Restaurant Review: Meal for a mystic

For a good kosher meat repast in Safed, HaAri 8 may be just the address; the chef took great care to make the food taste good.

HaAri Restaurant (photo credit: Courtesy)
HaAri Restaurant
(photo credit: Courtesy)
I’d guess that the rabbi and Jewish mystic of Safed known as the Ari (Isaac Luria) would have foretold many things about the future of his city and his legacy, but I’m not so sure he would have been able to predict a restaurant named after him. Although to be fair, the restaurant is not actually named after the Kabbalist; it’s named for its address, which is HaAri 8. But the street is named after the rabbi.
The restaurant is rather rustic. It is housed in a 100-year-old building and has stone arches, antique implements and a large wagon wheel for décor. But it’s perfectly comfortable nonetheless. There’s even a kids’ corner where children can play and color while parents eat.
The menu is simple. There are no strange items that you need a culinary dictionary to identify. The presentation is also simple. I wouldn’t say that food was slapped on the plate, but I also wouldn’t say that the chef took great pains to make his food look beautiful. However, I would say that the chef took great care to make the food taste good.
As coincidence would have it, a friend and I sat down to eat at HaAri 8 on the hilula of the Ari. Our fellow patrons trickled in late and were a mix of foreign tourists, Israeli tourists and locals. All diners are given a little dish of garlicky olives to snack on. They are made on the premises and are delicious.
We started off with an order of the bread and mezze (NIS 18) and a smoked eggplant with tehina (NIS 32). The mezze included tasty but standard beets; a tomato salsa that was bursting with flavor and just a hint of chili; a typical roasted pepper salad; thick and flavorful tehina; and a tasty smoked eggplant salad with noticeably high-quality olive oil. The bread was good as well. The flavors of our smoked eggplant were well balanced, if not exceptional, and it wasn’t overly smoky.
We were treated to an additional appetizer of amberjack tartare on tostini, topped with tomato carpaccio. The ingredients were very fresh, and the textures offset each other well. The freshness of the ingredients carried over into my main course, which was a fried whole tilapia (NIS 84). The fish was crispy on the outside, but the inside was absolutely perfect: not a drop overdone but not underdone, either. The tilapia was so fresh that there was no hint of that fishy taste that fish can get.
My dining partner ordered the 300-gram Angus entrecote (NIS 118), which she said slightly inconsistent. At first she was not particularly enthused with the dish, but as she got further toward the middle, I heard an “Mmm” escape from her lips. Apparently, the meat was a bit tougher than desired around the edges, but the inside was more tender.
Our sides of fries and rice were more or less standard. Tables come pre-set with Heinz ketchup and barbecue sauce, along with a bottle of Tabasco. Sometimes condiments are necessary.
One other thing worth noting about HaAri 8 is its drinks. Even just an order of tap water gets a little extra attention, with lemon and spearmint stuck inside to soak. But that’s not the remarkable part. The restaurant calls itself a “kitchen & bar.” Among the bar offerings are two homemade liqueurs: fig arak and limoncello (NIS 20/10 each, depending on the size of the shot).
While the limoncello tasted kind of like a liquid lemon lollipop with a bitter kick and a sweet aftertaste, the arak was brutal. Just a touch of the stuff to our tongues, and we felt numb as if we had tried to drink Lidocaine. We watched in awe as a neighboring table of men on a night out drank shots of the stuff. However, we watched in amusement as they became evidently drunk.
While HaAri 8 is not the most exceptional restaurant I have ever been to, it is pretty good. As many of the restaurants in Safed’s Old City appear to be dairy, this is a rather decent meat alternative.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
HaAri 8
8 Ha’ari Street,
Safed (04) 692-0033