Shaking it up in the shuk

Machneyuda has invigorated the culinary scene in the area around the Jerusalem market.

Machneyuda (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
There is a difference between reviewing a new or updated restaurant and visiting an old favorite, and Machneyuda definitely fits into the second category. The menu changes daily but the style, ambience and essence stay the same. As one of the best restaurants in Jerusalem, and some would even say in Israel, it was definitely a pleasure to go back there.
Machneyuda is the brainchild of three talented chefs – Yosef Elad, Assaf Granite and Uri Navon – who also own Yudale, Mona and Hasadna. We were hosted by Navon, who is usually the resident chef at Machneyuda. We were seated at the bar overlooking the open kitchen, which is typically reserved for those having the eight-course tasting menu (NIS 265 per person). These seats allow direct access to the chef to discuss your meal and the spectacle of watching your food being prepared for you.
The menu, which combines high-end dining with homestyle cooking, includes a variety of vegetarian, fish and meat dishes.
Most dishes can also be adapted to one’s culinary preference, as they are made to order.
We started our tasting menu with a fish platter, creatively presented on a bright blue chopping board. The selection included a paper-thin sea bass carpaccio topped with toasted pine nuts and a perfect combination of fresh herbs, spices and various drizzles; yellowtail ceviche, which was light and refreshing; and salmon, pan-fried in polenta with an amba aioli. Many of the dishes in the restaurant have such a variety of ingredients and seasoning that it would not do them justice to list them all. What you need to know is that the combinations work well together, tantalize your palate and leave you wanting more.
Next came the meat platter on a bright red board to delight my carnivorous companion. The “beef tartare like in the Old City” sat on black humous and was drizzled with yogurt. The humous is made from chargrilled eggplant, which adds an interesting nutty profile to the dish. The kamikaze is a light salad of hanger steak tataki on a bed of Asian glass noodles, topped with picked daikon. These dishes gave a perfect representation of the East-meets-West style of the menu.
The polenta with mushrooms, asparagus, Parmesan and truffle oil is probably the restaurant’s most iconic dish, and one that makes me want to go back every time. In keeping with the rustic style of the restaurant, it is served in a closed pickled jar. Navon gave us a different twist by gently charring the Parmesan. As one enthusiastic diner said to chef as she was leaving, “That stuff is like crack, and I don’t even do crack!” My only criticism of this dish is that it is served with a fork and not a teaspoon, making it impossible to get the last few scraps of the delicious combination from the bottom of the jar.
As he handed us the next course, Navon said, “This is the soon-to-be famous agnolotti.” He was not wrong, as it is possibly as addictive as the polenta. This ravioli variation was filled with mascarpone, brinza and ricotta cheese, served on a smoked eggplant crème. The topping of sweet roasted tomatoes and poached plums gave a sweet balance to the smokiness of the eggplant and creaminess of the cheese filling.
The fifth course of pasta with zucchini in a sage butter sauce was our least favorite. While the pasta was very well made, the dish was heavier than the previous one and was not as much of a standout as the previous two dishes.
My companion continued with two meat courses. The shredded hanger steak on bone marrow, which he said was tender and satisfying, was completely overshadowed by the mini tournedos Rossini that followed.
The perfect individual portion of beef fillet topped with a generous slice of foie gras and sandwiched between two berry and almond financiers was definitely a dish to go back for.
Luckily, the desserts at Machneyuda do not disappoint.
The final course of the tasting menu was a sampling plate of five desserts, which included their signature rich cheese cake, Uri’s mother’s semolina cake, tiramisu and my favorite, cookielida – which is a playful and spoon-licking take on an ice cream sandwich.
There is an extensive wine list, but we chose to try Uri’s new Davidka beer (NIS 32) and a selection of cocktails, which includes Machneyuda in a jar (NIS 44), a delicious combination of gin and lychee with cucumber and soda.
The restaurant serves around 400 dinners a day, and typically more than half those diners are tourists and Israelis who come from all over the country.
If you are looking for a quiet meal, this is not the place for you; but if you want mouth-watering, inventive food with attentive service and authentic Israeli hospitality, Machneyuda is the ideal setting.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
Machneyuda Not kosher 10 Beit Ya’acov Street, Jerusalem Tel: 053-809-4897 Sunday-Thursday 12:30 to 4 p.m.
and 6:30 p.m. until last customer Saturday one hour after Shabbat until last customer.