There’s a very new kosher culinary contender in town, in a very old location. Touro, a Mediterranean grill chef restaurant, opened its doors at the end of May in the historic Yemin Moshe neighborhood of Jerusalem.
Named for Judah Touro, the American Jewish businessman and philanthropist who aided Moshe Montefiore in establishing the first Jewish enclave outside the Old City walls, the restaurant is housed in the picturesque Mishkenot Sha’ananim guest house complex, adjacent to the also brand-new Jerusalem Press Center.
Chef Benny Ashkenazi, with 16 years experience working in non- kosher establishments like Isadora, Francesca and Pepe in Tel Aviv, eagerly took on the challenge of developing a gourmet kosher menu featuring local ingredients native to Eretz Yisrael.
Which means you can find anything from grilled artichokes and sea bream with eggplant cream and chickpeas, onions, and tomatoes to confit goose and a slow-cooking Shpondra (short rib) stew. And judging from a recent visit to Touro, Ashkenazi’s transition to kosher cuisine has been a resounding success.
The proper mood is set immediately upon entering the spacious establishment, which had stood vacant for the past decade and has been completely renovated.
Picture windows look out onto the Old City walls, and an expansive outdoor area enables diners to enjoy the cool Jerusalem weather to the fullest. The inviting indoor area is open and focuses on a counter where Ashkenazi prepares many of the dishes, his hands seemingly moving at the speed of light.
Delightfully surrendering to Ashkenazi’s offer to choose our menu, my wife and I took in the amazing view as we enjoyed glasses of the house wine and some delicious made-on-premises sourdough bread with zucchini and mint spread, served by the attentive wait staff.
The first starter was the leek and potato latkes – two large golden balls instead of the traditional flat pancakes (NIS 38). As crispy and tasty they were on the outside, they were just as smooth, creamy and delicious on the inside.
The salmon tartare provided a refreshing contrast, with the delicate salmon expertly mixed with chopped red onion, rocket, Dijon mustard, basil, capers and quail eggs (NIS 58). Tart and tangy, it was perfect for a summer evening.
The carpaccio sinta, served with balsamic vinegar, basil, red onions, rocket and croutons, was also sublime, with the tastes blending together and accentuating the essence of the meat.
All of the starters were beautifully presented, including the artichoke and mushroom burekas, a savory update on the traditional Middle Eastern staple, served with tehina, tomatoes, olives, rocket and pickled cucumbers.
Already reaching the limits of our appetite, we were grateful when the starters stopped arriving, although some of the original Ashkenazi delicacies we missed included the grilled artichokes with anchovy sauce and capers, chopped liver with date honey and onion cream and the goose cigar in pomegranate sauce and ginger nana.
Still, we had to make room for the main courses, and it turned out the best was yet to come. First up was the boure chraime, the traditional spicy Moroccan fish prepared in a peppery tomato sauce with eggplant cream artichokes, tomatoes and onion (NIS 98).
While tasty enough, there was an expected zing missing, and the general impression wasn’t much better than the kind of spicy fish dish that you get at local wedding halls.
If the chraime was ordinary, the shpondra was spectacular (NIS 110).
Braised for seven hours with white beans, pumpkin, mushrooms, onion and green beans, the short-rib casserole was out of this world. The tender meat, sweet and succulent, melted in your mouth and left us wanting more.
Other main courses available (from NIS 78-120) include artichoke fettuchini, beef-filled gnocchi, confit of goose breast with Jerusalem rice and cranberries, beef fillet with mushrooms peas, carrots, red wine and chestnut sauce, Jerusalem meat mix with tomato sauce, eggplant sauce, curry and coriander, Sinaya – lamb meat with tehina, fried potatoes, onion and parsley, and artichoke risotto with chickpeas, chard, lemon and almonds. If they’re half as good as the shpondra, you can’t go wrong.
Even though we were in no condition to attempt any of the desserts, including the hot chocolate soufflé, strawberry sorbet and baked chocolate mousse, Ashkenazi successfully prodded us into sampling his almond malabi with pomegranates, dates, cadiff and berry sauce. Hardly a fan of malabi or dates until then, that one dish made me a believer. It was refreshing, light and tart.
Touro is off to an auspicious start.
Between the stately surroundings and the heavenly food, it’s already one of the finest kosher options available in Jerusalem.
Touro, 2 Sh. A. Nachon Street, Mishkenot Sha’ananim, Jerusalem.
Kosher. Temporary phone: +972-52- 456-8999. Open Sunday-Thursday from 6 p.m. until last customer. The writer was a guest of the restaurant.