Restaurant Review: Carmela by any other name

Architecture, cuisine and flights of wine are the main components to a great meal at Tel Aviv's Carmela Bistro.

cake 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
cake 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Tel Aviv's Carmela Bistro is already a legend. This comes of little surprise to anyone in the know - or with taste buds and a semblance of a budget. Asides from being situated on some prime real estate equidistant between the Nahalat Binyamin pedestrian mall and the Carmel Market (for which the place takes it's name and majority of ingredients), its roots can be traced to the fabled Acre eatery, Uri Buri. Seafood whiz Uri Yirmias, owner of Uri Buri, had a regular customer with a preserved property in Tel Aviv. Yirmias approached Chef Daniel Zach with the idea of opening a place. In 2001, Carmela - as it's affectionately known - opened its doors. A recent Friday afternoon visit proved to be an experience of high regard, though not without its ups and downs. My dining partner and I have walked past the historic building that houses Carmela many times. Never does it fail to inspire feelings of whimsy and delight. I'm not joking about this, it is one of the most beautiful buildings to be found in Tel Aviv made only that much more magical because of it's location and the tasty food to be had within. Yes, I had eaten at Carmela a few times and its reputation was well known to me. Built in 1927, the structure always seemed as if it had been plucked straight out of the New Orleans French Quarter. My dining partner, an ethnic German born and raised in the Fatherland, thought it to be French. You know, from France. We'd also dreamed of a shared residence in one of the huge apartments reported to be found on the upper floors. So, we entered on the same architectural page - always a good start to any meal. Coming off the Nahalat Binyamin pedestrian mall on a Friday afternoon is to leave behind some serious crazy. Don't get me wrong; I enjoy the whirlwind of a street gone mad with theater, vendors, tourists and the always enjoyable country musicians, busking just to make ends meet, but I always prefer the tranquility of a nice restaurant. Unfortunately, the music that awaited us was great classic rock that neither masked nor adequately competed with the circus soundtrack from just outside. However, a couple of glasses of white wine from Carmela's impressive, all Israeli wine menu (with about 20 whites and 60 reds) helped to ease our ears and minds. Since we were there to sample an array of dishes we went with the tasting menu. Available regularly, this is a great way to enjoy your food, company and time. Particular highlights include the fresh herb salad with roasted cashews (NIS 24/39), the fish carpaccio with avocado, citrus pieces, chili and radish (NIS 29/49) and the cured sirloin carpaccio with strawberries and blue cheese (NIS 29/49). The last one was a particular pleasure, as it's always wonderful to be served carpaccio that doesn't include balsamic vinegar, Parmesan and arugula. Our main courses seemed to be a tad bit lackluster by comparison but easily enjoyable nonetheless. We split the shrimps and calamari stir-fry with a mustard yuzo sauce and noodles (NIS 53/89) and the beef fillet medallions in a cream and pepper sauce served with schpetzle (NIS 71/119). The seafood in the former was itself outstanding and the sauce on the latter heavy, which may mean we should have opted for the pomegranate wine sauce, also available. For dessert we took the standard sampler (NIS 62), which includes a tiny tiramisu, petite passion fruit krembo and a small sorbet of fruit. We felt the need to go beyond this plate and also took the apple tart with toffee sauce and vanilla ice cream (NIS 39), which brought about the event that we now refer to as the Great Spoon War of 2009. Two short espressos accompanied this end in a most pleasant manner. Carmela Bistro (at the corner of 46 Hatavor and 14 Rambam Sts.; (03) 516-1417) is open Sun. to Thurs. and Sat. from noon till 11 p.m. and Fri. from 10 a.m. till 4 p.m. and from 6 p.m. till 11 p.m. A business lunch (first and main courses for the price of the main) is available Sun. to Thurs. and Sat. from noon till 6 p.m. and Fri. from 10 a.m. till 4 p.m.; not kosher. The writer was a guest of the restaurant.