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For most Israelis thinking of a place for a weekend getaway, the Galilee is the first thing that comes to mind. This picturesque northern region is scattered with hundreds of guesthouses - usually wooden cabins - furnished with king-size beds, gigantic jacuzzis and other elements of a romantic escape.
Upon arrival, the owners of the guesthouse will treat you to a grand tour of the cabin, making sure you understand how to operate the jacuzzi and can zip between channels on the satellite TV. If you're lucky, they won't also list the exclusive shops where they've purchased the linens and mugs, and will soon disappear.
Once they're gone, the first question to pop into mind is often, where and when are we going to eat?
Sure, breakfast is included at most of these overnight retreats, typically featuring an array of homemade cheeses, marmalades and freshly baked rolls served to your cabin as soon as you wake up. But this is still hours away, and you've got perhaps an hour or two before you're craving a satisfying meal.
Known for eateries of the "Sababa Grill" and "Achla Shakshuka" sort, unfortunately, the Galilee simply doesn't offer many gourmet restaurants, and the chances of accidentally ending up at one is highly unlikely.
For many, a good meal can make or break a romantic getaway, so here's a recommendation for a good restaurant to consider when planning your next Galilee adventure.
If good wine and perfectly grilled meat are what you crave, Martin's restaurant on Moshav Betzet is the place to go. A 15-minute drive from Nahariya, this eatery is a culinary gem. It's the most appealing restaurant within the 10 surrounding moshavim, with winning features ranging from its rustic dÃ©cor to its wine to its every delectable course, as well as an attentive staff that caters to each of your culinary whims. A restaurant that manages to be both elegant and unpretentious, Martin's features a dining room that is spacious and cozy at the same time.
This enticing establishment is known for its quality tender meats. Its South African-born owner and chef is a graduate of Herzliya's Tadmor cooking school and the sixth generation of chefs in his family. He's also the son of the namesake of the famed Johannesburg restaurant Joyce's Kitchen.
With years of experience in preparing meats, Martin specializes in beef grown in Israel. Martin serves only the best cuts, which have been aged on the premises and some of which are smoked in a special smoker in the well-maintained garden in front of the eatery.
Smoking meat is an indirect cooking process in which the food is not prepared directly over the heat source. It is done at lower temperatures than grilling, with the cook maintaining the internal smoker temperature at about 100 degrees Celsius. But despite the lower temperatures involved, the goal is still to cook the meat to a normal and safe degree. It takes longer to get there, but a perk of the system is that wood chips used in the process can impart a special flavor to the meat.
The meat at Martin's, needless to say, tastes delicious.
The restaurant offers a varied menu, as well as some creativity in its extensive list of reasonably priced Israeli wines, which are served both by the bottle and by the glass.
We started our meal with a large bowl of wonderfully fresh salad (NIS 32) drizzled with a generous amount of olive oil, and another appetizer of liver pate (NIS 32) which had the right texture and flavor.
Each enticing cut of meat offered on the menu made choosing a main course a difficult task. The list included traditional cuts including the sirloin and rump steak, as well as a veal fillet, T-bone and lamb chops. There's also the Boerewors (farmer's sausage), a South African staple made by combining minced meat and spices.
The choices were endless, and with the help of our waitress we decided on a mixed dish: 800 grams of quality meat that included a small portion from most items on the menu (NIS 177 for two). When the waitress came to the table presenting our main course, we both looked at each other knowing there was no way we'd be able to handle this amount of meat.
Surprisingly, we did. Each cut was grilled or cooked to perfection, and though it didn't arrive sizzling hot to the table as we'd expected, it was savory, tender and full of taste.
The desserts, sadly, were a bit of a disappointment following the delights of what had come before. But don't be dissuaded: Martin's food is well worth the ride to the North at any time, even when you're not on vacation.
Martin's, Moshav Betzet, open Monday to Saturday. Tel: (04) 987-5593. Reservations are recommended. (Not kosher.)