A healthy meal in the forest

The restaurant at the Carmel Forest Spa is an experience in healthy decadence and guilt-free indulgence.

carmel forest spa 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
carmel forest spa 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Eating with my dining partner at the restaurant at the Carmel Forest Spa Resort was kind of like the infamous restaurant scene in When Harry Met Sally except for one crucial difference – I wasn’t faking it. Each bite was ecstatic, a revelation on a plate.
The dining room at the Carmel Forest Spa Resort overlooks the forest and manicured gardens, and almost every window in the hotel has a stunning view. All meals are included in the price of the room and the restaurant is exclusively for guests. This is bad news for anyone reading this review and hoping to drop in for a meal but good news for those planning a visit as every stay is full board. Chef Amir Kalfon does an exceptional job of achieving the impossible – making healthy food taste incredibly delicious. The menu is varied, seasonal and innovative. All of the dishes are created to be low-fat and diet-friendly. An on-site dietician is available to help guests create a menu tailored to their needs including portion sizes, allergies, and medical dietary restrictions. The dining room is open for specific hours for each meal and reservations are needed for dinner. 
We arrived in time for lunch and helped ourselves to the salad bar after being seated. The salads were fresh and there was a large variety but I tried not to fill up before the main course. A nice touch is that along with each dish is a card explaining the healthy properties and giving a calorie count. This keeps you aware of what you are eating and also helps to control portion sizes. 
When our lunch arrived it contained a few surprises – foods that I did not expect to be good proved to be outstanding, and some of my old stand-bys (like fettuccini in cream sauce with salmon) were not so interesting. My dining partner ordered the crispy pastry with assorted goat cheese and mushrooms roasted in olive oil and garden herbs served with a hazelnut sauce. This hadn’t impressed me on the menu but it was a slam dunk of a dish. The cheese was light, the herbs were divine, the pastry was not heavy or overwhelming and the hazelnut sauce was an earthy counterpoint. I ordered the grilled fish fillet served on a bed of pureed green vegetables and broccoli sprouts with a Spanish pepper sauce. This was a “reduced calorie dish” but it was definitely not reduced in flavor. The other grilled fish fillet (a la Plancha) is served on a bed of roasted pepper filled with stir-fried bulgur, fresh vegetables and organic tehina and tarragon-lime cream. This is the first time that I have ever seen bulgur served – and done well – in a gourmet dish.
Lunch was great, but nothing compared to dinner. We had a few starters to begin with. My favorite was the Carpaccio, it was so soft that it melted in my mouth. I also enjoyed the appetizer of raw salmon, which was served in small balls spiced with a little hot pepper and wrapped in thin slices of avocado.
We could have walked away from the table at that moment fullysatisfied, but then our main courses were served. The most innovativeand interesting was a lamb kebab and pine nut tagine served withroasted eggplant, seared tomatoes and red onion in a farina doughcoating –  a clear culinary nod to Chef Kalfon’s Moroccan heritage.This dish was a little overwhelming at first because you need to crackthrough the top layer of dough, which is somewhat awkward, but worththe work. The sauce was almost like a soup and the flavors of all theelements in the dish blended together perfectly. My favorite dish wasactually the charcoal-grilled beef fillet medallions served on a bed ofpureed Jerusalem artichoke with anise-scented fennel marmalade in abeef sauce with a hint of espresso extract.
Our stay was finished off in the morning with breakfast as our lastmeal – which we actually ate twice. We woke up early and had fruit andcoffee before our massages, and then afterwards we went back foromelets, salad and delicious cheeses.
If you have ever lamented that kosher food in Israel is too safe, toopredictable and too boring, you must go to the Carmel Forest ResortSpa. It is refreshing to be surprised by the food on the table and toindulge in a menu that is innovative in every way with the added bonusof being healthy as well. 

Carmel Forest Spa Resort, P.O. 9000,Haifa 31900. (04) 830-7888. Kosher. The writer was a guest of thehotel. Price ranges from NIS 1,600 to 3,000 per couple per night fordouble room, full board.