Tel Aviv's Catalonian invasion

Welcome to the first Cava house in Israel.

meat beef 88 298 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
meat beef 88 298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
With Barcelona having become one of the hot travel destinations for young Israelis, it was only a matter of time before Tel Aviv acquired its first Catalan bar. La Champa, located on the intersection of trendy Rothschild Ave. and Nahalat Binyamin, fits the bill nicely, bringing the best of Catalan food and drink to the discriminating tastebuds of Tel-Aviv revelers. Walking into La Champa, the first thing you hear over the sound of the music and conversation is the popping of effervescence-propelled corks - a sound that sets a festive mood all by itself. The main attraction of the establishment is its exclusive brand of Cava, a type of sparkling wine produced mainly in the Penedès region of Catalonia, Spain. Like its French cousin champagne, Cava can be only be made in six wine regions, using only the traditional method and only a select species of grapes. The name Cava comes from the Latin word for "cave," since caves were traditionally used for the preservation and aging of wine thanks to their constant, slightly chilly temperature and high humidity levels. "We went to Barcelona to find the best Cava we could find. After endless tasting we chose a wonderful winery named Vallformosa, a family-owned business that has been producing Cava since 1865," says co-owner and manager Guy Shevach. La Champa is the first Casa de Cava (Cava house) in Israel. It is difficult to define what exactly a Cava-bar is, since it doesn't fall into any familiar categories. It isn't a restaurant, since the place has no seating or waiters, and it isn't a bar, because the only drink served is Cava. The place has the ambience of a pub, with background music and dim lighting - but without the pretensions of a typical Tel-Aviv nightspot. The small establishment is tastefully decorated, with a natural wood bar attached to the surrounding walls, wine barrels adding to the rustic décor and the trademark Catalonian donkey painted on the wall. "The concept is actually very simple," says Shevach. "You have to get over the unfamiliarity and just enjoy the fact that this is a place which serves excellent food and drink and gives you the opportunity to mingle within a friendly and informal environment." The inspiration for bringing this unique establishment to Tel-Aviv came from seeing the success of similar places in Spain. "Everybody who has been to Barcelona and has gone to the Cava-bar said somebody should open a place like that in Israel. We decided to go for it, and within a few months we opened La Champa," relates co-owner Avihu Kirmayer. Both Guy and Avihu come from Israel's own wine region, the towns of Zichron Ya'acov and Binyamina at the foothills of the Carmel Mountains. Much of La Champa's menu is designed with the Cava in mind, such as its excellent, bite-sized tapas. "The idea behind our menu comes from the culinary concept called 'degustation' which means a careful, appreciative tasting of various foods," explains Shevach. "We recommend that with every bottle of Cava the customer order one or two tapas." La Champa is also a carnivore's fantasy, with a display of assorted meats, all of them said to be specially imported or else produced in Israel exclusively for La Champa. Grilled orders are filled by La Champa's own line of hamburgers and sausages prepared by chef Ellen Talmor. If meat isn't your thing, La Champa also has a wonderful selection of cheeses, olives, and cooked dishes such as patatas bravas (cooked potatoes in a zesty red sauce) and homemade croquettes (deep-fried snacks made from breaded potatoes with a variety of fillings). Two types of homemade truffles satisfy patrons' sweet teeth. All the items at La Champa can be bought by the gram as take away. Prices are reasonable, with the Cava going from NIS 60 to NIS 125 per bottle, or NIS 15-17 per glass; and the tapas range between NIS 6 and 22. Don't bother calling for reservations, since La Champa has no seating. Rehov Nahalat Binyamin 52; 077-200-8636; not kosher.