Alena: One of Tel Aviv's finest dining options reopens with new menu

After being closed for over a year, the restaurant reopened last month under the helm of two new chefs – Daniel Zur and Omer Shadmi – childhood friends that present a cohesive menu.

CHILDHOOD FRIENDS Alena’s chefs Daniel Zur (L) and Omer Shadmi (photo credit: DANA OREN FRIEDLANDER)
CHILDHOOD FRIENDS Alena’s chefs Daniel Zur (L) and Omer Shadmi
Most Tel Avivians will agree that The Norman is the most elegant and prestigious boutique hotel in the heart of the city. Alena, the main restaurant of the hotel is suitably elegant, offering excellent food and exquisite service.
After being closed for over a year, the restaurant reopened last month under the helm of two new chefs – Daniel Zur and Omer Shadmi – childhood friends that present a cohesive menu that is influenced from both classical European and Mediterranean cuisines and celebrates the best of local ingredients.
Quality, local ingredients, innovative cooking and beautiful picture-perfect displays make this restaurant a favorite meeting place for special occasions. There are several seating options: the main dining room, with starched tablecloths and gleaming silverware, the bar, for less formal dining, and the beautiful terrace garden for al fresco dining. 
The menu, bursting with local fresh produce, is based on Mediterranean cuisine from Italy to Tel Aviv. The contemporary cuisine gives a fresh interpretation to some European classics and sets the stage to seasonal produce, while keeping the experience as elegant.
A meal at the Norman is always a celebratory event – the quiet elegance, the beautiful décor, the white tablecloths and the service – all speak elegance, while the food, very delicious – and innovative – is both very local and evokes memories of diners eaten abroad.
The new chefs, leading their own project for the first time, have shared a dream since they were young to work and present their ideas. Both worked in several leading restaurants both in Israel and abroad, and now proudly present their own cuisine, mixing influences from Jezreel Valley where they grew up, with knowledge and experiences they picked up throughout their years working in top restaurants around the globe.
We were ushered to our table by a lovely waitress wearing the restaurant’s new fashionable pink uniform, and were offered a cocktail. There are six signature cocktails (NIS 49-62), and my dinner companion chose the first on the list – Negroni Crystal (NIS 58), made with Extra dry Noilly, gin and bitters. It was fresh and only slightly sweet – a perfect start to a summer dinner. I chose a glass of Pouilly Fume , a white wine from the Loire valley (NIS 49).
The menu at Alena is divided into Cold Kitchen (starters), Pans/Stone Oven – mainly pastas, salads and a pizza, and Plancha/Josper, consisting of meat dishes, chicken, fish and seafood, cooked either on the hot plate or broiled in their wood-burning Josper grill. 
My companion was eager to try the Tartar made from beef fillet. He loves this dish and tries to order it when it appears on the menu. This version was chopped by hand, mixed with herbs and spices, and served over cream of horseradish and lovely crispy cabbage leaves, the likes of which we never had (NIS 68). His first reaction was a disappointment – since he likes his tartar the classic way – served with everything on the side, but then decided to give it a try. 
“It is very good” he finally gave his verdict. 
I couldn’t make up my mind so I chose half a dish from the middle menu. Some of the dishes are offered here in two sizes “we like our guests to try more dishes and share,” said the chefs when they made their round welcoming guests, “so we offer dishes both as main dishes or as in-between, so everyone around the table can share.” 
We took their advice and tried the ravioli stuffed with Hubeza (Mallow) (NIS 52/NIS 88). Mallow grows wild in Israel and is often used in the local Palestinian cuisine during its short season, which happens to be now. Here the chefs used the flavorful leaves as stuffing for hand-made perfect ravioli. The pasta was so thin you could see the stuffing and the sauce of Za’atar butter and fresh tomato seeds squeezed on top – was very delicate and simply perfect.
Another dish, from the same section, was ordered as a main dish. It was the drum fish fillet with roasted vegetables and chickpeas, served with salsa verde (green sauce) (NIS 135). The fish was cooked to perfection, delicate with crisp skin and moist flesh. We shared that dish, too. The chickpeas were the best part of the dish – cooked in fish stock, they were very delicious. Grilled fennel is one of my favorite dishes so for me this was a perfect dish.
From the Plancha/Josper part of the menu, we chose the Tender Chicken supreme with caper salsa served with charred vegetables (NIS 88). The chicken was full of flavor and the charred vegetables, again, were the stars of the dish.
Both main dishes were very good and beyond that the plating was just as pretty as a picture.  
Around us we noticed the charred octopus skewer was a very popular dish, as was the beef burger, served here on Brioche bun. 
After a long break – and this is an elegant place, so you can take your time between dishes, savor the atmosphere and enjoy the settings, we decided to take only one dessert and went for the classic – crème caramel (NIS 46). It was just that – no-nonsense excellent crème caramel – simply wonderful. 
Other desserts include chocolate tart made with olive oil, as the Italians do, with toffee and milk chocolate ganache, pears cooked in rose wine with spices and served with crumbly cookies, Filo pastry with nuts, almond cream, yogurt ice cream and honey, to mention but a few highlights.
Not kosher
The Norman Hotel, 23-25 Nahmani Street, Tel Aviv
For reservations call (03) 543-5400
The writer was a guest of the restaurant