The maps of Jerusalem call Mashiyah Barukhof a street. It’s not. Agrippas and Jaffa are streets. The short distance between them is little more than a stone alleyway. But that narrow passage evokes an atmosphere still preserved from the old Nahlaot and Even israel neighborhoods of Jerusalem.
Today, these footpaths that remain scattered throughout the capital serve as respite, a retreat from urban thoroughfares while walking between them. On this one, about midway and tucked into the thick walls of what was some 120 years ago a wellfortified house, is the Nagila restaurant.
Don’t drive. With a bus stop at one end and the Davidka light rail station at the other, there’s no need. Besides, a parking space is hard to find; the restaurant is easy.
Its unique architecture is pleasing to the eye immediately upon entry.
Archways and domed ceilings help to open an otherwise cozy dining area.
Clever use of space creates an appearance of roominess with a choice of comfortable, uncrowded seating. Among the dozen-plus tables, one can choose a larger, well-lit area for a group feast or a darker corner of the porch for a more intimate meal.
The staff is attentive in either case – there when you want them without being intrusive.
The sight of people who seem to enjoy their work is always a welcome surprise. Music helps, if it is played at a volume appropriate for dining, as it was here when I heard a Stevie Wonder song begin, then saw several workers spontaneously start dancing and singing along. It lasted no more than a minute and only added to the genuine warmth that was there before it began.
But even the finest atmosphere can only enhance a restaurant. Food comes first. In which case, let’s continue from finish to start.
A wise woman once said, “Eat dessert first. That way, you always get dessert.” Pay heed to those words at Nagila or suffer the consequences.
What a shame to finish your feast, only to lack the room to enjoy two generous slices of just-sweet-enough, fresh-baked banana bread, while two scoops of ice cream tahini, drizzled with date honey melt on top, and an assortment of fresh fruits completes the dish. It would be no less shameful to be thoroughly satisfied with a meal, then miss out on the apple pie fruit crumble. Those with greater appetites or appreciation for richer tastes might save a small corner for something only the Italians could have devised, an egg-rich ladyfinger-coffee-dipped mascarpone cream cheese wonder: tiramisu. Splurge. Desserts are priced from NIS 16 to NIS 34.
Main courses are bargains, too, ranging from a very reasonable NIS 34 for roasted eggplant with tomatoes, onions and herbs on tahini to NIS 57 for a four-cheese ravioli with pumpkin cream, thyme and honey.
The best foods often result from a creative choice of ingredients. That kind of food intelligence is smartly displayed in dishes made with, for example, cashew cheese, pine nuts, walnuts, coconut curry cream, pumpkin seeds, several varieties of sprouted lentils, along with homemade sauces, dips and other accouterments unique to this kitchen.
Many main dishes come with a generously sized salad. But for those that do not, a side salad costs all of NIS 10. For the serious salad lover, Nagila may be your Garden of Eden, not so much for variety as for freshness. The quality of freshness in this food was evident in every bite, and it is no exaggeration to say that is tasted as if just picked from a nearby garden.
There are four salads to choose from in two sizes, large and larger (NIS 29 and NIS 49).
Soups include seasonal choices, along with a wonderful tzatziki dish, which is often prepared somewhat differently as a sauce containing garlic, lemon and mint. It is served refreshingly cold, as is the gazpacho.
All the soups are NIS 29.
The beverage menu is more than sufficient for any reasonable variety of tastes, as is the small bar. A quick l’chaim with Arak is remarkably low priced at NIS 9. The selection of whiskeys and other liquors and liqueurs is also adequate and reasonably priced. Red and white house wines are not fancy but very drinkable and flavorful (NIS 27 per glass/NIS 100 per bottle).
Nagila is a vegetarian restaurant.
There are options for vegan and gluten-free dishes as well.
For those of you who would normally avoid vegetarian restaurants at all costs: relax. Do you remember the advertisement “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s Rye Bread”? That ad was widely noticed for being cute and remarkably convincing for being true. Almost overnight, thousands of shoppers crossed supermarket aisles and – however briefly – overcame their ingrained distastes, at least when it came to their tastes in grain.
Well, here’s something else that’s cute and true: You don’t have to be vegetarian to love a vegetarian restaurant. And you’re gonna love Nagila.The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
5 Mashiyah Barukhof St., Jerusalem
Tel: (02) 622-3331
Sunday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m. to one hour before Shabbat