A Jerusalem gem

With its beautiful setting and exquisite food, Arcadia is considered one of the county’s finest restaurants.

Arcadia (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Is there an Israeli cuisine? Chef Ezra Kedem of Arcadia thinks that today’s ultimate Israeli cuisine speaks the local language.
For him, it is a cuisine of fresh herbs, lots of vegetables, olive oil and local produce. Kedem is considered the founding father of the new Israeli cuisine, and many of today’s celebrity chefs started their education in his kitchen.
Located in a pedestrian alley off Agrippas Street in the center of Jerusalem, Arcadia is set in an exquisitely renovated old stone building. To enter you press a buzzer, an iron gate opens, and you walk into a small stone paved yard and herb garden.
In the summer one can dine in the garden, and every Friday yearround Kedem and his staff hold a market day in the yard, selling fresh organic produce grown especialy for the restaurant, as well as their own delicacies and special market menu with down-to-earth dishes.
The main dining area inside is equally beautiful, divided by stone arches and decorated with simple elegance.
Opened 17 years ago, Arcadia is still one of the best restaurants in the country, and certainly top of the list in Jerusalem. Kedem was perhaps the first to combine the best aspects of French cuisine with the idea of regional cooking, using fresh local ingredients and recreating tastes that not only are very typically Mediterranean but bring with them the flavors and aromas of Jerusalem.
Ingredients are the main event in Kedem’s cuisine, and he uses only the best and freshest produce, some of which he grows on his organic farm not far from his home in the neighborhood of Ein Kerem. The meticulous and sophisticated methods of preparations are the kind one would expect in a starred Michelin restaurant in France, In fact, last year Kedem hosted a dinner for 24 chefs of Michelin 2 and 3 star restaurants from France and Italy. “I cooked from seven till midnight that day, and when the dinner was over and I stepped out of the kitchen, I was greeted with a standing ovation.”
And he well deserves it.
Indeed, Arcadia has consistently been considered one of the few restaurants in Israel that could just as well be situated in any of the major food capitals of the world.
A new winter menu was the reason for our visit, but as we entered the restaurant on one of the coldest nights this winter and were led to our table next to an iron wood-burning stove and had a glass of wine (chosen for us by the knowledgable english speaking waiter), and a chat with Kedem, it quickly became a tasting dinner courtesy of the chef, who created magic in his kitchen and demonstrated, once again, that he is in a class by himself.
A dish of eggplant carpaccio with tehina and dips was brought to the table with Arcadia’s famous fresh baked foacaccia bread, followed by an amazing procession of small tastings, such as chopped lamb in herbs on a bed of steamed chard and yogurt, which had both the feel of home cooking and gourmet food in one small bite. There was a fish carpaccio with tomato puree on a bed of fresh green peas picked that morning in the restaurant’s vegetable patch; a calzone of cheese with homemade goat cheese and leaves of a local herb called hubeiza; and a warm calamari salad with caviar produced in the Upper Galilee, which is considered one of the finest in the world (and costs 225 euros for 50 grams). There was crab ravioli in wine sauce with Atlantic salt and a risotto with greens from the garden and many more dishes. At some point we stopped writing them down.
Everything was rich but light, very skillfully prepared and, well, simply sumptuous.
Kedem’s hallmarks are quality, skill and the fact that his food could only be cooked in Jerusalem. The menu changes 2-3 times a year and the wine list is especially good, drawing on Israeli boutique wineries, as well as imports.A fixed-price four-course meal at NIS 330 seems very worthwhile.
In view of the high quality of the cuisine and the charm of the place, the prices are a very good value – good enough to warrant a special trip from any other part of the country, and even from abroad.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.

Not kosher
10 Agrippas Street (in the alley), Jerusalem
Open Sun.-Sat. 7-10:30 p.m. Friday 9 a.m.-4p.m. for breakfast and tapas.
Saturday noon-3 p.m.
Reservations strongly recommended.
Chef Kedem also conducts culinary tours near Jerusalem with a workshop at his farm’s kitchen. Call for information.