In Jaffa's Cordelia, the food is an extension of the royal and eclectic atmosphere.
By ORIT ARFA
In their twenties most people are still "finding themselves." But at age 29, chef and food visionary Nir Zook is already the head of a mini-culinary empire. He appears on television cooking shows, has already written two cookbooks, is a food columnist for Yediot Aharonot and spends his free time traveling the world looking for and imagining new recipes, as well as collecting decorative objects for his establishments.
This young, charismatic and creative culinary personality can often be found at the compound named after him on historic Yefet Street in Jaffa, which houses his Cordelia restaurant, Noa Bistro, and Jaffa Bar. Located not far from the flea market and art galleries of the old city of Jaffa, Zook's compound is an active food gallery.
Having worked at gourmet restaurants since his teens, Zook conceived his first restaurant, Cordelia, at age 23. It started with his Jaffa apartment, which he'd decorate with stately art and furniture and cook gourmet meals for his friends. Considered one of the finest restaurants in Tel Aviv, Cordelia is named after the daughter of Shakespeare's King Lear to evince royalty and love.
If first impressions count for restaurants, Cordelia's royal atmosphere, eclectic furniture and imposing Jaffa architecture certainly promise a one-of-a-kind dining experience. The place was designed by Zook, whose sense of humor and creativity goes beyond food to space design. Long candelabras, silverware, plates, glasses, sculptures - each different from the next - show the care that Zook into his establishment.
Zook's food is merely an extension of the atmosphere. The creativity of the food is as important an element as the taste itself, making the compound a place for adventurous eaters. These creative dishes include an egg shell filled with cream and caviar; lemon ravioli in champagne and shrimp; liver pate wrapped in black sesame; grey mullet in smoked sea fruit sauce; apple sorbet with a touch of salt and pepper; and chocolate ice cream with hel. Highly recommended is the platter of goat cheeses that Zook's brothers make on their cheese farm located in Beit Shemesh. The "degustation" night menu (NIS 180), from which diners choose from select appetizers, entr es and dessert, makes the otherwise isolated, expensive dishes more affordable.
Noa Bistro, right next door, is much less aristocratic and far more chimerical. Transformed from a dumpy alleyway in Jaffa, Zook put a roof over the cleaned space and decorated it with seemingly junky objects - paper streamers, garbage bins, plants, dolls, and other random objects - which somehow work to create the look of a paradise made out of a dumpster. Noa Bistro, named after Zook's mother - who is also his culinary inspiration - shares a kitchen with Cordelia but is more attuned to casual dining or a cup of coffee. However, don't expect the clich sandwiches or pastas you would find at most cafes in Tel Aviv. Dishes still have that fantastical Zook touch.
The year-old Jaffa Bar, the third member of this trio, is open only at night, and feeds off the creativity of its "older" siblings, since the bar is not as invested as the others in both concept and form. While the space is an impressive renovated structure from Ottoman times, the atmosphere is low key, the walls are bare, and the d cor minimal. Zook, himself not a nightlife fiend, made it a point not to create a "pick-up" bar, but rather a place where friends or couples can come and shmooze over wine, fresh cocktails and a few signature Zook appetizers.
Nir Zook Compound, Simta HaZechuchit 1 (corner of Yefet), (03) 518-4668:
Cordelia Open everyday from 12-4 p.m. and 7 p.m.- midnight.
Noa Bistro Open from 9:30 a.m. to last customers
Jaffa Bar Mon. to Sat., 8 p.m. to last customers
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