Margo JLM: Dairy and different in Jerusalem - review

The food on the menu, by chef Hezi Zargari is some of the most innovative I’ve had in Israel.

 Margo JLM (photo credit: MARGO GINSBERG)
Margo JLM
(photo credit: MARGO GINSBERG)

Sometimes I get the feeling that the owners of many of the dairy restaurants in Jerusalem got together and decided on one menu for all of them with similar pastas, salads and sandwiches.

Margo, the new wine bar in the center of downtown Jerusalem, never got that memo. The food on the menu, by chef Hezi Zargari is some of the most innovative I’ve had in Israel. My foodie son and I tried a bunch of dishes on the menu and I was impressed by the range and the creative combinations, especially in the list of appetizers.

We started with a “beigele from Damascus Gate”, (NIS 24) the oval-shaped bread ring sold out of carts in Jerusalem’s Old City. It was served with four dips and zaatar wrapped in a newspaper twist. One of the dips, the schug, was quite spicy so Ashkenazim beware!

We also tried the carpaccio of red tuna (NIS 52) which was served paper-thin, as it should be, with a dill oil, a preserved lemon aioli, green onion, kusbara and sumac. It was an unusual flavored combination but it went together well.

Next was the dish that, for me, was the hit of the night. Date carpaccio (NIS 44) which comprises dates flattened and rolled out almost like “leather”, topped with almonds and roasted eggplant stuffed with lebane and silan. The tart lebane played off the sweetness of the dates, creating a dish that I had never tasted before.

 Margo JLM (credit: MARGO GINSBERG) Margo JLM (credit: MARGO GINSBERG)

The number two dish for me was the kunafe camembert (NIS 45) which was a combination of camembert, mozzarella and ricotta, topped with a homemade cherry tomato jam, and the thin kunafe noodles. Just delicious.

There are several kinds of bruschetta, but we particularly enjoyed the bruschetta fricassee, (NIS 51) which was slices of baguette topped with preserved lemon aioli, potatoes, a hard-boiled egg and slices of takati (slightly seared) tuna. As a big fan of fresh tuna, I really enjoyed this dish.

Unfortunately, the main courses were lacking

THE MAIN courses, unfortunately, were not as good as the appetizers. There was nothing wrong with the way they had been prepared, but the dishes didn’t tease my tastebuds the way the appetizers did.

The first main dish we tried was polenta tortellini in a beurre blanc sauce (NIS 78). The tortellini was homemade and the sauce was excellent. But putting carbs inside carbs was a bit much for me. I would have preferred mushrooms inside the pasta.

The other dish was fish kebab wrapped in grape leaves (NIS 58) – chopped fish served with a tzatziki sauce, which was a little dry. I saw another diner eating a fish filet which looked much better.

And now, the wine

Now for the wine, which plays a central role here. As many of you know, I’m a wine geek and can while away hours in a wine shop just reading labels. Margo has an extensive kosher wine list. There are usually six wines by the glass (three whites and three reds) at reasonable prices of NIS 35 – 50.

As Margo JLM is also a wine shop, you can buy a bottle to take home. Most impressively, if you buy a bottle to drink there with your meal, for example, you will only pay around 20% more than you would if you had bought it to take home. There is a printed wine menu that they tell me changes weekly, and the sommelier is obviously having some fun.

One category on the menu was “Floral, sexy wines for a great date,” while another was “The Whites and the Pinks that Changed the World.” Under “Promising Israeli Wines,” I found one of my favorites, the Chenin Blanc from Nana Winery in Mitzpeh Ramon at just NIS 147 a bottle.

The restaurant is divided into several areas; it could be fun to sit in the wine cellar downstairs, or, once the weather warms up, outside. The crowd is more “mature” than the usual bar-hopping crowd that runs closer to my foodie son’s age (although he did find several young women carefully dressed and wearing high heels to chat up).

There were young couples toting babies, small groups of women having a girls’ night out, and even several families with children. The vibe was laid-back and fun – the kind of place you can strike up a conversation with people sitting at the table next to you.

They also offer a breakfast buffet every morning from 8 to 11 am for NIS 80. We’ll have to check it out. Do yourself a favor and make a reservation – it’s going to get crowded soon.

Margo JLMKing George 21Phone: 077-232-0454Hours: Sunday-Thursday 8 am – 11 am (breakfast buffet)Evening 6 pm – 11:30 PMKashrut: Tzohar

The writer was a guest of the restaurant.