The repeated lockdowns engendered by the pandemic have been especially challenging for Israel’s fine dining restaurants, whose chefs feel that their meticulously prepared dishes are not particularly suited for delivery.
Yet the need to survive and mitigate financial losses has necessitated some difficult decisions, with varying responses.
Many virtually closed down temporarily, sending their employees on leave, in order to slash expenses in the absence of income.
Others sought to adapt to the ever-shifting circumstances. Taizu, for example, the upscale Asian restaurant, scrapped its regular menu entirely and switched over to making unique pizzas, pairing the crust of award-winning pizzaiolo Raanan Yossi Nussel with the creative toppings of acclaimed chef Yuval Ben Neriah.
Meanwhile, beachfront restaurant Manta Ray, which had been a delivery holdout, finally jumped on the bandwagon, in the hopes of salvaging the weeks left before restaurants hopefully reopen in a month or so.
Manta Ray, the flagship restaurant of the culinary group founded by Ofra Ganor, has long been a fixture on the southern Tel Aviv boardwalk.
Known for its quality fish and seafood, as well as its myriad appetizer selection, Manta Ray has taken a scalpel to its usual menu in order to create options that will also taste good when delivered, paring some dishes while adding others, whether brand-new offerings or innovative combinations, such as bundled meals for two.
“These days, I am not importing fish, but, rather, ordering only from my local suppliers,” says Ganor. Hence, some perennial favorites, like the tuna steak, is sadly unavailable.
But there are plenty of other dishes that are equally tempting. The interactive online delivery menu, so far in Hebrew only, comprises no fewer than eight food sections: Couples Date – four meals, consisting of five starters, Balkan bread, main course, desserts and wine – (NIS 360); Starters (NIS 28-42); Main Dishes (NIS 48-120); Special[s] (NIS 125); Winter [Soup] (NIS 35-40); Extras (NIS 19-45); Kids’ Dishes (NIS 40-55); and Sweets (NIS 36). Most categories contain vegan/vegetarian and gluten-free options. There are also two Drinks categories, featuring some less-than-usual soft drinks, and even a few of Manta Ray’s specialty cocktails.
We decided to focus exclusively on the dishes that were developed specially for the delivery menu, some of which will likely be retained on the regular menu.
To accompany our appetizers we also ordered the excellent house Balkan bread, a fluffy focaccia-like loaf that is baked in the restaurant’s dedicated off-premises bakery. It comes with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, packed in small containers that are particularly sturdy and well sealed.
One of the two starters we chose – the salmon confit – has already earned the tag “Popular.” It consists of flecks of slow-cooked salmon tossed in a minimalist salad with herbs, spring onion and nuts. In the absence of any dressing, the appealing flavor comes from the mild seasoning in which the fresh fish was cooked.
The second appetizer was pickled shrimp and calamari with sliced baked potato and scallion. It enjoys many similarities with the salmon dish: both are served cold, without dressing – in this case, the curing process brought out the briny freshness of the seafood – and both are surprisingly filling for first courses.
Our next dish was from the mains section, although sandwiches are not generally considered main dishes. Of the two on the menu, we chose the amberjack ceviche sandwich on challa rolls from the restaurant’s own bakery. In order to prevent the bread from getting soggy, the slightly spicy and citrusy ceviche filling is packaged separately in a reusable glass jar. At home, we loaded the marinated raw fish onto the soft bread – which had been pre-spread with aioli, pickles, radish and salsa – and enjoyed the delicious interplay of flavors.
Our one hot dish – a familiar entrée in Israeli restaurants – turned out to be the star of the evening.
“Seafood pasta was never on our menu,” notes Ganor, “but I imagine it is now here to stay: it seems Israelis like pasta.”
The version here – shrimp, calamari and mussels with egg pasta, in an outstanding cream sauce enhanced by a splash of vermouth and a hint of chili – was truly pleasing and satisfying.
We finished the meal with “Something Sweet and Vegan” – coconut cream panna cotta covered with a layer of pineapple marmalade and caramel, a rich dessert which indeed lived up to its title.
4 Nahum Goldmann Street, Tel Aviv
Tel. (03) 517-4773
Online delivery menu: https://wolt.com/en/isr/tel-aviv/restaurant/manta-ray
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.