(photo credit: PR)
There are times when a chef can be too talented for his own good. David Biton, longtime chef of the King David Hotel’s flagship restaurant La Regence, has created a sterling reputation for his inventive use of fresh local ingredients in creating superb meat-based dishes that have satiated world leaders and tourists alike. A few years ago, I had one of the best steak dinners of my life there.
Biton recently unveiled a winter tasting menu, available through the end of March, that offers an adventurous gastronomic journey through 11 courses and numerous styles, some more successful than others.
Be prepared to sit a spell. The evening takes a minimum of two hours, and while it isn’t any more filling than ordering a regular meal, you’re going to walk out thinking that you’ve spent a good part of your night eating.
“We offer a Mediterranean menu based on fresh local ingredients. Aside from salt and pepper, you won’t find any spices in my kitchen,” said Biton, explaining that he preferred to let the natural flavors of the dishes come to the forefront.
Biton has decided to challenge the diner with some unorthodox dishes that can be both inspired and perplexing. The menu got off to a positive start with an inventive selection of homemade, oddly shaped crackers that included tapioca, wild rice and beef served with a piquant horseradish sauce We looked forward to the goose liver tart on pralines, expecting a creamy creation. Instead, it consisted of jelly-like crystals that tasted fine, but the texture left something to be desired.
The same with the Jerusalem artichoke flan – a block of jiggly mousse that bore the distinct flavor of the Mediterranean delicacy but with a consistency that was somewhat offputting.
More enjoyable was the chicken consommé, served in a novel manner. Our pleasant server turned over an upside-down mug to reveal a forest of smoky spices. She then presented us with a tea bag-looking device. She said that after she filled the mug with steaming water, we should let the bag float for 15 seconds and then remove it. The result was an enchanting clear broth with a distinct barbecued taste that went down very easily.
Even more successful and satisfying were dishes like cold red snapper served with fennel cream and tarragon with smoked potato chips, and the sublime goose-filled ravioli with mushrooms, onions and peas.
Both would have warranted a larger portion if they had been served on their own.
But the best was yet to come. The fillet of beef medallion was a succulent and tender offering, enhanced by cauliflower and garlic cream. It was impossible not to forgive any shortcomings in whatever had arrived before it.
Two more courses awaited us, however. First was a pre-dessert selection of tapioca pudding with saffron, baba au rum balls and mandarin sorbet. They were all light and refreshing, but the baba au rum lacked a punch.
But they were a nice set-up for the rich chocolate torte that closed the meal in a sinful and delightful manner. We managed to leave the splendor of the historic hotel under our own steam, but just barely.
At a hefty price of NIS 380 per person, I would think twice about ordering the tasting menu, especially when you can have the best steak in town. But for the adventurous diner with a couple of hours to spare, it will provide an evening of diversity that showcases a fearless chef who looks around his kitchen and says, “Why not?” The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
King David Hotel, Jerusalem
Sunday through Thursday, 6:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
The tasting menu is offered until 9 p.m. and costs NIS 380 per person. Allow at least two hours for the tasting meal.