Upon entering Valero, located near the Mahaneh Yehuda market, one immediately feels this will not be the usual Jerusalem kosher dining experience. The interior design is strikingly eclectic, combining richly detailed neo-Baroque flowered walls, a classic black-and-white checkerboard floor, art decoinspired mirrors and muted beige half-curtains that keep out the “visual noise” of Agrippas Street.
The menu, too, presented an eclectic mix, each dish highlighting chef Aviv Moshe’s attention to flavor, texture and presentation.
The restaurant’s signature beverage was the Sour Candy Strip cocktail (NIS 48). Colorful, playful and attractive, the drink added some mild fruit juices to a vodka base, topping it with bright sour-candy gummy strips. However, while the concept injected a dose of childhood fun into an adult beverage, the flavors were rather bland and uninspired.
Valero’s menu options change regularly, taking advantage of the seasonal foods in the shuk nearby. Much as its name recalls the family who owned the empty lot on which Mahaneh Yehuda began organically, the restaurant’s ingredients also highlight various old-school Jerusalem foods. For example, the goose liver appetizer (NIS 96) welcomed a rozata popsicle alongside, recalling the Libyan/ Tunisian almond drink sipped by the shuk’s old merchants.
The toasted almonds surrounding the liver balanced its creamy texture while also picking up the sweet ice pop’s underlying flavor but altering it slightly.
Other dishes included classic local elements such as amba, tehina, silan and harissa. At the same time, the menu didn’t feel particularly Yerushalmi or even market-influenced.
And many of the aforementioned ingredients were only noticeable on the menu, not in the food itself.
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Unlike the rozata popsicle, for example, the dates in the goose liver dish practically disappeared. Toasted Jerusalem bagel slices that accompanied the sweetbread appetizer (NIS 74) were indistinguishable from any other small toast or crostini. The sweetbreads themselves disappeared in a richly sweet-savory sauce and the larger beef tortellini that surrounded them. While the sauce was delicious, it should not have been the highlight of the dish.
Valero’s veal carpaccio (NIS 82) was an even more confused appetizer, paired with enoki mushrooms, crispy gnocchi and slivers of grilled goose liver. While visually appealing, the disparate elements had no connection to each other. The carpaccio itself was adequate but lacked flavor, such as the traditional lemon, salt and pepper.
By far, the salmon tartare (NIS 58) was the best offering of the appetizer course. Attractive on the plate with bold swaths of colorful sauces and small heaps of crunchy nuts, the flavors and textures of the dish worked excellently together. Tender salmon, resting on crispy Japanese radish slices, played well against the nuts, light amba-flavored soy cream and an outstanding tom yum sauce that supplied the perfect amount of spicy heat. Mint leaf garnish provided a refreshing balance to the dominant flavors of the fish and tom yum.
Like the tom yum and the sweetbreads base, the sauces at Valero were almost universally delicious. Another prominent example was in the duet of truffle-celery cream and vanilla Merlot reduction that accompanied the tournedos Rossini entrée (NIS 198). Each offered bold enough taste to stand up to the fillet’s strong flavor, while also providing alternative earthy and acidic notes. The meat came with an equal sized piece of goose liver, which by itself seemed too large for this meat medallion. But the dish really shone when the elements were consumed together.
Sauce again was the most obvious element for the rib steak (NIS 146); unfortunately, however, it was outstanding because it was missing. Serving the steak at a tender medium, the chefs rightly decided to let the meat speak for itself. But minimalist and lacking are not synonymous, and the meat cried out for some kind of sauce. The tehina that came with it was better for the small side salad, and the single clove of garlic confit sitting on top could not be called an accompaniment.
Despite the lack of sauce, the steak featured a delectable side dish of potato chunks. Smashed whole potatoes whose crisp exteriors embraced the tender and flavorful interior, they highlighted straight-up cooking ability. Those potatoes could easily stand up against any other in the city.
That cooking skill stepped up to the plate in the tastiest main course: risotto with truffles and mushroom ragout (NIS 76). Packed with intense flavor, the dish was all the more impressive because it was vegan. The creamy texture wasn’t compromised by the lack of butter, and even the soy “Parmesan” topping was flavorful.
Valero offered three desserts, the most Israeli of which was the halva trio (NIS 52), which combined a tehina-silan-pecan freeze with halva ice cream and wisps of halva.
Though basically using the same ingredients, the three elements showcased different flavors and textures and worked very pleasantly together.
With some highly successful dishes and many others that were interesting, the Valero dining experience was a satisfying and enjoyable one.The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
Valero Kosher 80 Agrippas St., Jerusalem Tel: (02) 546-5650
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