Roots: An Israeli dream of coexistence come true - review

Roots is owned by two partners, a Muslim and a Jew who have been friends since kindergarten. And besides serving excellent food in the most picturesque surroundings, it is also a model of coexistence

 Roots (photo credit: GILEAD HAR SHELEG)
(photo credit: GILEAD HAR SHELEG)

“I’m a dreamer,” says chef Darry Ben Nevet, who presides over the kitchen of Roots, a kosher meat restaurant situated in the historic Knights Hall of Acre, 25 km. north of Haifa.

The dream was to create a kosher version of Syrian/Levantine cuisine, which relies heavily on meat dishes cooked in dairy sauce.

We visited recently and were surprised to discover so many possible variations on what look like dairy dishes, but in fact are totally parve – or vegan, if you will.

A restaurant and city that are models of coexistence

Roots is owned by two partners, a Muslim and a Jew who have been friends since kindergarten. And besides serving excellent food in the most picturesque surroundings, it is also a model of coexistence. Acre has been a mixed city for centuries and is home to Jews, Arabs, Christians, and Druze.

Apart from one unfortunate clash just over two years ago, the different factions all get along, and the kitchen is a microcosm of this happy state of affairs, with workers from different worlds. For instance, the Arab cook, Nabila, “prepares kosher food with all her heart and much love,” remarks Roots’s PR guru, Keren Abbas.

 Roots (credit: GILEAD HAR SHELEG)
Roots (credit: GILEAD HAR SHELEG)

We traveled to Acre one hot day recently and found refuge in the cool interior of the restaurant. Although there is a written menu, we didn’t look at it, as the head waiter, Arslan, introduced himself and said he would bring us the dishes that he felt best represented the ethos of the place,

To begin our meal, we were given a selection of “mezze,” different salads and dips, served with a crusty ciabatta fresh loaf (one of only two items not actually made in the Roots kitchen, the other being ice-cream).

The dips included tehina with chopped lemony coriander; hummus; eggplant cream; “labane”; harissa with tomatoes; and ceviche from chopped musar fish spiced with dukkha, an Egyptian spice made from nuts and seeds. They were all very good, even the “labane”, which is one of the few foods I don’t actually like.

Two hot dishes also appeared: kubbeh, a crispy fried creation filled with chopped meat; and a lamb-stuffed cigar, which got full marks, not just for taste, but presentation, with its piped black and cream motifs made out of eggplant. This was served on a bed of matbucha, a very tasty mix of tomatoes and peppers originating in North Africa.

Yet another dish to arrive was sinia, of Druze origin. This was made with caramelized eggplant and served with “feta” cheese.

WE WERE just about ready to call it a day and travel back to Netanya when Arslan announced that he would now bring the main courses. Help!

The first, called Mansaf was osso buco of lamb, which had been cooking for hours. Arslan picked the bone out and discarded it. The meat was succulent and outstanding.

The other main dish was called Shishbarak and was a dish of simple dumplings filled with veal and pine nuts, flavored with dry mint in a “yogurt” sauce. It was another winner and the edible flowers really were edible.

Naturally, we had to taste the desserts, and both were exceptional. There was baklava with halva ice-cream and kanafeh with vegan cream and more flowers.

To end this epic meal, Arslan brought us two simple fresh mint drinks which helped to settle the turbulence within. During the meal, we drank ice-cold Chardonnay and gallons of cold water.

We were told that the price range for an average meal was NIS 130-140.

We said our goodbyes and drove home, having enjoyed a wonderful demonstration of great food and impeccable hospitality.

Roots1 Weizman St., Acre053-934-9066, (04) 884-8040Hours: Sunday-Thursday, noon to 11 p.m.; Friday, noon to 4 p.m.Wheelchair accessibleKashrut: Acre Rabbinate

The writer was a guest of the restaurant.