Hamotzi restaurant in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: PR)
There aren’t a lot of restaurants and chefs that I would agree to sample a spleen dish for. I’m not even sure what the spleen does, and I’ve certainly never had the desire to taste one.
However, the dishes that chef Avi Levy had delivered to our table at his cozy kosher Jerusalem eatery Hamotzi had been so tasty until then, that I put aside my queasiness and tried one of the specials of the day – spleen filled with ground meat and crushed nuts. It tasted sort of like a Middle Eastern meat loaf and was quite tasty, although I didn’t attack it with the voracity with which I approached the other dishes.
One doesn’t have to be so adventurous to enjoy the array of food that Levy, winner of the Master Chef TV cooking competition in 2011, has created in his nearly threeyear- old home base nestled in a pedestrian side street that’s a fiveminute walk from the Mahaneh Yehuda market.
The invitation to visit the Moroccan-meets-Mediterranean eatery was in honor of Levy’s new evening menu featuring many new dishes, such as the aforementioned spleen. According to our friendly waiter Avi, dressed in traditional Moroccan garb, some of the staples on the menu are recipes from Levy’s mother, Miriam, who has a special corner dedicated to her and comes in every day with homemade items for lunch customers. However, Levy travels to Morocco every few months and brings back new recipes for the ever-changing array of delicacies. As we were to find out, almonds play a major role in most of those recipes.
In keeping with the restaurant’s name, every table is presented with a hearty homemade white halla, served with a range of traditional mezze salads in the Moroccan and Algerian tradition, including tehina, creamy eggplant, beets and matbucha, none of them too spicy for more sensitive tastes.
One of the most successful starters and first courses was the shufflaur (NIS 43) – delicately fried cauliflower in a delicious tahini and harissa sauce. The eggplant filled with roasted almonds (NIS 41) provided a stark and sweet contrast to the tangy shufflaur. The dish was almost like a dessert, with its honey topping, but the savory eggplant and almonds offset the sweetness nicely.
Next up was the makoud – three kubbehstyle balls filled with fried potatoes, herbs, egg and green onions (NIS 38). The filling was a little mushy, but the taste was irresistible.
The fresh figs filled with lamb (NIS 39) returned to the savory/sweet concept of the eggplant and almonds. The figs were fried, but the real treat was the piquant ground lamb inside. But I could have done with more filling and less fig.
And for a final first course sampling, the fish in shermolla (NIS 49) – a beautiful bass fillet topped with olive oil, lemon, garlic and paprika – provided a zesty kick Entrees included pastis chicken and almonds (NIS 62) – crunchy cigars filled with a chicken/ almond mixture and served with tomato jam and topped with a pinch of sugar. Yummy.
Same goes for the pullet and caramelized pumpkin taji (NIS 72) – slow cooked, tender thighs served in a tagine. Unfortunately, the caramelized pumpkin had an off-putting aroma that bled over to the taste. Thankfully, the dish was served with potatoes.
Avi touted the dessert menu. He brought us yo-yo – Algerian cookies filled with almond cream and coated in ground coconut (NIS 26); la cigar – an Algerian cigar filled with pistachio and jabban cream (NIS 26); and sfinge, the Moroccan equivalent of a fried doughnut, filled with vanilla and mint nougat (NIS 27). They were all interesting and refreshing, especially after such a big meal.
A meal at Hamotzi is a thoroughly enjoyable experience that takes the diner on a geographical and culinary journey. If you’ve had enough of trendy cookie-cutter menus offering focaccia, carpaccio and ceviche, then a dive into the Middle Eastern tastes of Morocco and Algeria at Hamotzi will hit the spot. And if you’re really adventurous, don’t forget the spleen.The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
4 Mashiach Baruchov St., Jerusalem