What is the secret of the eggplant dip? I ask Eran Zur, not the famous Israeli singer but Tel Aviv's The Local restaurant's chef, as I finish the second plate. No secret, he says. Grilled eggplants, salt, lemon and fresh basil; it's all about the balance. Basil? Here is an ingredient I did not expect. This is exactly what I loved about The Local restaurant that now launches its winter menu.
There are no unnecessary attempts of being sophisticated, only creative use of fresh local produce, and a personal interpretation of Mediterranean dishes. Take the falafel for instance. It is just a falafel after all, only integrated with grilled mashed eggplants and served with yogurt and spice herbs. Or the polenta: instead of the usual corn flour, it is made of fresh corn puree, which is sweet and milky this time of the year, and added with mushroom confit, which gives it a color and taste contrast.
Soon, we are told, more winter dishes will be added to the menu: rich soups, and beef tortellini in beef stock sauce.
But winter is not yet here, and we allow ourselves to taste some of the left-over summer tastes. Starting with the restaurant's cocktails: one is made of vodka, citrus, lemon-grass, ginger and mint, egg white and orange zest decoration, and another made of Campari and sweet-bitter-sour lychee, just as perfect. We then have some of the starters; each is an interesting combination of contradictory flavors: artichokes in sour vinaigrette balanced by crème fraiche and aromatic Manchego cheese; scorched haloumi cheese cubes with a touch of vinaigrette, mint and nectarine, and Corvina fish delicately spiced with goat yogurt and cucumber Gazpacho, and a touch of chopped chili peppers.
Actually, for some of the dishes the division of starters and mains is a matter of flexibility: the scorched rump, for example, is on the starters list but in fact it is not smaller than the home-made sausages that are served as a main course.
In both cases these are supposedly simple dishes, improved due to perfect meat treatment: the rump is scorched on the outside and red on the inside, served sliced with green peas, garlic confit and fresh hyssop. These side dishes provide a fresh touch in contrast of the emphasized meaty flavor. The sausages, made of veal meat, are surprisingly delicate, in comparison to the usual aggressive spicing of sausages, and served with home cured cabbage, scorched tomato and roasted potatoes in spice herbs.
If you are looking for a more substantial meaty dish, you should try the sirloin steak in reduced beef stock. The meat is served in a hot pan with broccoli and mushrooms, with a side of an eggplant puree. The moist puree in itself is a combination of deep potato and eggplant puree.
This is a good opportunity to say something about The Local's prices: the sirloin, 89 NIS, is the most expansive dish on the menu, while prices of most of the main courses are in the neighborhood of 55-65 NIS. Which means you can enjoy a dinner menu for very reasonable prices. This, on top of the attractive lunch deals that offer diners for the price of a main course (49-85 NIS) a focaccia with dips (including my favorite eggplant cream), stinging matbucha, tahini and warm chickpeas, and a small bowl of soup during winter time.
It is time for dessert. Here, too, the key is combinations: a cup with rich mascarpone cream, crumble and berries, again displaying a game of contradictions: sweet-sour-crispy-smooth; clear Semifreddo squares decorated with purple berry sauce, and malabi made of layers of coconut cream, pistachio cream and kadaif hairs. The three of these are a celebration of tastes and colors, just like the entire meal.