A Hollywood-style diner in Tel Aviv

The Diner by Goocha combines classic favorites with White City class.

Diner by Goocha_311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Diner by Goocha_311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
‘Service with a smile” the mirror says in clear red cursive. It’s not the kind of slogan one expects to see displayed in a restaurant in Israel. But The Diner by Goocha is not necessarily the kind of place one expects in Tel Aviv, either. The idea of endless supplies of coffee, Frisbeesized plates overflowing with scrambled eggs, pancakes, hash browns and maple syrup, all combined together into an oddly delicious mess of breakfast seems far-fetched in a city whose cuisine seems, well, 10,000 miles away from just that.
And, indeed, when tall watermelon martinis (NIS 36) were placed in front of my girlfriend and me, specially concocted for Tu Be’av and gracefully poured and presented, any quiet hopes I may have had that this dining experience would send me nostalgically back to the casual homefood offered at Theresa & Johnny's Comfort Food on a quiet California boulevard were quelled.
Instead, The Diner by Goocha presents the diner through a Hollywood filter. When you walk in, you may find yourself seeking Uma Thurman slurping down a milkshake. The vintage mosaic tiles, black and white as a tuxedo, glitter under the dim lights.
We sit at our booth. Scanning the epic menu, broken down into sections like Brunch, Burgers & Sandwiches, and Sweets, we decided to start with appetizers that sounded akin to regular diner offerings, ordering Buffalo wings (NIS 32) and onion soup (NIS 31) topped with Gruyere cheese and a crispy garlic crouton (okay, maybe French onion soup is a bit posh for the workers’ dive, but even the Blue Benn Diner in Bennington, Vermont, these days offers a grilled salmon Caesar salad).
The Buffalo wings arrived on a bed of lettuce. I was quick to ask if the celery sticks and blue cheese sauce were on their way. Unfortunately not, and the wings, while delightfully crispy and definitely enjoyable, were falsely advertised.
They were doused in the ubiquitous sweet chili sauce I have come to expect in any Israeli offering with the words “wings” and “spicy.”
The onion soup, however, was divine: richly flavored and romantically colored. The royal purple broth was filled with soft strips of onion, and the Gruyere cheese offered a wonderful balance to the deep winy tang of the French classic. For onion soup enthusiasts, this alone is worth the visit.
While we finished up the starters, I took the opportunity to survey the restaurant more closely from my comfortable leather booth. The owners were able to combine an authentic diner feel with the kind of chic Tel Aviv vibe that diners prepared to spend for quality food and atmosphere expect. A vintage-style sign hung on the wall with neon orange lettering flashing SEA FOOD, STEAKS, CHOPS. Perhaps the high ceilings and impressive size of the place caused the slightly impersonal air of the place, but the friendly wait staff, always there before you called, helped bring you back down.
When I was a kid, observing my parent’s rules and keeping kashrut, my choices at the pit-stop diner were always locked in the breakfast session. Eggs, pancakes and hash browns.
Tonight, in Tel Aviv, I decided to go for the diner option I had been forced to avoid but always lugubriously eyed as it made its way to the next guy’s table: the steak. The Diner by Goocha offers a few varieties, most notably the aged rib eye (NIS 30 per 100 grams) or the entrecote “de Paris” (NIS 92). I went for the latter, which came served in a mustard-butter sauce simmered with fresh herbs. It was plated with a side of chips.
I was not disappointed with my choice. The cut was tender and the portion generous.
The chef cooked it as I ordered – medium-rare – an option that can be difficult in a country that highly prefers char to blood. The sauce, while a bit overwhelming, offered a nice balance to the meat and made it all the tastier cold the next day.
For dessert we chose one family classic and one alleged Goocha classic: the first was an ice cream sundae with caramel and peanuts (NIS 33); and the second was a Belgian waffle with fried bananas and vanilla ice cream (NIS 39). The ice cream was actually a refreshing soft vanilla, light and sweet. The waffle was possibly one of the best desserts I have had in Israel: the perfect blend of sweet banana and slightly salty waffle, crunchy on the outside and offset by the smooth vanilla ice cream that sat on top. It was balanced, subtly flavored and pointedly carried out.
That dessert was what diner food, at its finest, should be – classic.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
The Diner by Goocha Not kosher 14 Ibn Gvirol Street, Tel Aviv (03) 695-1990