Lara, a five-year-old restaurant headed by chef Lior Hafzadi, is a culinary gem located in the heart of Jerusalem.
The interior design was a welcoming preamble to the dining experience. Warmly lit and clad with Jerusalem stone, it was an ideal combination of traditional Jerusalem atmosphere and contemporary sophistication.
We were greeted by chef Amron Pitterman, who recommended that instead of ordering from the menu, we opt for the tasting menu prepared by the chefs (five courses for NIS 200 per person). He explained that the menu changes with the seasons about four times a year, and they offer a Passover menu as well. Pitterman said that no two tasting menus are ever the same, as the chefs tailor each tasting menu to fit the palates of the diners, as well as what is in season and what inspires them at the moment.
We put our faith in the hands of the chefs, and the meal proved to be unforgettable culinary experience, as the talent and creativity in the kitchen were demonstrated through a dizzying array of interesting and flavorful dishes.
This wasn’t a meal, it was a journey.
The dishes followed a logical and well thought-out progression from the humble and familiar, to the delicate and flavorful, to the hearty and decadent.
The meal began very simply with a basket of warm breads and spreads: homemade aioli, seasoned beets, eggplant and sliced cherry tomatoes.
After we sampled each, a small bowl of orange soup arrived at the table.
The flavors were very delicate, with some spicy sweetness and savory nuttiness. A whole roasted eggplant topped with tehina and pine nuts was next. Standard, classic and very Israeli.
This was the last dish before the real journey began.
Fresh white fish ceviche with sliced blood orange, avocado wasabi cream, topped with chopped radishes, green onion, celery, cilantro and hot chilies was a beautifully executed and well balanced dish that was both innovative and refreshing.
The next dish was fish meatballs. A wonderful fusion of traditional Moroccan and Kurdish flavors, the fish was light and flaky, served in an aromatic tomato-based sauce. The best way I could sum this dish up is “exotic comfort food.”
I really appreciated how the kitchen went from innovative and experimental back to traditional and timeless.
This shift happened again with the next two dishes: endive boats with apples and pomegranates and Lara’s riff on hummus and falafel.
The endive boats were very crunchy with lots of flavors coming directly from the ingredients themselves instead of relying on spices and sauces, while the hummus and falafel with homemade focaccia was a bold take on upscale street food. The hummus was smooth and creamy.
The falafel was more like chickpea croquets than actual falafel balls, with a very fluffy consistency on the inside and lightly crispy on the outside.
Next came the more meaty dishes: Beef carpaccio with pineapple, truffle oil and sautéed mushrooms. Another pleasant surprise, the sweetness and acidity of the pineapple with the aromatic truffle oil and smoky mushrooms went together superbly with the carpaccio.
After that, paté with marinated strawberries and lightly toasted garlic bread. This was probably the most esthetically pleasing dish from the tasting menu. Full disclosure: I don’t like liver at all, but I was a sport and gave it a try and am so glad I did. The textures and flavors of this dish were so unique that I pretty much forgot about my aversion. Besides, I don’t know when I’ll be served liver paté with strawberries again.
To quote Ferris Bueller, “We ate pancreas”. Well, to be more precise, sweetbreads with fresh black tehina. I never tried sweetbreads before, but I put my faith in the chef and it paid off.
This creation was rich and decadent while having very straightforward flavors and textures. The black tehina was another thing I had never tried before, and it just shows the forward thinking and competence of this kitchen: smooth, creamy and a delicate mix of toasted sweetness with just a touch of bitterness that perfectly complemented the sweetbreads. It was a stunningly beautiful dish.
The final course was a grilled sirloin steak with crisp roasted potatoes. A bold and confident move to end on such a classic and satisfying dish.
For those who still have room for dessert, Lara offers a varied assortment of mouth-watering parve desserts, including freshly prepared cakes, sorbets and mousses.
My favorite part about this place is that the chefs’ love of food is truly contagious. Their love and passion for cooking allowed my palate to step out of its comfort zone to fully experience the fascinating culinary world they developed in their kitchen.
On Lara’s set menu, prices range from NIS 60 to NIS 150 for main dishes. But if you’re up for it, the true essence of the restaurant comes alive when you put your faith in the hands of these talented and fearless chefs and go for the tasting menu.The writer was a guest of the restaurant. Lara Kosher Lemehadrin (Badatz Beit Yosef) 3 Shimon Ben-Sheta, Jerusalem Tel: 057-944-3666