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Home cooking from scratch
By GLORIA DEUTSCH
05/10/2012
At Ayelet and Gili in Zichron Ya’akov, the food is delicious and the welcome is warm.
 
Giving up a career in hi-tech to open a restaurant is not the path everyone would take. But for Ayelet Tsioni, it was the realization of a dream. “I’ve always loved to cook,” she says,” “and I reached a crossroad in my life – nearing 50 with a degree in computer studies and a good job – when I decided it was now or never.”

Husband Gili was supportive but also wrapped up in his own career as the lead singer and founder of the New Age group Gaia, which achieved success with hits like “Shir Le’ahava.”

“Why do you want to work so hard?” he had asked her.

“I enjoy cooking and entertaining so much, it doesn’t even feel like hard work,” she answered.

Two years ago, the restaurant Ayelet and Gili opened on the main street of Zichron Ya’acov and has established itself as a place for home cooking at its best. Ayelet, who is Yemenite, makes everything herself from scratch – the pitot, the ubiquitous spice hawaj, the tehina and her pride and joy, the s’hug, that spicy Yemenite condiment that is almost inedible for the unaccustomed Ashkenazi but in Ayelet’s version can be eaten by the spoonful.

Sampling the fare available at Ayelet and Gili recently, I can confidently say that the food is delicious and the welcome is warm. Coming from Tel Aviv, the chef offers the traditional Yemenite food on which she was raised but with a fusion of modern trends toward healthier eating and a variety of vegetarian dishes and whole grains.

The restaurant is plum in the middle of the pretty northern town, a few steps from the main synagogue in an old building that faces the road. Up a few steps and one finds oneself in a colorful and welcoming atmosphere. The walls are painted in pale mustard, the tables and chairs are brick red, and musical instruments hang on the walls.

The kitchen is visible behind the counter, and all the cooking activity can be seen. When we visited, Ayelet came to our table and helped us choose our menu selections. Gili was out of town, performing with his group in Europe.

We began our meal with assorted salads, which were all freshly made. Although they sounded conventional – carrot, tabouleh and beetroot – they all had something special that made them out of the ordinary. The carrot salad was flavored with lemon and pine nuts; the beetroot salad had a wonderful earthy flavor and included apples and nuts, while the tabouleh had a garden fresh mint taste and came garnished with cranberries. The Israeli salad, which also appeared, was especially aesthetic, a mixture of red and green vegetables dotted with chopped parsley and, we were told, was flavored with sumac. All salads cost NIS 10.

There are several hearty soups on offer, but we chose the Yemenite meat soup. This is a very rich consommé with chunks of soft shin beef floating around and a small potato. It is highly flavored with the aforementioned hawaj (NIS 20).

Later Ayelet showed me how she makes the spice herself, grinding up coriander, black pepper, cloves and cardamon. Making a mental promise to add this spice to my cupboard, we advanced to the main course.

My companion chose the shoulder of beef, which was a thick slice of stewing steak in parsnip-flavored gravy. For NIS 60 one cannot expect a prime cut, but it was very flavorsome.

I chose the vegetarian dish, which Ayelet created for her daughter and named Liri in her honor. She became a vegetarian at the age of eight and always seemed to be eating only pasta.

“I created this dish for her, and she is now 22,” says Ayelet. “It’s one of the most popular dishes on the menu.”

That’s understandable, since it is a mélange of mushrooms, eggplant, onion and dried basil topped with the homemade and very garlicky tehina. It is served with whole grain rice flavored with chopped fried onion, sunflower seeds, almonds and coriander seeds (NIS 15). The other side dish we sampled was Quinoa Surprise, which has similar ingredients with the addition of stirfried cabbage (NIS 15).

Other main courses on offer are chicken breast and meat balls in sauce (NIS 60) and fillet of sea bass at NIS 65. Majadra, made with burghul (NIS 15), is another Ayelet speciality.

We ended our meal with herbal tea and crunchy homemade sesame cookies – not too sweet and just right as the climax to an inexpensive and original meal.

Business lunches are served during the day and vary in price from NIS 50 to NIS 65.

The writer was a guest of the restaurant.

Ayelet and Gili Kosher, under supervision 23 Hanadiv Street Zichron Ya’acov 077-403-0455; 052-724-4936 Sunday – Thursday from 10 a.m. On Friday: 9 a.m. until 1 hour before Shabbat.
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