(photo credit: PR)
The Zakaim family has bestowed its name on the cozy restaurant it describes as an “original vegan boutique” – actually a unique eatery that successfully combines ethnic and vegan cuisines, two spheres in which Israel certainly excels.
Entering this inviting place in a quiet alley just off Tel Aviv’s busy Allenby thoroughfare is like walking into a welcoming kitchen and dining room, with tables covered in old-fashioned tablecloths. The owners did all the renovation work themselves and take pride in informing customers that all the furniture, cookware and utensils are second-hand.
Zakaim offers eight specialty cocktails and five specialty nonalcoholic drinks. The Sauza Mango (NIS 52) blends tequila with fresh mango and lemon, garnished with a basil leaf. The thick concoction is characterized by sweetness, cut partially by the alcohol and citrus.
The Green Daiquiri (NIS 49), meanwhile, consists of rum, basil and lemon, served in a small goblet and garnished with garden cress seeds and a large sprig of mint – a particularly bracing and refreshing drink.
As we perused the menu and sipped our drinks, we nibbled on the house bread with five spicy spreads (NIS 24) from the menu’s “First of All” category. Three of the five condiments – plus the whole green chili pepper – are only for people with a high tolerance for heat. Fortunately, the outstanding matboukha (also available separately) was not quite as spicy as advertised. Another option is to order the "excellent" (sic) tehina (NIS 7), which is exactly as described. Either way, it would be easy to fill up on the superb homemade sourdough with caraway seeds, served in a small brown paper bag, if more were served.
The sourdough theme continues in the menu’s “From the Flames” section, containing mainly cooked items. The sourdough bread shakshouka (NIS 64) is the classic tomato-based dish, with green leaves stuffed with cubes of sourdough bread substituting for eggs. The savory red sauce – redolent of onion and garlic, and drizzled with tehina – was good to the last drop.
The menu category under the heading “BBQ” comprises items grilled over coals. The oyster mushrooms on a skewer – alternating with onions, cherry tomatoes and chili pepper, served on a bed of eggplant aioli (NIS 59) – is a shish kebab that does not suffer from lack of meat: the meltin- your-mouth mushrooms were gone all too quickly.
The menu lists several “Specials,” which are in addition to daily specials that are recited by the wait staff. The Malfuff by Grandmother Iran (NIS 78) is cabbage leaves stuffed with rice, tomatoes, onions, in a pomegranate sauce with plums, Persian lemon, basil and mint. Served with vegan tzaziki, this is a hearty dish with distinctively complex flavors.
Zakaim’s desserts – including the dessert specials of the day – are on display on the counter between the kitchen and the eating area, making choices even more difficult. There is even a decision to be made after electing the 70% dark chocolate mousse – between the espresso version or the orange one.
Regardless, the thick mousse (NIS 36) is every bit as decadent as any made with eggs or cream.
The apple strudel (NIS 42) on the menu has a tempting variation as an occasional special: a yeasty apple cake with just the right proportion of fruit to doughy pastry. The generous portion, accompanied by pleasant Shoshana’s Persian iced tea (NIS 18), was a sweet and fitting conclusion to a memorable meal.The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
Vegan (no meat or dairy served), open on Shabbat
20 Simtat Bet Hasho’eva, Tel Aviv
Tel: (03) 613-5060