'Avantgarde', a combination American-style diner and sports bar in Tel Aviv. features diner staples such as subs, tuna melts and BLTs.
By LINDA LIPSCHITZ
Habarzel Street in the Ramat Hahayal hi-tech area of Tel Aviv is lined with restaurants. Parking is plentiful in the evening, and while many of the offices may be closed, the street is alive with people out for dinner.
Avantgarde stands out, with its colorful lighted entrance. It was only 7 p.m., but the eatery was almost full.
Chef and owner David Levi, formerly of the Marie Antoinette restaurant in Tel Aviv's Florentine Quarter, had invited the press to celebrate the seventh anniversary of Avantgarde, the eatery-cum-sports-bar he established after returning from years in the US. During his time there, he had come to like the food and decided to bring it to Israel.
TV screens around the walls enable patrons to watch their favorite matches no matter where they are seated. There were no major games on the night we were there, so although the sets were on, they were silent.
The layout is that of an American diner: a long bar faces the entrance, booths line the walls, a shelf on the wall of each booth holds condiments, including the traditional ketchup and yellow mustard. The only thing missing is a mini juke box at every table. The motif of the wallpaper, imported from the US, is of old newspapers.
As soon as we were seated, a cup of popcorn was placed on the table and refilled as needed. On Mondays and Wednesdays, unshelled peanuts replace the popcorn, and patrons are encouraged to toss the shells on the floor. The book-size menus in Hebrew and English are well laid out, with each dish described in full, including pictures alongside some of the listings.
The cocktail and drink section is extensive, but no wine list. The waitress explained that Americans prefer beer with their food, and Avantgarde specializes in beer, bottled and draft. Nonetheless, wine from the Tavor winery, Cabernet and Merlot, although not on the menu, is served by the bottle or glass.
We started our meal of myriad samplings with buffalo wings, as Americans call them, but are actually chicken wings in barbecue sauce. The tomato flavor was rather dominant but offset by the accompanying blue cheese sauce. Portions are large, so be careful not to order too many dishes, as they can easily be shared.
The fried onion loaf was perfect, crispy and not greasy in the least; it came with three different sauces - sweet chili, honey mustard and barbecue - all perfect accompaniments to the onions. A grilled beef filet kebab followed, which was ever so tender and pink in the middle, the top-quality meat accompanied by grilled vegetables. The grilled black tiger shrimps wrapped in bacon were also excellent.
By the time the Avantgarde mini hamburger was served, I was too full and decided to forgo the bun, lettuce, onion rings and tomato topping to concentrate on the meat. It was an American-style burger - grilled pure fresh minced beef with hardly any seasoning. While good, it needed salt and pepper.
The eggplant in pesto sauce was a novelty, the sauce fresh and not overbearing.
We finished the meal with a mini selection of desserts: a good creme brul , nice and crispy on top and a mini brownie delight with wild berries and ice cream. It was so so good I was sorry we were only served the mini version. As well as the brownie, the restaurant's speciality is apple pie and ice cream with optional whipped cream. I saw many plates leave the kitchen, obviously a favorite with the customers.
The extensive hamburger menu seems to feature every kind imaginable and takes up a whole page in the menu book. David has also developed an Israeli burger spiced with coriander, parsley, etc. When first introduced, sales were slow but now the Israeli version counts for 50% of sales. While most of the meats are grilled, diners have the choice of ordering them fried or stir-fried. The menu also includes diner staples such as subs, tuna melts and BLTs.
When we left, the restaurant was full of happy patrons of all ages. I didn't hear a single American accent.
Prices are reasonable. A NIS 58 business lunch is served from 12 to 7 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, and on Friday from 12 to 5:00 p.m.
I have the distinct feeling that Avantgarde, with its delightful atmosphere, good food and drink, will be around for at least another seven years, and not only for sports fans.
Avantgarde: Rehov Habarzel 3, Ramat Hahayal (03) 648-0082. Avantgarde has also recently opened a BBQ catering service for private or business events for up to 150 people. Call (03) 648-0082 or (054) 767-4020 for details and bookings.
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