A meal of Biblical proportions

Restaurant once fit solely for special occasions aims to also attract those dining lightly

eucalyptus311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
When we were looking for a special dining experience to celebrate the seventh anniversary of our Tu Be’av wedding at Jerusalem’s Mount Zion Hotel, we didn’t have to look very far.
Eucalyptus, which is located just up the street from the hotel, across from the Old City Walls, was a good fit for Tu Be’av, because it is a romantic, Bible-themed restaurant. It has a reputation as a place you go to for special occasions, because it is pricey, extremely filling, and because Chef Moshe Basson does his best to makes sure diners have a good time.
In addition to the regular menu, Eucalyptus offers three special tasters meals: The seven-course King David feast for NIS 167, the 11-course Kings and Prophets feast for NIS 187, and the formidable 15-course Shir Hashirim feast for NIS 225.
Our Kings and Prophets feast started with hyssop, coriander, tehina, and olive spreads with fresh homemade bread. This was followed by a salad course of tabouleh, carrot salad, potato salad, beet salad and Israeli vegetable salad. Our first appetizer was charcoal-smoked eggplant with tehina and pomegranate syrup. Next came a hubeiza salad. Hubeiza is a wild mallow plant that was eaten during the time of the siege of Jerusalem.
We found the soup course to be absolutely inspired. Instead of having to choose between the delicioussounding soups on the menu, the tasters menu allows diners to try a small cup of each of three different soups: lentil, artichoke, and the soup of the day, which happened to be a rich tomato soup.
The ‘stuffed’ course included stuffed grape leaves, stuffed cabbage, and decadently sweet figs stuffed with chicken in a tamarind sauce. The rice served on the side was unnecessary.
Eucalyptus’s signature dish is Maklouba, a combination of chicken, rice and potatoes traditionally made for celebrations or for welcoming visitors.
Maklouba is Arabic for ‘upside down,’ and Chef Basson makes a spectacle several times throughout the night wherein he rings a gong so that everyone will come to watch the show, then chooses a diner, has him circle the pot of Maklouba three times, make a wish, and then turn the pot over so that the chicken ends up on top of the rice and vegetables. We witnessed the show twice during our meal, and it was almost as entertaining as the Maklouba was delicious.
Next came Kofta – veal meatballs in and okra and tomato sauce – followed by lamb baked all night in a clay pot over a traditional taboun oven.
By this time we had had our fill, but somehow had to make room for dessert. We started with ‘ice from paradise,’ an aspic of oriental flowers.
After this came a Jerusalem honey cake, followed by ‘milk and honey’ – sesame cream with halva and date honey. Pears in red wine provided a fruity, aromatic end to an incredible meal.
The food was not the only reason we thoroughly enjoyed our evening out. Basson is a card. He spends so much time chatting with diners that one wonders how he finds the time to cook. He loves to explain about Biblical sources for his ingredients and the dishes into which he incorporates them.
As perhaps the world’s top expert on biblical food, he has been called the gastronomic equivalent of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, who revived the language of the Bible. A winner of an international couscous competition, he tells a remarkable story about how it originated as the oilmingled meal offering at Jerusalem’s Holy Temple and reached Tunisia and Sicily via Solomon and Hiram King of Tyre.
Basson has set out to change his restaurant’s reputation as a pricey eatery where people venture for special occasions. He is now creating a menu of 70 rotating kinds of tapas that will include many fish, meat, pasta, and vegetarian dishes, and dairy items that will be served at the separate Angelo restaurant on the roof of Eucalyptus.
He also intends to add to the menu some of the features of the special mesorah meal of rare kosher treats that took place at his restaurant last month, such as buffalo carpaccio and locusts.
“We want people to be able to come not just for meal that costs 200 shekels but also to enjoy something light and tasty with a glass of wine,” he said.
And for that, you don’t need a special occasion.
Eucalyptus is located at Rehov Hativat Yerushalayim 14, Jerusalem. Kosher.
(02) 624-4331. The writers were guests of the restaurant.