There is no doubt that the Jerusalem restaurant scene has changed dramatically in recent years, but one place that has maintained a consistent presence is Cavalier, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.
Cavalier was founded by chef Didi Ben-Arush, who had no formal training before opening his own restaurant at a young age, only a love of gastronomy. He has been fortunate to spend time in the kitchens of some of the best restaurants in the world, including a three-Michelin-star restaurant in France, considered by some to be the best French restaurant in the world. Ben-Arush once hosted former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani with then-mayor of Jerusalem Ehud Olmert. Giuliani was so impressed with the chef, that he offered to arrange an internship for him at the restaurant of his choice in New York, which resulted in a stint in the kitchen of Nobu.
There is nothing modern or trendy about the decor or the menu at Cavalier; the emphasis is on the consistent reliability of the dishes.
We started our meal with a wonderfully crisp and fruity bottle of Guy Saget Sancerre 2011 (NIS 209/bottle) from the Loire Valley, a perfect accompaniment to the starters that followed. The restaurant has an extensive wine list that includes many Israeli wines.
For me, the most memorable starter was the tagliolini with truffle crumbs (NIS 64). The incredibly thin pasta was topped with a poached quail egg and Parmesan. The combination of the truffle flavor with the Parmesan is one of my favorites, but the delicate nature of the pasta and richness of the sauce made the dish all the more refined. My dining companion favored the foie gras Cavalier (NIS 78) – two very generous escalopes of goose liver, cooked in a sweet Marsala sauce and truffle oil, which lent a nutty profile to the dish. Another flawlessly executed starter was the simple asparagus dish (NIS 69). As it was perfectly cooked and served with fresh tomatoes, Parmesan and lemon vinaigrette, I enjoyed every mouthful.
We both relished the two fish starters we tried, where the chef’s time at Nobu was evident. The “new style” tuna sashimi (NIS 69) was gently seared in sesame oil and seasoned with soy sauce and wasabi, with just the right amount of punch. The tuna tartare (NIS 56) topped with vivid green wasabispiced tobiko (tiny fish eggs) was beautifully presented, and the combination of tastes and textures worked well. Finally, we tried the kohlrabi carpaccio (NIS 56) with walnuts, nigella seeds, Parmesan and truffle oil, a change from the popular beet carpaccio with an interesting, earthy range of flavors.
My companion and I have reviewed many restaurants together, and he always comments on the lack of an authentic creamy peppercorn sauce in Israel’s restaurants, but his search is now over. For him, the veal fillet in peppercorn sauce (NIS 149) was the perfect main dish, with a creamy peppery sauce and a wonderfully executed fillet steak.
As for me, I could eat the accompanying mashed potatoes every day and be happy. It might seem strange to single out a side dish, but they really were something special.
Other main dishes worth mentioning were the lamb couscous (NIS 154), inspired by Ben-Arush’s mother. It had a pleasing sweetness that was not overpowering. The veal escalope (NIS 92) was served in the traditional Italian breaded style, topped with arugula and Parmesan.
I tried the bass (NIS 118) in a fish broth with olive oil, basil and citrus oil. The portion was generous and was a very satisfyingly “meaty” piece of fish, but I felt the sauce lacked a distinction that so many of the other dishes had delighted me with.
For dessert, we sampled the chocolate volcano (NIS 40) served with authentic vanilla ice cream.
The quality of the Valrhona chocolate and the precision of the cooking time distinguished this dish from the abundance of chocolate soufflé dishes you find in other places and is well worth saving room for. We also enjoyed the lemon tart (NIS 40), which was the right balance of tangy and creamy. I had been dreaming of the tarte tatin (NIS 40) all day, and although it tasted delicious, it lacked the authentic pastry base of a real French tarte tatin, so I was slightly disappointed.
Overall, we thoroughly enjoyed our meal. The food was exquisite, the ambience relaxed but special, and the service excellent. If you haven’t had a chance to dine at Cavalier, I suggest you add it to your to-do list.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
1 Ben-Sira, Jerusalem
Sun-Sat. noon to 3:30 p.m.(business menu) Sun-Sat. 6:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.