A meal at Hadar Ha’ochel .
(photo credit: ANATOLY MICHAELO)
For most of the 10 years of its existence, The Dining Hall (Hadar Ha’ochel) was the domain of chef Omer Miller, who has become one of Israel’s television celebrity chefs. Now that Miller has gone on to start his own restaurant empire, Dining Hall owner Steven Lobel has recruited chef Guy Malka to helm the kitchen, and the two have kicked off the eatery’s second decade with a substantially revamped menu.
Much of The Dining Hall’s popularity over the years – in addition to its good, wholesome food – may be ascribed to the restaurant’s convenient location. It is situated in the plaza of the Golda Meir Performing Arts Complex, which it shares with the Israeli Opera House and the Cameri Theater. The simple décor of the restaurant, however, is not quite what one might expect of a place frequented by opera-goers. The basic interior evokes the no-frills atmosphere of a kibbutz dining hall, although the al fresco seating is less severe. The large black-and-white photos that adorn the walls, meanwhile, conjure up a feel of the 1950s – coincidentally, the heyday of kibbutz communality.
The restaurant’s website describes the cuisine as “multicultural Israeli,” by which it means dishes representing the various ethnic populations living in this country, from the Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jewish traditions to the indigenous Arabic. In addition, there are gluten-free and vegan options, as well as a children’s menu.
The restaurant offers five specialty cocktails, although there is no printed cocktail list. It was time-consuming enough for our waitress to enumerate the selection of cocktails along with all the ingredients, not to mention the difficulty she had explaining them in English. And after all that, the bar was out of our first choice (Gin and Tea), leaving us with the Dark and Stormy – rum, lime, ginger and mint – which turned out to be a refreshing drink with a bit of a bite.
As we perused the bilingual food menu, we sampled the house bread – an attractive multi-seeded mini-loaf, served with aioli and pesto dips. The bread was best saved, however, to accompany some of the dishes about to come.
The new menu comprises four main categories: Dining Hall Classics (NIS 32-44); The Dining Table (NIS 38-74); and Fish and Meat (NIS 68-115). There is also a small section of side dishes, under the rubric Fun on the Side.
Our platter of three of the five Dining Hall “classics” (NIS 90) commenced with a particularly rich and mellow version of chopped chicken liver, which was enhanced nicely by a generous topping of fried onions.
Next was a beet salad: fat chunks of the blood-red vegetable tossed with crumbled feta cheese, slivered almonds and – rather surprisingly – tiny dabs of chimichurri. All in all, the combination of ingredients yielded a nice interplay of flavors and textures.
The third dish in the trio came recommended by our waitress: creamed eggplant – a buttery smooth mousse of baked eggplant and labaneh, drizzled with date honey and sprinkled with pine nuts, which made a delicious spread for our fresh bread.
Of the 14 intermediate-sized cold and hot dishes in the Dining Table category, just over half were new. Our first choice was the cheese shish borek with zucchini and dried mint in a yogurt sauce. The cheese filling in the Middle Eastern pasta pockets might have been mild but the sauce was tangy, and the dish as a whole was tasty and satisfying.
The pickled pumpkin was broad ribbons of the orange vegetable with seeds, hyssop, red pepper, Dijon mustard and the house ricotta cheese.
The slightly peppery pumpkin was quite good, but it seemed more suitable as a side dish than a main event.
The main courses listed under Fish and Meat featured two kinds of steak, as well as two fish dishes. The grilled fish was identified on the menu as corvina, but it probably should have said “catch of the day” because apparently it rotates. It turned out to be sea bass, served with gnocchi, tiny fava beans, okra and snow peas in a mildly spicy bisque.
The sirloin escalope, meanwhile, was two pieces of chewy yet flavorful steak grilled medium and topped with a fried egg. Served together with bonfire potatoes and broccoli florets, plus chimichurri and a green aioli, it was classic meat-and-potatoes comfort food.
There was a limited wine list on the back of the main menu. All the wines were Israeli, and most were available by the glass.
There was no dessert menu, but it did not take our waitress long to recite the four desserts. The cinnamon apple bun à la mode – a yeasty bun with a scoop of vanilla ice cream – was very good, but the red velvet cheesecake was excellent: a richly sweet confection – not too light and not too dense – sandwiched between a thin layer of red velvet cake and buttercream icing.The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
The Dining Hall Not kosher 23 Shaul Hamelech, Tel Aviv Tel: (03) 696-6188