The gourmet start-up nation, attracting chefs from around the world

The wine list is curated from the country’s top wineries, and there is reasonable availability by the glass. Israeli craft beer are the only brews on tap.

By BUZZY GORDON
May 12, 2019 11:56
4 minute read.
The gourmet start-up nation, attracting chefs from around the world

L28 Culinary Platform. (photo credit: AMIT GERON)

If you thought the Start-Up Nation was only about hi-tech, then Tel Aviv’s Start-Up Nation Central has a delicious surprise for you: The enterprising incubator has turned the ground floor of its building into a stage for promising young chefs destined to shape the future of contemporary Israeli cuisine.

The premise of this unique restaurant is that Israeli chefs with demonstrable talent abroad and at home will cook for six months at a time, working with – and presumably training – a budding staff of local sous chefs. In between these stints, L28 will be a venue for pop-up restaurants featuring other established chefs. 

L28 has been open only half a year, and its first chef was Shuli Winer, from River Cafe, a Michelin-starred restaurant in London (also where Jamie Oliver worked before he became famous). At the end of last month, it also hosted its first pop-up event, starring Nir Mesika, chef of the highly acclaimed Timna Mediterranean-Israeli restaurant in New York City.

Working alongside Mesika was Chef Gabriel Israel, who is beginning his own six-month stretch. Israel first gained culinary notoriety as the proprietor of a popular food truck in New York known for its shakshuka; more recently, he comes to L28 from Boulud Sud, another Michelin-starred restaurant in the Big Apple.

Visiting chefs could hardly ask for a more impressive place to work: Start-Up Nation Central has clearly invested heavily in the ultra-modern décor: extremely high ceiling with stunning hanging vertical light fixtures and gleaming open kitchen. There is comfortable seating throughout: at the fully stocked bar, tables of all sizes, and an al fresco area on the sidewalk. It is worth noting that the entire premises are handicapped accessible.

The food menu changes with each rotating chef, but the bartender is a permanent fixture, and he evidently is as talented as the succession of guest chefs. The alcohol menu lists six specialty cocktails (NIS 40-48), of which we sampled the Spicy 28 – vodka, orange, rosemary, coriander and chili – and the Urban Garden – rum, mint, lemon and verbena. Although both were served neat, they were ice cold and refreshing, the former with an undertone of heat and the latter with a tart finish.

Israel is front and center when it comes to other alcohol options: The wine list is curated from the country’s top wineries, and there is reasonable availability by the glass. Israeli craft beer are the only brews on tap.


MESIKA’S FIXED price dinner menu (NIS 285 per person) comprised three sections: Appetizers, Mezze (intermediate dishes) and Main Courses. Every table was to share the five starters, while each diner was to choose one of the two intermediate dishes and one of the three main courses. While many dishes were made with vegetables and herbs grown in the urban organic garden on the roof, there was a grand total of only two vegan options on the entire menu.

The first thing brought to the table was kobana, mini-loaves of the fluffy Yemenite bread, served with mild salsa and cream cheese. It probably was the first time I could describe bread as melting in the mouth, even while the addictive taste was as substantial as the texture was not.

Next came one small appetizer for every two people; since this allotment left us only one to two bites for each person, it was not easy to form an impression of what we were eating. Still, the clear standout was the smoked snapper with sphinge, even though it was hard to distinguish the component parts, since the entire canapé was gobbled down in no time.

All this changed with our first mezze course. My selection was the cured tuna sashimi with ponzu tzatziki and crispy beet – a combination that yielded an interplay of explosive flavors, highlighted by the thin disks of ruby-red beet that was like candy.

Service can get slow when the restaurant gets crowded, so it took a while for the main course to arrive. Fortunately, the wait was worthwhile.

I had chosen the saddle of lamb with roasted fennel, black garlic puree, smoked onion powder and Jerusalem artichoke gratin. The sides were unremarkable, but the medium-rare lamb was positively succulent. Like so many of the dishes, it was gone all too soon.

Three desserts – not on any printed menu – were served in the same format as the appetizers. This time there was enough of each to truly enjoy: a chiffony chocolate mousse topped with a crumble of halva and candied pecans; malabi with candied hazelnuts, which were reminiscent of caramel corn; and the table favorite – sweet couscous, apparently cooked in condensed milk, accompanied by sage ice cream.

Although I had had my doubts during the meal about having enough to feel full, by the time it ended, we were all pleasantly sated.

Mesika was originally scheduled to be in the L28 kitchen for only five days; because of overwhelming demand, however, the pop-up was extended an additional week. The good news is that a number of his dishes will stay on the menu during the current chef’s tenure.

 

L28 Culinary Platform

Not kosher

Lilienblum Street 28, Tel Aviv

Brunch: Fri-Sat, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.

Lunch: Sun-Thur, 12 noon-3 p.m.

Dinner: Sun-Thur, 7 p.m.-11 p.m.

Fri-Sat, 6:30 p.m.-11:30 p.m.

Tel: 03-900-3560


The writer was a guest of the restaurant.



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