(photo credit: AFIK GABBAY)
Chef Amos Sion is known for his creative thematic tasting menus, and his newest one is perhaps his most innovative to date.
Together with local food forager Yatir Sade, Sion has designed a six-course menu revolving around the wild vegetation that grows in the sandy soil of the beaches and cliffs in the environment of Caesarea.
“I was up at 7:00 this morning collecting the plants you will be tasting today,” Chef Amos told us as we perused the menu. “They all grow within walking distance of the restaurant,” he added, “although I had not been aware of their flavors and potential until recently.”
It did not take long for our first course to arrive: local crystal shrimp carpaccio with seasonal fruit, chili and sea arugula. The sea arugula – in the form of little twigs, with tiny flower buds – was more like a garnish, adding little to the flavors of the dish as a whole; nonetheless, the contrast of sweet fruit vis-a-vis spicy chili perked up the fleshy shrimp swimming in high-quality olive oil.
This appetizer was accompanied by slightly herbed focaccia straight from Helena’s wood-fired oven. The fresh, warm, soft, flat bread was served with a dip of olive oil seasoned with pomegranate syrup and do’ah, a mild blend of Egyptian spices.
Next was a fish tartare – red tuna, on the day of our visit – with watermelon, pickled green almonds and fried saltbush leaves, alongside saffron aioli and a smattering of tobiko. The dish was dominated by small cubes of watermelon; and with the fish and fruit so similar in color, and the chips of green almond so scarce, extreme care must be taken in order to ensure you balance each forkful. Still, with so much going on, it is easy to enjoy the magnificent interplay of flavors and textures – from the meaty fish and juicy fruit to the crunchy green nuts and flaky saltbush leaves, reminiscent of seaweed.
The salad course was the Caesarea Caesar salad, with ice lettuce standing in for the traditional romaine lettuce. The lettuce resembles broccoli more than lettuce leaves; instead of florets, however, there are tiny nodules that explode with water with each bite. Caesar salad is such a common dish in Israel that I rarely order it, but we were very happy to have tasted this version: despite the heavy hand in ladling out the dressing, this bountiful heap of amazing ice lettuce joined by plump, flavorful shrimp and delicate soft croutons, slathered in outstanding dressing, added up to one of the best Caesar salads I have enjoyed in recent memory.
The pasta course was linguine with mussels, crithmum leaves, capers and cherry tomato confit, in a sauce of white wine and olive oil. The crithmum closely resembled Italian parsley, but was significantly more substantial in taste, something akin to celery. The mussels – which were in an incredibly generous ratio of seafood to pasta – tasted like they came straight from the sea, while a barely visible layer of grated dried tuna that substituted for Parmesan cheese added a minuscule extra dimension to the pasta.
The last course before dessert was a pair of scallops in brown butter, with sea arugula, green grapes and slivered almonds. This time around, the sautéed sea arugula contributed a bit more to the composition of this dish, while the tender scallops practically melted in the mouth. If there were more I would gladly have eaten more, but we were already pleasantly full.
Dessert was malabi topped with a scoop of homemade melon sorbet, plus a scattering of chopped almonds. A second waitress suddenly appeared and poured Amaretto over everything; the liqueur mingled with the pear and wine syrup that was already at the base of the malabi, further enriching a very sweet dessert that nonetheless managed to be light and refreshing.
The price of Helena’s degustation menu for two is NIS 398. The foraging menu will be served during the coming weeks of this warm season, for as long as the four plants featured in the menu aboundThe writer was a guest of the restaurant.
Old Port, Caesarea
Tel. (04) 610-1018
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