This eatery, 'Popina', in Tel Aviv is intimate, innovative and inviting.
(photo credit: PR)
The combination of Neveh Tzedek and the location of Popina creates a magical atmosphere that takes the patron back in time to when Neveh Tzedek was one of the first neighborhoods in Tel Aviv. Located in an ancient building with retro stained glass windows, open stone walls, an expansive garden, as well as a section of glass-bottom flooring showing off the extensive wine cellar below, Popina is an intimate place, and its unadorned charm makes you feel right at home.
It was opened by restaurateur Amir Tourgeman and chef Orel Kimchi, a promising young chef who won 2011 the San Pellegrino’s World’s Best Chef Under 30 award.
The two moved from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv to open the restaurant.
Instead of the traditional division between courses into starters, main dishes and desserts, Popina has a different approach. The menu is divided by cooking technique – curing, steaming, baking, searing and slow cooking. In each category there is a cocktail, various dishes and a dessert.
Diners can choose to order from the rich menu or have the tasting menu (seven dishes NIS 280; nine dishes NIS 350) and surrender to the chef completely.
We had the pleasure of sitting at the bar, with a full view of the chef and his sous-chefs creating their gastronomy magic in an open kitchen.
Before the entrées appeared, we cleansed our palates with a couple of refreshing cocktails, which displayed the same nuanced flavors that make the dishes so impressive.
Each of the drinks invoked images of sipping a cold beverage outside on a lazy summer day, despite the winter chill outside.
To try to absorb the alcohol swilling around in our stomachs, we dug into some hearty appetizers. From the cured section we opted for the gin and tonic tartare (NIS 68), which consisted of cubes of greater amberjack fish, shallots, cucumber, green tobiko and cubes of gin and tonic jelly.
Fresh and flavorful, it was better than any fish tartare I’d ever tasted. This was followed by the beef tartare and cured watermelon (NIS 64). The presentation was outstanding. As we took delicate bites of the perfectly cured beef mixed with feta cheese and cashew nut butter, I watched my companion’s eyes light up as she realized how delicious tartare could be.
Next up was the veal rib burger (NIS 64) from the steamed section.
Served on a steamed bun, all the flavors came together really well, and the meat was fall-apart tender.
After a bit of a breather, we were presented with the goose thigh cannelloni (NIS 66). The pasta was incredibly thin and light (much like a crepe), and the interior was stuffed with rich goose meat. The béchamel sauce enhanced the sweetness of the goose, never overpowering it.
From there we were expecting dessert, but to my surprise we were served the braised veal cheek (NIS 108). I’ve had experience with dry and rubbery cuts of veal, but this was unexpectedly tender and juicy.
It was seasoned perfectly, and the crispy polenta and tomato coulis added just the right amount of complementary flavor variation. It was my favorite dish by far. I would go back to eat that again in a heartbeat.
The desserts, too, were delightful.
We shared the chocolate soufflé (NIS 48) with valronah pearls and hazelnut ice cream. It was fluffy and puffy and didn’t deflate even when we broke into it with our spoons.
The inside was gooey and chocolaty, while the outside had a cake consistency. The pecan tart (NIS 48) was quite sweet but not overly so.
The scoop of peanut ice cream was the perfect finishing touch.
With the type and quality of food served at Popina, the place could easily be one of those restaurants where nobody speaks above a whisper. But Popina makes you feel comfortable while still serving an upscale crowd.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
3 Ahad Ha’am, Neveh Tzedek, Tel Aviv
Tel: (03) 575-7477