Everything from soup to nuts

Racha in Jerusalem offers hearty kosher Georgian cuisine in a lively, convivial atmosphere.

Racha (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
You’d better like to eat food with nuts in it if you go to Racha. As long as you do, you’ll find it a fine dining experience. If not? Well, there’s always some scintillating grilled meats available.
But it would be a shame to go that route because the Racha experience is based on traditional food from Georgia, and the popular, family-run downtown Jerusalem eatery has recreated not only the delicacies but also the authentic ambience of Racha, an area in the northwest corner of Georgia. And that means lots of chopped nuts and herbs in practically every dish.
Housed in two former storerooms dating from the British Mandate period, the restaurant, with old world carpets and chandeliers, offers an inviting step back in time.
But there’s nothing outdated about the cuisine.
In the Georgian tradition of abundant and infinite hospitality, the Shimshelashvili family has designed a menu straight out of their home. Based on the recipes of his grandmother, chef Yisrael and his sister Lili operate Racha like it was their home and the diners their personal guests. At night, the atmosphere can get quite lively, with large parties downing shots of vodka, and live Georgian music sparking dancing and sing-alongs.
But earlier in the evening, the focus was solely on food. Among the tasty and recommended starters native to Racha – the region and the restaurant – that the helpful and attentive staff brought out were adzhazhili – roasted eggplant with onion, pomegranate, nuts and herbs; agapsandali – spring stewed vegetables with nuts and herbs; eggplant rolls filled with nuts and garnished with pomegranate seeds; chicken kindezmary – chicken breast strips with a ground nut sauce; and patrigani – eggplant layered and filled with (right, you guessed it) nuts and herbs. They were all delicious, if a little similar tasting. The prices for the starters ranged from NIS 16 to NIS 25.
Even more tantalizing were the homemade savory pastries such as chibureki – fried crescents filled with spicy ground beef ; and khinkali – pockets of dough stuffed with a classic Georgian meat mixture, including more of those nuts and herbs. All the pastries cost NIS 34 – NIS 36.
By now, our appetite was sufficiently aroused for the main course, and we weren’t disappointed. Every culture seems to have its own version of goulash, and the Georgian offering – salianka – was a tender, savory mixture of meat, root vegetables and potatoes in a rich sauce that demanded to be soaked up with the shutespuri homemade bread that was brought to the table.
Other options include chanakhi – layers of lamb with potatoes, eggplant, tomatoes and herbs; khalia – beef in pomegranate sauce and onions; and prakilobio – green beans with lamb and tomatoes.
For those who prefer to stick with tried and tested, the entrecote steak on skewers, with Georgian spices, was a perfect choice, with grilled chicken skewers and lamb kebab being other grilled options. Baked sea bream provided yet another possibility for those not enthused by the Georgian specialties. All the main courses range from NIS 78 to NIS 98.
Too full for dessert, we skipped the traditional offerings of churchkela – sugar-coated hazelnuts in wine pudding; and the similar pelamusi – wine pudding, jam and nuts. I guess chocolate volcano cake didn’t make it to Racha, but it’s just as well. The sampling of the Georgian treats ensured that we would be back again.
And good news if you’re in the downtown area of Jerusalem and hungry for lunch. Racha recently launched a business lunch menu from noon until 4 p.m., with meals ranging from NIS 79 to NIS 119. It includes a sampling of the traditional salads and breads, a main course, dessert and coffee/tea.
So there’s no reason not to give Racha a try – just be ready to eat a lot of nuts and herbs.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.RachaKosher 6 Havatzelet St., Jerusalem Tel: (02) 537-6600