Courses of true love

If the way to someone’s heart is through their stomach, prepare to pair up.

food and wine restaurant 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
food and wine restaurant 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
When I heard about the Aubergine restaurant’s upcoming Valentine’s Day event, I was intrigued. It sounds like a lot of fun: a gourmet, five-course meal with fancy wine accompanied by a light concert from Israeli Opera soloists. But before I would be willing to commit my romantic evening and NIS 330 a head for the privilege of participating, I needed to make sure the venue and menu warranted the investment.
Last week, I headed over to Tel Aviv to sample the fare and check out the ambiance. As I drove up the David Intercontinental’s long and winding ramp into the parking structure, I felt like Dorothy skipping along that yellow brick road. I had no idea where it was going to lead me, but the journey itself was a trip. Once in the hotel, I made a beeline across the lobby to the entrance of Aubergine. The restaurant felt elegant: rich, wall-to-wall carpeting, heavy wooden chairs, white linen tablecloths, hushed tones and a dimly lit chandelier above.
My chair was pulled out for me, and within seconds of being seated, I was offered my choice of still and sparkling waters. The next order of business was choosing the wine; I won’t even say which one I took, but it was recommended by Hadar, the restaurant’s manager, and she was right on the mark.
Once it was clear that there was no chance I would be dying of thirst, it came time to focus on my stomach. Every diner is presented with an amuse-bouche – whatever Chef Eibi Kakon dreams up that day – and a plate of thick focaccia and rustic brown bread, accompanied by a variety of dips. The dinner menu, available from 7 to 10 p.m., is served a la carte (there’s a business lunch from 1 to 3 p.m.).
I began with cannelloni. Mind you, this wasn’t the pasta cannelloni you’re picturing. The outside was made of soy and it was filled with sea bream ceviche and served on a spiced mango puree (NIS 65) – an impressive way to start a meal. The sweet mango offset the tangy marinade of the cannelloni. I had a light, green salad with a secret-recipe French dressing (NIS 38); I’m not sure what was in it aside from cashew bits. The salad was fresh and crispy, though it was just a salad – it packed no punch.
The menu is loosely based in the Mediterranean with French, Italian and Asian influences. So if I’m already stepping out of my boundaries, I may as well indulge in the evil-yet-tasty delicacy that is goose liver. My duet of goose liver (NIS 98) came in two textures with two sauces – a slightly spicy red wine reduction and a sweet nougat-balsamic sauce. Brioche accompanied the dish. While I felt bad for the geese, I was pretty happy. My main course consisted of herb-encrusted lamb fillet with veggies and polenta on the side (NIS 155): pink and delicious! Plus, it had the lamb flavor without all the lamb fat.
I had some tea and prepared my stomach for the dessert onslaught, which began with a complimentary melon-rum palate cleanser (which all patrons receive). That was followed by hot chocolate cake with a tapioca-chili sauce (NIS 32). I love anything chocolate-chili, and this lived up to my expectations. It was rich and flavorful and was meant to be savored. Alongside that delight was another – a personal cheesecake with blueberry sauce (just added to the menu). But yes, this is a kosher restaurant; that means the cheesecake was actually made of tofu, though an unwitting diner would never suspect it was parve.
The staff at Aubergine is passionate about food. I heard numerous stories about the dangers of interrupting Kakon while he’s in the kitchen, although from his calm, pleasant demeanor table-side, I have trouble believing them. New recipes are frequently born in his kitchen. He has a way of mixing strong flavors and soft textures so that no one ingredient overpowers another, proving that his training both here and abroad has paid off.
So I’d say my recon mission pulled together some rather strong evidencein favor of the Valentine’s Day event. Whether or not you believe thatIsraelis should celebrate Valentine’s Day, do you really need an excuseto spend a romantic evening with the one you love?   
Valentine’s Day Gourmet Opera:February 14, NIS 330/person with drinks, NIS 250 without drinks.Reservations: (03) 795-1201. Aubergine is inside the DavidIntercontinental, Rehov Kaufman 12, Tel Aviv. Kosher.