A pleasant surprise

Berta in Or Yehuda is a kosher meat restaurant that surpasses the standards of good cooking.

rest_58 (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Agreat meal in Or Yehuda? It didn’t seem likely, but there is nothing like being pleasantly surprised.
We arrived in the Tel Aviv satellite town and were impressed with colored fairy lights in the trees lining the wide avenues and attractive tableaux depicting well-known children’s tales decorating the traffic circles. We easily found Berta, a restaurant situated in the hi-tech area at one of the entrances to the town and soon discovered that the family-owned and operated eatery is not just the average grill and chips outfit but a carefully designed place.
During the day it offers business lunches with the emphasis on home cooking, and at night it turns into an American-style diner with fabulous ideas like a bottomless glass of beer and diet hamburger served in lettuce rather than a bun.
Three generations of the family now run the restaurant, which was started by Berta, who arrived here from Iraq as a little girl in 1951.
Her daughter Mazal Mizrachi now owns the place and oversees the smooth running, while Mazal’s son Tal is the chef. He spent three years in Los Angeles studying the food business and came back to Israel determined to bring something new to the area.
“There are plenty of grill and skewer places around, but I wanted to bring the experience of the American diner to Berta, and I worked for six months developing the menu,” says the 26-year-old chef.
The restaurant even looks like a diner, with a long room-length bar, plenty of mirrors and several television sets tuned to sports channels with the sound turned down, but with rhythmic but quiet music playing in the background.
The tables are covered in paper coverings with a photo of Berta as a young woman and a brief history of the place – how she was persuaded to go into the catering business by her family and how she opened her first restaurant 20 years ago, moving to this location only three years ago.
And so to the food. Always on the hunt for the less-calorific choices, I eschewed the carpaccio sinta (NIS 36), the chopped liver with crispy onions (NIS 22) and the spicy chicken wings (NIS 23) in favor of the flameroasted eggplant topped with tehina and garnished with chopped tomato (NIS 28). The dish was pleasantly warm, spicy and redolent with herbs and garlic and I ate it with abandon, making a mental note to have plenty of mints handy the next day. My companion chose the lamb foccacia (NIS 28) – crumbled fried chopped lamb served on homemade flat bread garnished with tehina and chopped spring onion. It was tasty but a little too oily for me.
We decided that the ice-cold Carlsberg draught beer would be the perfect liquid accompaniment to this meal, and indeed it was. A glass costs NIS 18, but if one wants a bottomless glass, it costs NIS 55.
For the main course I chose the chicken steak teriyaki, which consisted of very thin slices of boneless chicken thigh (pargit) grilled with a delicious sweet and sour sauce, subtle and not overpowering (NIS 49). Of course, the chips that normally come with this dish were waved away in favor of an excellent salad of ultrafresh lettuce, tomatoes and onions bathed in a wonderful secret vinaigrette dressing.
My companion chose the entrecote Rossini (NIS 140), a 300-gram steak grilled to medium, crispy and brown on the outside and tender and rare on the inside. Tal the chef, who visited us mid-meal, explained that a good piece of meat should always be grilled medium-rare, as if it wasn’t quality meat it wouldn’t work.
The meat came topped with a slice or two of goose liver medallions which, to my mind, added nothing to the enjoyment of the steak. But then I dislike the whole idea of goose liver, having once watched some friends on a moshav long ago force-feeding geese. I was under the impression that the practice had been outlawed here, but it must have come from some kosher source.
During the meal, Mazal and her daughter Shirli kept bringing us extras to taste – a marvelous salsa made with cucumber and coriander with plenty of garlic and top-quality olive oil; a green schug (Yemenite spice), which was too hot even for our nearly 40 years of adapted eating habits; and a dish of pickled julienne vegetables, pleasantly sweet and with bits of fresh pineapple discernible among the carrot and kohlrabi.
The restaurant does not have a dessert menu, as the desserts change every day; but there is always parve ice cream and homemade cake and cookies served with mint tea or espresso coffee. For us, it was a perfect ending to an excellent meal.

The writer was a guest of the restaurant.

Berta. Kosher Yahadut Canada 1, Or Yehuda. (03) 632-0128