Going out to eat or even just have a cup of coffee is more than the food or beverage we consume, it is also about ambiance, people, character, the service and the overall experience. I recently visited one of my favorite places in Jerusalem. This café is truly one of its kind in Jerusalem, if not on the entire Israeli culinary scene. A combination of a book and poetry club, book store, café, restaurant and a true hub for the art of writing (an art that some say is becoming rarer and rarer in the era of instant messaging and tweeting), Tmol Shilshom was first established in 1994 and is named after Nobel laureate, Shmuel Yosef Agnon's (commonly known by the acronym S.Y. Agnon) famous novel bearing the same name.
The café is situated in an old Jerusalemite residential structure/courtyard constructed over 130 years ago. Nothing is left to chance at Tmol Shilshom: the menus, placemats, cups and plates all carry a somewhat literary motif. The menus are designed as classic novels, which most of us have read at some point in our lives. I noticed that the placemats were adorned with a chapter of a book/short story written by David Ehrlich – one of the owners. The different categories within the menu are also true to the overall theme: the preface – which includes a variety of salads, soups and other starters; the plot – pasta and baked goods; the plot thickens – several different fish dishes; and, of course, the epilogue – a variety of homemade desserts and sweets. One of my favorite menu items at Tmol Shilshom actually hails from the beverage section - the Sinai Sachlab. The sachlab is delicious and includes slices of banana, coconut and nuts. On a cold winter afternoon, with a book in one hand and sachlab in the other, this is one of the best places in town.
As we were interested in sampling a variety of dishes, after consulting with our waitress, we decided to mix it up and order one shakshuka and the soup trio for our first course. We opted for the baladi (local in Arabic) shkashuka which was very tasty and includes grilled eggplant and goat cheese as well. The soup trio comprised three different soups served in glasses, with my favorite being a cream of artichoke soup that was smooth and simply delicious.
Next to arrive were the salmon fillet in white wine and fig sauce served aside sautéed mushrooms and spinach as well as the Pear-Roquefort Ravioli. The pear and Roquefort cheese ravioli consisted of tasty uniform dumplings of fresh (though not homemade) pasta dough filled with sweet pear puree and potent blue cheese lightly covered with a butter and sage coating and a balsamic vinegar glaze. I found the balsamic a bit overwhelming but all in all, this was a very interesting and unique pasta dish. The salmon, considered by many as the house specialty, was excellent, the generous fish fillet was nice and moist and the sweet fig sauce went surprisingly well with it. The sautéed greens and mushroom were a refreshing and light side dish that also benefited from the sauce.
Desserts are made in house (except for the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, of course) and if you are up for it, I highly recommend the rich cheese cake or the decadent Nevo & Ofri chocolate tart with hazelnuts and nougat crème.
Tmol Shilshom also hosts regular poetry readings and lectures as well as private events (see the restaurant’s homepage for further information) and I hear that they will soon be adding new and exciting dishes to the menu. It doesn't matter if you're coming for the coffee, food, company or an intellectually stimulating poetry reading, one thing is for sure, Tmol Shilshom offers an overall one-of-a-kind experience.