Modern's art

The Israel Museum’s newly opened kosher restaurant offers elegant, subtle twists on both Jerusalem cuisine and neo-plasticism.

By ELIE LESHEM / ITRAVELJERUSALEM.COM
January 7, 2011 15:44
3 minute read.
Modern restaurant at the Israel Museum

Modern restaurant Israel Museum 521. (photo credit: Courtesy)

The Israel Museum’s recent makeover has made this already-important cultural institution all the more inviting to the public. The extra display space and new layout certainly make for a highly streamlined experience, doing away with much of the “dead space” that characterized the museum’s previous incarnation. In short, it was well worth the wait.

But what of the food front? Visitors to the Israel Museum in recent years will surely recall the somewhat sterile cafeteria that served up nourishing if uninspiring fare-on-a-tray and was not much more than a place to refuel for another bout of culture hounding.

Those with developed palates for the fine arts, who often exhibit a corresponding appreciation for the subtleties of the culinary medium, were forced to bite the bullet, as it were, and hold out until their day of museum-traipsing had drawn to a close before heading out to one of Jerusalem’s premier restaurants for a bite to eat and a round of highbrow banter.

Enter Modern, the museum’s new in-house restaurant, which takes its aesthetic cues – if not its glitzy name – from the understated works of neoplasticist painter Piet Mondrian, best known for clean, white canvases overlaid with grids of black lines and a smattering of primary-colored squares.

Since the restaurant is part of a museum, it is worth lingering on architect Gadi Halperin’s pleasing minimalist decor, which integrates its artistic elements with the functional requirements of a restaurant quite nicely. Most noteworthy in this regard is the huge wooden “bookcase” that lines one of Modern’s walls and houses the restaurant’s encyclopedic collection of kosher wines (they vow it’s the most comprehensive of its kind in Israel). The warm tones of wood and wine offset the space’s detached modernist elements to create a wonderfully coalescent visual ensemble.

The kosher menu is similarly thought out, offering the coziness and familiarity of a traditional Jerusalem cuisine, laced with some surprising touches and served up with a decidedly modern twist. The dinner menu starts out with such appetizers as the Modern bread and Modern salad (roll your eyes here), alongside baladi eggplant, green felafel, tabouli salad and green tehina (all NIS 18- 36). Those who favor the sophistication of contemporary cooking need not be alarmed, though, as the diverse range of starters also includes such dishes as veal sweetbread with chard, chickpeas and wine sauce (NIS 39); beef carpaccio with spring onions, parsley, garlic confit and Tamar tomatoes (NIS 38); salmon and mullet ceviche with fresh oregano and grated lemon (NIS 38); and panko-crusted red mullet with cashews and lemons, both pickled and fresh (NIS 34).

Many of chef Yaniv Luzon’s entrees also employ the staples of the Jerusalem kitchen: lemon, olive oil, garlic, parsley and, of course, tehina.

The standouts are the delicious lamb kebab with tabouli salad and lemon tehina (NIS 72); the succulent salmon fillet with lentil ragout and pickled lemons (NIS 90); the lamb osso buco with pearl barley, root vegetables and red wine (NIS 92); and the wonderfully comforting beef sofrito with potatoes, chopped parsley and beef gravy (NIS 72). The entrecote steak, which no self-respecting Israeli eatery would dare omit, comes with mashed potatoes and roasted eggplant (NIS 98).

All in all, with a deliberate, wellrounded menu that also offers a business lunch option, a selection of wines that is impeccable, and an atmosphere that is equally conducive to idle prattle or intellectual posturing, Modern is the natural choice for museumgoers, who also have the option to sign up for a gastrocentric tour of the exhibitions. However, those who don’t favor a side of still-life fruit baskets with their dinner need not be deterred, as access to the restaurant does not require passing through the museum gates (or ticket office).

Finally, make sure to drop by for one of the Thursday night winetasting/ jazz-playing events staged by the restaurant. They’re sophisticated, entertaining and – dare we say it? – oh, so modern.

The writer was a guest of the restaurant.

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