Worth the trip

KRAMIM: The innovative menu is a pleasant surprise for such an out-of-the way location

If you need to buy plants and also fancy a gourmet meal, Kramim, on Moshav Segula (8 km south of the Castina junction) is the place to go. Opened five years ago in the heart of a nursery, the restaurant, although sparsely decorated, is light and welcoming, with seating inside and a patio outside. Born of an Iraqi mother and an Egyptian father, Chef Shahar Raphael has created an innovative menu - not the fare one would expect in such an out-of-the way location. Having no formal training, Raphael learned his trade in various restaurants in and around the Sharon area. His last place of employment, before becoming head chef at Kramim, was the legendary Idi fish restaurant in Ashdod. All the vegetables come directly from the moshav's greenhouses, the fish is brought in fresh daily, and the meat is aged on the premises. For the moment, the house wine is Jerusalem Heights 2002 from the Hevron Heights winery. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, the grapes come from the mountains surrounding Jerusalem and are aged for 18 months in French and American oak barrels. The restaurant changes its house wine every few months. Among the first courses is a very interesting baklava phyllo pastry filled with minced lamb; it comes with a grenadine sauce (NIS 38) whose sweetness is a good foil for the strong lamb flavor. Also very tasty is what's listed as a cheese terrine, consisting of zucchini, red pepper and aubergine stuffed with cheese, pine nuts and spices in a cream-and-nut sauce (NIS 36). A cast-iron frying pan filled with fresh mushrooms in a cream-and-pepper sauce was the favorite with my dining companions (NIS 38). The house-baked bread comes warm and crusty, accompanied by carrot salad, beet salad, olive oil dip with zatar and cauliflower florets. The trout on a bed of cheese-filled vine leaves with a cream-and-saffron sauce (NIS 69) that we had as a main course was perfectly cooked, flaky and extremely fresh; the stuffed vine made a welcome change to the usual potatoes. The grilled lamb chops served with fried potato wedges and amazingly fresh baby Brussels sprouts was another successful dish (NIS 78). A bit of a disappointment, however, was the veal scallopini. The meat was thick and showed no signs of having been pounded, while the sauce was overpowering (NIS 78). Other main courses include various pastas, lamb-filled ravioli, grilled beef medallions, salads, etc. Prices range from NIS 45 to NIS 98. Pastry chef Efrat Richter has also been at the restaurant since its inception, and makes all the desserts and bread. The desserts are well worth waiting for. His three-tier nougat creation melts in the mouth: a crispy macaroon is the base, topped with nougat and nut cream, crowned by a white chocolate crunch (NIS 32). The white-chocolate-filled pie with forest fruits is another delight (NIS 29). As lovers of white chocolate, these were the desserts we tried, but there are many others which looked equally amazing. Sushi is not on the menu, although chef Raphael has won international prizes for his sushi. In fact, Kramim offers courses in sushi making, and also courses in baking. If you have a special celebration, event or simply want a romantic dinner, the restaurant will make up a menu to your taste and specifications. Kramim, Moshav Segula 106; (08) 850-5859; not kosher.