Israel’s first tiki bar opened this month in Tel Aviv just off Dizengoff Circle, in the space once occupied by the late lamented Truck Deluxe. Honolulu – stocked with more than 100 kinds of rum, far and away the largest selection and variety of this liquor in the country – is the brainchild of the owners of Double Standard and Spicehaus, two popular Tel Aviv bars.
Physically, the décor does not recall tiki bars of the USA, where the concept was born. There are no torches, for example, or hints of Polynesia. It is indeed more colorful than many bars, but the lighting is still dim, the music loud and rhythmic, and all indoor seating, mostly at the circular bar, on stools (albeit comfortably upholstered ones with backs). There is regular table seating in the al fresco area in front.
Rather, it is the cocktails that evoke the tiki bar classification. Typically, they are made with tropical fruit juices – like pineapple, mango and passion fruit – as well as syrups based on exotic spices.
The alcohol menu at Honolulu is dominated by eight specialty cocktails (NIS 42-54), based primarily on rum, with a nod to vodka. Three are in a category labeled “From the Tap,” because they are pre-mixed. There is also a limited selection of beer and wine.
From the list of house cocktails, we selected the Painkiller – dark and light rum, coconut, passion fruit, orgeat syrup and lime – and the Flowers Fix Everything, a blend of hibiscus-infused vodka, St. Germain liquer, pineapple, chamomile, orange blossom water and lime. Reflecting the multiplicity of ingredients, both were bursting with flavor, and on the sweet side, although the rum drink had a tart finish.
The food menu designed by Chef Dor Even – whose history includes Herbert Samuel, Taizu and Florentine House – comprises tapas influenced by the cuisines of Asia and Mexico. Since Honolulu is barely two weeks old, the food menu is still in flux, and adjustments are already – and constantly – being made. There is an English menu, but it does not get updated as frequently as the Hebrew one. Fortunately, there is English-speaking help among the wait staff.
The one-page menu is not divided into titled sections, but simply grouped in boxes whose contents may be described as appetizers (NIS 28-34), tacos for two (NIS 44-58), and larger tapas (NIS 48-68). There is one vegan option in each category.
We enjoyed both of our starters: Har Gow shrimp – dumplings characterized by a nice balance between the seafood filling and gelatinous exterior; and forest mushroom tacos – small flour tortillas smothered by generous heaps of meaty mushrooms, enhanced by a zesty chipotle lime sauce.
Our first larger dish exceeded expectations: the Minute Steak was succulent slices of veal sirloin tataki, grilled to a perfect medium-rare, and served with a soy-mirin dipping sauce and robust pickled pineapple. Simply outstanding.
Nest was the Bahama Mama, aka, Fresh Caribbean salad – an interesting mélange of crisp vegetables, cilantro, mint and cashew nuts, dressed in a refreshing tamarind vinaigrette and topped with ribbons of mild shaved Parmesan cheese. We ordered it with the optional small skewers of grilled chicken, which complemented the salad nicely.
There are just two desserts (NIS 43-47), both unlike any other in town. The Chocolate Bowls were actually three shells of milk chocolate filled with velvety mascarpone cream and little candy balls. We were more pleasantly surprised by the Panna Cotta – a vanilla pudding topped with an unusual mix of ingredients that actually work together quite well: cornflakes, pecan pralines, coconut shards, raisins and slices of fresh banana. Vicky Cristina hosts an international tapas festival
With the recent closure of the Johnny Hill Tapas Bar, there remain very few restaurants in Tel Aviv with the word tapas in the name. The Vicky Cristina Tapas and Wine Bar is not only one of the originals, maintaining the traditions of the Spanish classics, it is constantly expanding the horizons of the world of tapas. This winter, Vicky Cristina invited chefs of some of the city’s leading ethnic restaurants to prepare tapas inspired by their respective cuisines, in the framework of a bi-weekly festival.
The Mondo tapas festival kicked off with Balkan delicacies, followed in subsequent weeks by Thai and vegan tapas, respectively. This past week, visiting chefs Arik Darhani and Muli Magriso from the popular Jaffa eatery Onza delighted patrons with Turkish tapas (NIS 18-48).
The Ottoman tapas started with Su Borek, a phyllo dough turnover filled with Turkish spinach and kashkaval cheese. The rich filling enveloped in flaky pastry was what every commonplace bureka aspires to be.
Next was a warm eggplant salad made with yogurt and clarified butter, and topped with roasted pistachio nuts. We mopped up every last bite with simit, a focaccia-like sesame-encrusted loaf that was itself served with distinctive warm onions seasoned with sumac.
One might not usually consider a salad a typical tapas dish, but this generous, tasty green salad with tulum cheese – a mix of Salanova lettuce, beets, pecans and crumbled white goat milk cheese, dressed in a honey-mustard vinaigrette – would be a welcome dish in any kind of meal.
There was only one dessert (NIS 38): coconut milk malabi with raw tahini and lotus cookie cream, dried fruits and coconut tuile. I am not ordinarily fond of this sweet Levantine dessert, but this particular version – and especially its exquisite texture, somewhere between velvet and chiffon – made for a welcome sweet finale.
The Mondo festival continues with Ouzeria Chef Avivit Priel preparing Spanish tapas (February 19-20), and concludes with French small plates by Chef Yogev Yehros of Hotel de Ville (March 5-6).
Ben Ami St. 11, Tel Aviv
HaTachana, Koifman St. 1, Tel Aviv
Sun-Sat: 12 noon to last customer
The writer was a guest of the restaurants.
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