A queen on the sea

A queen on the sea Helena, named after the mythological demi-godess, is becoming a legendary restaurant in its own time.

By BUZZY GORDON
February 4, 2016 13:49
4 minute read.
Helena Caesarea

Helena restaurant in Caesarea. (photo credit: PR)

 
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There are not many chefs in Israel who have trained at a three-star Michelin restaurant. Fortunately, as it turns out, Amos Sion did exactly that at the Auberge de L’ill in Alsace.

For the last 11 years, he has been practicing his art in his own establishment, Helena, in the ancient port of Caesarea.

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An invitation to a sneak preview of new dishes being incorporated into the menu – a “refresh” that takes place about three times a year – was therefore accepted with alacrity, even if it meant a special trip out of town.

There is a NIS 14 charge per person to enter the old port area until 6 p.m., but Helena will reimburse the entrance fee if you order from the regular or specials menu (daily from 4 p.m.). Two-course business lunches are available weekdays until that time for NIS 89 or NIS 139.

From the parking lot to the restaurant is a walk of 200 meters or so, past impressive ancient relics. The beautiful natural surroundings of the harbor remain in view throughout the meal through Helena’s panoramic windows.

But, of course, the real attraction of the restaurant is the food. Dishes are described in helpful detail on the bilingual menu, and the professional wait staff speak fine English.

Interestingly, the majority of dishes are classified as gluten-free.



A lot of attention has gone into the extensive wine list, curated from international and local boutique wineries. It is fun and instructive to read, as the wines are presented in categories such as “Aromatics” or “Sophisticated” or “Classic.” While there is a full bar, with featured cocktails, we decided to focus on getting to know some less familiar wines, such as Kerem Shvo’s very pleasant Chenin Blanc (NIS 25 per glass during business lunch hours).

Meals start with fresh, warm focaccia straight from Helena’s taboon, accompanied by a dip of olive oil and balsamic vinegar (we discovered only after we’d finished eating that spreads of pickled lemon aioli and a cucumber and Arak sorbet on crushed tomatoes are also available). There is also a soup of the day, which in this season frequently is Jerusalem artichoke with foamed milk and a Parmesan tuile (NIS 52). I confess that I do not know what ambrosia tastes like, but that is the word that comes to mind when I think of the taste of this broth.

Our first appetizer was the octopus carpaccio (NIS 62). After being cooked in star anise and cloves, the octopus was sliced almost impossibly thin, drizzled with a light olive oil, lemon and dill dressing, and garnished with fennel, blood orange and shredded black olives. The discs of the practically translucent seafood exuded more exquisite flavor than I would have thought possible from such a delicate offering.

This incredibly creative dish was followed by mackerel that had been pickled in-house (NIS 48), then served on a seasonal salad atop an eggplant cream. The freshness of the fish virtually leapt off the fork, and each bite of sardine (as it is termed on the Hebrew menu) with the crisp vegetables and eggplant mousse was an inspired combination.

Our main courses represented two of the changes coming to the menu.

Fish in general is a specialty at Helena, and we were treated to organic bass ringed by black mussels in a sauce of pureed roasted peppers and Martini (NIS 156). Adorning the fillet of bass was a single ravioli stuffed with pineapple and buche cheese. The fish was cooked to perfection, enhanced but not overwhelmed by the complex sauce.

My only complaint is that there was not more of the wonderful ravioli; I could have eaten a whole plate of them.

The meat main course consisted of two large skewers of lamb kabob and thigh laid across a mound of bulgur majadara flanked by a dollop of sheep’s yogurt with olive oil on one side, and a mixed green salad with pomegranate seeds on the other. The entire dish (NIS 98) was served on a huge slab of lafa direct from the taboon. The ground lamb and morsels of thigh were wonderfully seasoned, and the dish as a whole was a prime example of the ability to elevate the simple to the sublime.

The same can easily be said about the desserts. A plain-looking clementine sorbet (NIS 28), drizzled tableside with olive oil and garnished with sprigs of mint, exploded with tangerine flavor from the moment it landed on the tongue.

Another seasonal dessert was the plum crumble (NIS 45) – piping hot chunks of fresh, reddish-purple fruit, stewed in aged balsamic vinegar, topped with a layer of buttery crumble. A scoop of vanilla ice cream crowned the rich pastry and succulent flesh of the fruit. The delicious dessert went nicely with freshly brewed cappuccino (NIS 14/16).

As a Michelin guide might put it, a meal at Helena is worth more than a detour.

The writer was a guest of the restaurant.

Helena
Not kosher
The port, Caesarea
Tel: (04) 610-1018

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