Set in stone

Though the vibe is 100% Jerusalem, Lara incorporates international culinary influences on its meaty menu.

bistro311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Sometimes when you enter a restaurant, you feel you’ve been transported elsewhere, whether it’s to a little cafe in Italy or a busy Japanese sushi bar. But other times, a local restaurant feels local. The new Lara bistro in downtown Jerusalem sticks to its roots with an authentic Jerusalem vibe, with stone floors, arched ceilings, a large Jerusalem mural and street lamps illuminating the interior.
Seating options abound, from outdoor tables on the Shimon Ben- Shetah pedestrian street to indoor tables to bar seating to kitchen-window stools. It’s an upper-class joint, with cloth napkins and leather-bound menus, even if it is a bit noisy.
Chef Lior Haftzadi (of Arcadia, Canela and Ristorante de Vitorio fame) wanted my dining companion and me to get a good understanding of the menu the restaurant has to offer, so after we provided a little guidance as to our likes and dislikes, we were brought a parade of tastes. The menu offers a wide variety of culinary styles, taking from Israeli, Italian, French, Asian and Middle Eastern kitchens. However, Lara is very heavy on meat, with only a few vegetarian options.
Our Asian trip involved very fresh sea bass sashimi with an exceptional lentil salad. The Italian exploration included bruschetta with a combo of medium-rare roast beef and a tender, almost creamy pickled sirloin (NIS 38) along with a surprisingly flavorful mushroom risotto that seemed to involve evolving layers of taste (NIS 42). Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes encompassed an heirloom eggplant dish for vegetarian diners, which my dining partner termed “not boring.” There were also tender veal tonsils with Swiss chard and arisa (NIS 48) and even more tender veal brain with a smoked paprika coating (NIS 38). Wait, don’t stop reading: Those were the only offbeat things we tried.
We had two types of kebab: fish and meat (NIS 44 and NIS 38, respectively). The fish was very heavy on cilantro, but it came with a fantastic tabbouleh salad with a brilliant addition of dried cranberries.
The meat had fun pine nuts and tasty green onion in it, but it was too salty. It came with a very light and refreshing potato salad. And if that weren’t all carnivorous enough, we also tried the beef fillet (NIS 118) and lamb chops. The fillet came with a thin red wine sauce, delicious asparagus and light and fluffy mashed potatoes. The meat itself was fine, though nothing too juicy to write home about. The lamb had a strong hint of black pepper and a strangely absent hint of lamb flavor.
The presentation of the dishes throughout was attractive and almost homestyle: There was garnish, but Lara didn’t go overboard with it. The service was attentive and friendly, and even informative.
For dessert, we delighted in a pineapple carpaccio with coconut sorbet, and tapioca with melon sauce, topped with candied nuts and fresh fruit (NIS 32). We’d hoped to taste the chocolate gnocchi listed on the menu, but they didn’t have any.
Lara is still new, so chances are the menu will undergo changes with time (in fact, the reason the prices are missing for some of the aforementioned dishes is because they aren’t yet listed on the menu). The atmosphere is certainly pleasant, and the décor is special.
As the restaurant joined a row of mostly established eateries on Ben- Shetah, it’s good to have something to set it apart. Haftzadi knows what he’s doing in the kitchen, although it seems that sometimes he goes overboard with cilantro and salt. Still, Lara is a good restaurant, even if it isn’t mind-blowing. And with such a varied menu, it’s a great option for when one person wants Italian and the other wants French.
Lara Jerusalem Bistro, Rehov Shimon Ben-Shetah 3, Jerusalem, (02) 537-0701.
Open 6 p.m. to midnight. Kosher.