A taste of Israel’s rustic side

Gaya’s chef delivers an array of flavors that show an appreciation for local cuisine.

Gaya restaurant 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Gaya restaurant 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Pulling up to Gaya, you wouldn’t expect the food that awaits inside. Tucked away on a humble industrial road in Binyamina, the fine dining establishment is situated in a hangar-like building with a gravel parking lot in front. We walked in past a small array of fresh herbs growing at the entrance.
Shelves of Israeli wine stood behind a wooden counter. Friendly waiters led us to our seats, giving us personal attention that would last throughout the meal. Some Bob Dylan hummed in the background as a waiter passed by, placing wine glasses on the table.
The restaurant had the ambience of a homey kitchen in a rural town, something you might expect in a dining establishment in the Napa wine region. The tiles were old and the furniture rustic, and a brightly lit showcase proudly displayed the evening’s fresh cuts of meat ready for the grill or skillet. Binyamina was founded by Baron Benjamin James de Rothschild and was developed into a collection of citrus farms, and you could feel the reverberations of those pastoral roots straight through to the simple elegance of the place.
The first wine we tried was a 2008 Italian Piemonte light, a light, fruity white wine that paired well with the appetizers that followed. The dish that accompanied the Piemonte was the night’s biggest surprise. A basket of rice dumplings was laid out in a dim sum basket and a bed of steamed spinach (NIS 42).
Inside the dumplings were bits of shrimp with a squeeze of lemon.
We also shared a crab and mascarpone boreka under a trail of Waldorf salad with pineapples.
At this point, we had to guess what we were eating, as the chef remained quietly cooking across the square restaurant floor.
A smiling waitress brought us the rest of the appetizers while pouring a heavier white, a 2007 Amphorae Chardonnay. It was perfectly paired with another appetizer, one of the chef’s veteran recipes. Wedged between two slices of succulently cooked beet root was seasoned goat’s cheese, and the vegetable was topped with orange peel and poppy seeds (NIS 38). The dish was covered with a light cream sauce that dissolved beneath the stuffed vegetables. This and the wine made for a mighty combination, showing the chef’s ability to match the best of the country’s strong produce and dairy.
At this point, chef Guy Ben-Asher, an unassuming Sabra who learned his trade in Tel Aviv kitchens and bars like the music venue Zappa, told us what was to come next. We switched glasses for an Amphorae blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine was dry enough to match the grilled sea bass topped with a layer of asparagus, garnished with lemon and garlic (NIS 95).
For another main dish we tried a homemade sausage, seasoned with thyme and garlic, on a bed of house sauerkraut (NIS 65). It was a nostalgic dish for me, a glorified version of a lazy Sunday barbecue staple, served without bread to show off the powerful flavors in the handmade link. This dish was the meal’s finest.
In a dinner that went from Chinese to Mediterranean and up through to German cuisine, I wouldn’t have expected that the hearty European dish would be the evening standout, but it was well worth the wait until the end. And to travel this far in cuisine, the prices at the restaurant didn’t seem all that unreasonable, either.
Having royally wined and dined, we couldn’t resist ending the evening on a sweet note. We shared a thick brownie drizzled in dulce de leche and accompanied by a ramekin of chocolate mouse.
The food, with its wide array of influences, ended up delivering the distinct flavor of Israeli cuisine – a bit of everything rendered with a local approach.
From the cook outside kneeling in the garden to pick a sprig of chives to the local bread sitting in a retro washbasin, the place was perfect for a couple looking to get out of Tel Aviv and into the country.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.

Gaya. Not kosher. Ha’aman 1 corner of Hatahana, Binyamina (near the train station).

Tel: (04) 618-1818.

Open Mon.-Fri. noon to 11 p.m. Sat. noon to 10:30 p.m. Business lunch weekdays noon-5 p.m.