Turkish delights

Jaffa’s Onza masters the combination of excellent Mediterranean food and an informal vibe

affa’s Onza mas- ters the combination of excellent Mediterranean food and an informal vibe (photo credit: AFIK GABAI)
affa’s Onza mas- ters the combination of excellent Mediterranean food and an informal vibe
(photo credit: AFIK GABAI)
 ‘Onza is the place where a young, vibrant Tel Aviv atmosphere is combined with the magic and mystery of the Jaffa Flea Market to make a delicious restaurant ‘cocktail.’” Visiting the restaurant recently, we saw that the quote from the restaurant’s website was indeed accurate This was not our first visit to Onza.
We had eaten there before: first, when it served contemporary international cuisine, and then again when we visited in 2015 to check out the new Sunday Turkish Nights, introduced by the two young chefs Arik Darhani and Muli Magriso (whom we affectionately refer to as “the young Turks”). The menu they created gives Ottoman and Turkish cuisine a contemporary twist.
The Turkish Sundays became so successful, that over the years many of the dishes made their way onto the regular menu, so now one can enjoy the rich and sophisticated Turkish delicacies on other nights as well. The two chefs’ expertise is not limited to Turkish cuisine. Both worked in some of the finest restaurants in Tel Aviv, and the house menu offers fish and meat dishes, as well as some vegetarian and vegan dishes. The Sunday menu remains totally Turkish, and on those nights there is Turkish music and drinks as well.
Onza is situated in one of the alleyways adjacent to Jaffa’s Flea Market. The whole area has become a hot spot for locals and visitors of Tel Aviv, with numerous trendy cafes and restaurants.
We reserved a place at the large bar that dominates the restaurant. We love sitting at a bar and talking to the bartenders. That way, we get to taste things and learn what’s best. The bartenders (all girls), were very accommodating and knowledgeable, 
and all the staff were fluent in English.
Knowing that the dishes at Onza are very generous, we decided to take the Meze menu for two (NIS 298).
The deal includes three salad spreads, two appetizers and one doubleportion main dish.
For starters, we chose the simit bread served with tahini sauce and a spicy tomato and pepper salad. The bread, baked on the premises from a secret recipe, was excellent, perhaps even better than one we had years ago in Istanbul.
The second salad we chose was the fava lima spread. The lima bean cream, which resembles humus, came with a very spicy green pepper sauce.
The spread was rich and full of flavor, not to mention heat. For the third one, we couldn’t resist the warm eggplant salad, served with yogurt and pistachios. The three salads were served together, and we devoured them with the bread, alongside a couple of very creative cocktails.
Then we moved on to the two appetizers. We chose the fish sashimi, a dish that changes daily according to the fish available and the chef’s fancy.
On the night we were there, the sashimi was made from sea meagre (musar yam), served with multicolored beets, Tulum goat cheese and pomegranate seeds over cream of apple and fennel. A very sophisticated and pretty dish, it was scrumptious.
The other appetizer we chose was the calamari piyaz. Piyaz is a traditional Turkish bean salad that is usually made with onion, parsley and sumac.
Here, the perfectly seared calamari rings were served atop the bean salad.
We wiped the plate clean with the remaining bread.
Next up on the meze meal was the sumptuous main dish. Continuing with the Turkish motif, we selected the Gaziantep kebab. Gaziantep is a Turkish city that is famous for its shish kebab. Onza’s kebab was served on a bed of seared vegetables, freekeh (green wheat) tabbouleh, yogurt and pomegranate concentrate. The whole mixture was placed on a thin flatbread. I wasn’t sure whether we were supposed to wrap it all up in the bread and eat it like you would on the street. It seemed too much to do that, so we tore off pieces of the pita and filled them with kebab and salad, creating perfect little bites. The dish was so generous that we could hardly finish it, but it was so delicious that we didn’t want to leave anything on the plate. So with the help of a glass of white wine for me and a beer for my dining companion, we took our time and eventually managed to finish it.
Full and very satisfied, we considered skipping dessert, but the bartenders insisted we try one. We chose the knafeh, which is popular throughout the Middle East. As expected, it was very good. The kitchen surprised us and also sent us a dish of malabi, another local favorite. It was perfect: light and not too sweet.
The atmosphere at Onza is lively and hip, the food excellent and creative, and the hospitality warm and welcoming. Besides the bar and the inside tables, there is a large seating area outside on the sidewalk, and there’s a private area for large parties on the second floor.
Whether you go yo Onza for a quick bite and a drink at the bar, a romantic meal or a gathering of friends, expect to be offered shots and tastings, just because the staff feels like it and because they know you’ll want to return.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
Not kosher
3 Rabbi Hanina St., Jaffa
Tel: (03) 648-6060