Rai: Enjoying Bulgarian food, hospitality in Israel's North - review

Rai Winery and Restaurant is for foodies. Those who love good, wholesome dishes, washed down with a fabulous bottle of wine, will feel at home there.

 Rai Winery and Restaurant (photo credit: GALIA AVIRAM)
Rai Winery and Restaurant
(photo credit: GALIA AVIRAM)

Rai is a Bulgarian restaurant and winery located in Rama, a half-Christian Arab town in the Galilee, east of Karmiel.

Adib, the owner, was waiting for us when we arrived, although he had to bear with us as we gaped at the stunning scenery surrounding his restaurant – and took dozens of photos, of course.

When we finally managed to tear ourselves away, we followed him up some steps leading into the restaurant, pausing as he showed us his outdoor, water-powered grill, imported from Bulgaria, the only one of its kind in Israel.

Enjoying fantastic Bulgarian food

Although the outdoor space was beautiful and shady, we decided to eat inside to take advantage of the air-conditioning (it’s pretty hot up there at this time of year), a decision that was vindicated, we soon realized.

The inside of the restaurant is quite lovely, with low-beamed ceilings and huge glass windows, affording panoramic views of the surrounding hills.

 Rai Winery and Restaurant (credit: GALIA AVIRAM)
Rai Winery and Restaurant (credit: GALIA AVIRAM)

We were shown to our table by a delightful young woman who couldn’t do enough for us.

First, the menu. At a glance, it became obvious that this restaurant caters mainly to the local Christian-Arab population, as well as Christian tourists visiting the plethora of historical sites in the area.

The menu is meat-heavy. Pork, veal and beef dishes make up the majority of the entrées, often served with a large helping of cheese.

We started with a couple of salads, just to get our taste buds tingling (it had been a long time since breakfast, and we were ravenous).

On the suggestion of our waitress, we went with the Basil Salad, which was light and delicious, and the Pecheni Chushki, an authentic Bulgarian salad dish comprising roasted peppers with Bulgarian seasoning, cream cheese, brioche bread and roasted walnuts. Although I’d normally shy away from roasted peppers, I was pleasantly surprised by this salad. Not only was it a work of art that wouldn’t look out of place in a Michelin-starred restaurant, it was also tasty and fresh.

Then came the appetizers. Again, on the advice of our waitress, we ordered cheese-based dishes. The Bulgarian Cheese pot, a hot dish served in a traditional ceramic Bulgarian pot, was fabulous, if a little heavy – hardly surprising, given its name.

Main courses followed, after a short break.

Feeling the need to try one of the “Galilean Specials,” I ordered the Kobbeh Labanieh. Again, the presentation was second to none, and the dish was delicious. The yogurt sauce in which these finger-sized kubbeh were served made for a perfect combination.

To be honest, I could easily have stopped at this point, although I soldiered on in order to bring you, dear reader, the complete Bulgarian dining experience.

Two main dishes rounded off our meal: Kofta – beef meatballs with Bulgarian seasoning, served with potatoes and stir-fried vegetables; and Veal Kwarma, slow-cooked veal with melted kashkaval cheese, served with rice. Both mains were utterly delicious, although I suspect I’d have appreciated them more had they not been preceded by two salads, two appetizers and a special!

Sadly, we didn’t have room for dessert, although the next table did, and it looked fabulous. I stopped short of asking them for a taste, however.

The meal was washed down with the winery’s rosé, a new addition to their list. Light and fragrant, this pink drink provided the perfect accompaniment to the meal.

The restaurant seats up to 100 people inside and also has a large function room upstairs to cater for parties of tourists, locals and those who wish to travel that bit further to celebrate a special occasion with an altogether different dining experience.

The outside seating area is also charming – shady and cool, with views of the surrounding hills.

Although vegetarians and vegans may find the menu somewhat limited, there are a few suitable dishes that may be agreeable.

Rai Winery and Restaurant, however, is for foodies. Those who love good, wholesome dishes, washed down with a fabulous bottle of wine, will feel at home there.

Just make sure you don’t make the same mistake as I did – leave room for dessert!

Salads start at NIS 32; appetizers start at NIS 25; specials start at NIS 40 and mains range from NIS 65 to NIS 220.

The writer and her husband were guests of the restaurant.

Rai Winery and Restaurant is not kosher.