(photo credit: Courtesy)
In Europe, dining out is the evening's entertainment, unhurriedly spending a few hours in a restaurant enjoying the food and atmosphere. So it was a thrill to find a similar concept at Habayit Shel Har-El (Har-El's House), a five-star restaurant tucked away in the unlikely location of Moshav Netaim near Palmahim (on the way to Ashdod).
Chef and owner Har-El Melamed transformed his home into this relaxing, romantic and delightful restaurant four months ago. Open for dinner only five nights a week, the seating area for 25 people is in an enclosed, enchanted and totally secluded candle-lit part of the garden. Tables are set far apart, ensuring privacy and quiet.
Har-El studied at the Dan Hotel chain and furthered his experience working in kitchens of prestigious local restaurants such as Mul Yam and Oceanus. He then traveled to Italy and France and worked in a two-star Michelin guide rated Strasbourg restaurant. He finally studied restaurant management at the Tadmor Hotel school in Herzlyia.
Har-El and wife Livnat, who does the table decorations and other decor, have perfected the art of going out to eat, making sure all is tasteful and imaginative. Five other tables were occupied the night we visited, so that the ambience was pleasant and not overcrowded. Har-El told me he could easily fit another five tables in, but that would spoil the atmosphere. Most impressive was the quiet and serenity. People were enjoying the soft background music, the food, each others' company and conversation, with not one cell phone ringing the entire evening. An unspoken agreement seemed to be in place among the diners to switch the phones off. The service was attentive and professional, and the leisurely pause between dishes enabled us to talk and really savour the excellent wine and cuisine.
The menu consists of five courses, a bottle of either red or white boutique wine, fresh homemade lemonade and hot drinks. The first course is grabelachs (cured salmon) with cucumbers and a cream sauce. Next comes a choice of three kinds of ravioli, either with a shrimp or coquille St. Jacques (scallops) filling or a vegetarian one for non-seafood eaters, or a creamed crab soup. Third courses consist of a choice of two shrimp dishes or home-baked pizza whose crust is 80 percent parmesan cheese. Main courses are prime rib, 650-gram entrecote (for two), whole leg of lamb (for six) and duck. The meat is smoked unsalted and unspiced in a pit, and the taste is amazing. There are two choices for dessert - a surprise each night. The price for a couple is NIS 500.
Reservations are virtually a must, and a website lists the day's menu and specials. Patrons are invited to make their choices via the net or, of course, by phone. Knowing what his guests have ordered for that day ensures that everything is really fresh and that there are no leftovers, say Har-El. All the vegetables come from the moshav itself, the herbs from the garden, and Har-El goes to Jaffa every morning for fresh fish and sea food. The meat is from the Golan Heights and is aged on the premises.
If I can find one thing to fault, it's that they don't offer rooms to rent. Having spent over four very enjoyable hours, feeling refreshed, well-fed and unstressed, I was reluctant to leave. Habayit Shel Har-El is a perfect place for a romantic dinner, a celebration or just a great evening spent away from the crowd.
Habayit Shel Har-El, Moshav Netaim, 052-563-3888 or www.har-el.co.il (directions are on the site). Open Tuesday through Saturday from 8:30 p.m. Not kosher.
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