Iam a great fan of cooking competitions on TV, so I was an avid watcher of Channel 2’s Master Chef. And I always envied the judges, who got to taste all the delectable dishes the contestants cooked up as they vied for the coveted title of Israel’s Master Chef.
So imagine my delight when I was offered the opportunity to have dinner at Hamotzi, the new restaurant in Jerusalem owned by Avi Levy, this year’s winner of Master Chef, in partnership with the owner of Café Rimon.
Opened just two months ago on a little side street near Mahaneh Yehuda, Hamotzi is a small, homey place that rings to the rafters with cheerful clients and melodious Mizrahi music. The kosher meat restaurant specializes in Algerian fare, and the decor reflects that North African flavor.
Diners can eat outside at the tables on the paved sequestered alleyway or in the restaurant itself. As you enter and walk a few steps down into the interior, there is a distinct Casbah feeling to the place, with its archways and stone walls – but bright, clean and colorful. There are about 12 pale green formica tables with chairs, as well as green sofas against the right-hand wall. Beyond the archway is a bar with a set of long glass teardrop fixtures overhead. And that’s it. Small, cozy and ready to serve.
As manager Nadav Ron explains, the aim of the restaurant is to be family-oriented, friendly and comfortable; to have customers feel as if they were eating in their own home. To that end, the wait staff do not wear uniforms but dress in whatever clothing they feel comfortable in.
The menu – which is only in Hebrew – is select and very reasonably priced. At lunchtime, the prices are a little lower than at dinner. While Levy creates each of the dishes, his mother, Miri, comes in every morning and cooks up two special dishes of the day.
In keeping with the name of the restaurant (as in the blessing “hamotzi lehem min ha’aretz”), the only bread served at Hamotzi is challa, which is made especially for them. Before one even selects anything from the menu, a plate of bread is brought to the table, as well as an array of appetizers, namely tehina, pickled vegetables, matbucha, beets, eggplant and mangold (chard). Each patron also receives a shot glass of very strong anisette to get the party started.
Certain types of spices and oil are the keynotes of Algerian cuisine. As Ron puts, it, “You have to feel the oil and the spices. If you don’t, then it’s not authentic.”
That was a little daunting for me, as I don’t have a high tolerance for spicy food. But I have to say that the food wasn’t too hot for me to handle, nor was it overly oily.
For our meal, my dining companion and I shared the tasting menu (NIS 120). A tasting menu is a great way to be introduced to a new restaurant because you get to sample a little of each specialty. Plus you find out what your favorites are so that when you go back again, you know what to order as a main dish.
Some of the dishes are as follows: makud – fried potato kubbeh with a spicy tomato sauce (NIS 34); Savta’s salad – Arabic cucumber, boiled potatoes, egg and anchovies (NIS 32); fried fish in spicy lemon sharmola sauce (NIS 43); cigars stuffed with veal sweetbreads (NIS 47); eggrolls stuffed with meat and matbucha (NIS 45); chicken (pargiot) stuffed with veal sweetbreads and beef (NIS 67); beef meatballs on a bed of cabbage and onions (NIS 56); fried meatballs with rice (NIS 56); shoulder of beef in tomato sauce (NIS 62); filet of (mussar) fish (NIS 69); chicken plancha with lemon and onions (NIS 62); and beef head with chickpeas and potatoes (NIS 64).
Hamotzi also has a wine list, which is rather short right now. Ron says they are working on determining which wines are best to pair with the dishes on their menu.
For me, one of the stand-out dishes was the fish (dag mussar) in a sauce that happened to be a special that day. I’m not even a fish fan, but that dish was so delicious, that when my companion left the table to make a phone call and the fish arrived, I had to force myself to leave him some to taste. The fish was bass, and the sauce was made with lemon, crushed peppers and amba.
Other highlights were the sweet and sour meatballs and cabbage, the deep-fried meatballs with rice, and the tender bite-size pieces of chicken with tehina.
Another specialty we tasted was the dish Levy had created on an episode of Master Chef when the challenge was to make a sandwich. His offering was a roulade of minced chicken, spices and a hard-boiled egg baked in challa and served as a slice.
So the dishes kept coming, and my companion and I savored each one. You’d be surprised at how filling just a taste of this and a smattering of that can be.
Full, but never too full for dessert, we ended our meal by sampling the two desserts the restaurant has to offer. One was a mini cigar stuffed with crushed pistachio, served with a thick white jaban sauce made of egg whites, syrup and lemongrass (NIS 21). The other was called yo-yo – spheres made of flour and almond paste and coated with coconut (NIS 19). This was accompanied by a little samovar-like teapot filled with refreshing mint tea.
During the meal, Levy came over to our table to say hello. After having seen him for so long on TV, I felt like I already knew him. He said he was very proud of his restaurant, which was buzzing with customers.
He said he wanted to keep it small and family-like and had no plans to expand the premises.
What I particularly noticed about the place was that everybody seemed so happy to be there. All the clients and the staff seemed so cheerful and high-spirited. As a result, the restaurant is noisy – but in a good way. In a way that makes you feel like you’re in the company of a gregarious, fun crowd.
So if you go to Hamotzi, don’t expect to have a quiet, intimate tete-a-tete. But do expect to have a good time, a great meal and, if you’re lucky, the opportunity to shake hands with Avi Levy and give your compliments to the reigning Master Chef.The writer was a guest of the restaurant.Hamotzi (Kosher)
4 Mashiach Baruchof
Tel: (02) 631-0050
Open Sunday to Friday for lunch; and Tues., Wed. & Thurs. for dinner as well.