Piro or a coincidence but either way, it was a treat.
As mentioned above, the wine menu is based on Israeli vinos sourced from various wineries across the country and Scala’s new manager Tal Gantz is very proud of that fact. A master bartender and beverage specialist, Gantz indicated that when he travels, he always carries a bottle or two of Israeli wine with him and tries to “spread the word” regarding the quality and renaissance of the local wine industry.
While there is no question that we still have a long way to go, Israeli wines are on the rise and from Mizpe Ramon in the south do the northern tip of the Golan Heights, vintners and winemakers are working hand in hand to constantly improve both quality as well as the selection of Israeli vinos. We tried the Yatir red blend (Merlot, Cab, and Shiraz) and a glass of the Yiron Blend from the Galil Mountain Winery.
Over the years, the Yiron blend has proven to be one of the “safest bets” in the Israeli wine industry. I recently tried the 2009 and it was up to par with previous releases. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot, 16 months in French oak, the result is a dark ruby, concentrated and elegant wine suggesting aromas and flavors of dark berry fruits (blueberries in particular) followed by notes of fresh herbs and vanilla leading to a long and well balanced finish. Very enjoyable on its own, but more importantly, also a very food friendly wine.
Next we sampled a dish that represented Yerushalmi’s version of a gourmet-deconstructed fricasse, a traditional Tunisian sandwich comprising canned Tuna, boiled potato, capers, pickled lemon, hard boiled and the classic pilpelchuma – a piquant garlic – chili sauce. Yerushalmi really took this one to the next level, deep frying fillets of fresh fish, coating the potatoes with polenta and adding pickled lemon homemade sauces. The dish was very tasty and was prepared to perfection. With no disrespect to Tunisians who swear by their mothers’ fricasse, try Scala’s version – you will be positively surprised.
Main courses included succulent chicken dish prepared sous-vide (vacuum cooked) before being roasted to ensure that all of the flavors and juices are kept in. My fiancé was very surprised when I asked for the chicken but after taking one bight, she smiled and understood why. Our second main course was a classic tournado Rossini – a medallion of beef fillet topped with foie gras and a cream (nondairy) of potatoes on the side. It is hard to complain when eating beef fillet and goose liver, but in this case the rules of kashrut managed to impact the final result. When tasting the meat, I could feel that it was over salted (during the process of making the meat kosher, the meat is salted and then rinsed several times, a practice that If done excessively can result in a dry steak) and a bit on the dry side.
After a long and deep breath it was time for dessert. A delicious bitter-sweet chocolate based dessert was brought to the table. The rich dessert platter included dark chocolate in various shapes and forms – soufflé, ganache, a crispy chocolate tuile – all were tasty and proved that as long as you don’t cut corners and use imitations, even kosher dessert can be delicious! Two cups of espresso coffee and it was time to call a night. Until the next time.