Mexican cuisine from El Gato Azul, American soul food from Yo Mama

North American classics to whet the appetite.

Ceviche tostadas (photo credit: LE MINTHO)
Ceviche tostadas
(photo credit: LE MINTHO)
As a land of immigrants, Israel is blessed with a mizug galuyot (melting pot) of global cuisines. In winter especially, when the season calls for warming comfort food, it is a blessing to have a choice of dishes from so many countries.
This week we travel halfway across the world, to the Western hemisphere, to savor stick-to-your-ribs classics from North America. But instead of having to fly for hours, you need only pick up the phone, and these treats will be delivered to your doorstep.
Prominent Chef Rima Olvera, a California native, has been featured on these pages before, most recently just before the pandemic hit: that review focused on Olvera’s El Gato Azul, her lunchtime Mexican eatery on the premises of her fine dining restaurant, Oasis.
The virus that is still plaguing us has temporarily shuttered Oasis. Fortunately, however, El Gato Azul (EGA) has not only remained open for delivery and takeaway, it has even expanded its hours, from noon to midnight.
The regular menu has understandably been curtailed somewhat, but the limited edition still offers plenty of choice, including vegan options. The delivery menu comprises two main sections: Tacos (six varieties, NIS 47-63) and Otras Cosas (other main dishes) (NIS 34-65). In addition, there are now two set meals, consisting of tacos and sides (NIS 200-350).
Particularly recommended when the weather is chilly is the black bean chili, with or without carne (ground beef). This hearty dish – seasoned just right, and not too spicy – is made all the more enjoyable by the accompanying house nacho chips, which are addictive in their own right. Those liking their chili with a bit more heat may perk it up with a selection from EGA’s salsa bar (five varieties, NIS 12 each). My recommendations are the pico de gallo, with its chopped fresh tomatoes, and the Sergio, a slightly smoky version of salsa rioja (red salsa).
Of course, EGA’s tacos are a must-try, whether à la carte or as one of the two value meals: three or five tacos of your choosing, with salsa, condiments and either corn nachos or Mexican red rice. The menu indicates that the carne asado (grilled rump steak), crispy fish and fish ceviche are all popular among repeat customers, and I would certainly concur – although I think the Salpicon (shredded beef) and crispy chicken are no less worthy. (I have no reason to believe the vegan grilled mushrooms taco would be any less tasty, I just have not tried it yet.) A nice bonus is the inclusion of a quarter-liter bottle of either EGA’s famous Bloody Mary or Perfect Margarita.
All of the main dishes are tempting, including the excellent chicken wings: plump white-meat wings that have been battered, fried to a delightful crispiness, and lightly drizzled with EGA’s outstanding tequila-chipotle BBQ sauce. (Next time, I will be sure to ask for some extra barbecue sauce on the side.)
El Gato Azul by Oasis
Not kosher
17 Montefiore St., Tel Aviv.
Phone: (03) 620-6022
Online delivery menu:
bit.ly/3otWuyh

Comfort food for these trying times
Crossing the border to just north of the Rio Grande, one arrives in the heart of soul-food country. Luckily, there is a shorter route for those of us living in Israel: We can enjoy the best entrées of this cuisine in the comfort of our own homes, delivered Monday through Thursday (1 p.m.-8 p.m., to Ramat Gan and Givatayim), or, for other locations, and on Fridays, via takeaway from Ramat Gan.
The local culinary excursion to Dixie is courtesy of Yo Mama, created by Chef Maya Bloom, a talented young Israeli who lived in the US during her formative years, but studied at Le Cordon Bleu in London. In addition to this recent delivery-cum-takeaway brainchild, Bloom operates a small private dinner/event venue in residential Ramat Gan.
The food menu (Hebrew only) is extremely limited, but its three categories hit the highlights: Salty (NIS 30-37/62), Sweet (NIS 15-30) and Drinks (two original cocktails, NIS 25, or the South’s ubiquitous iced tea, NIS 20). Most of the dishes are vegetarian, although none are vegan.
Because the menu is hardly exhaustive, I was able to try some of everything, for a change. That turned out to be fortuitous, since everything was “finger-licking good.”
I will start with the two more substantial dishes: the “Mac and Schmack” is Yo Mama’s moniker for the traditional mac-and-cheese. The only problem with this creamy, cheddar-cheesy delight was that it disappeared all too quickly; I could have eaten it all night.
The Crunchy Munchy, meanwhile, is fried chicken wings with a thin, slightly crunchy batter encasing tender poultry. The Yo Mama version is very different from others you might find in this country, and an acquired taste for some – although one that can be acquired rather quickly, as it grows on you the more wings you devour. The seasoning mix – Southern spices, only mildly piquant and reminiscent of (although not identical to) Cajun – is akin to a dry rub in barbecue terms, but no less messy when eating with your fingers. (Tip: keep the wet wipes handy.)
You So Corny refers to Yo Mama’s cornbread: Like the best of this genre, it has a hint of sweetness, leaning toward cake. Nonetheless, it is also incredibly versatile, great with butter and honey, and equally ideal paired with warming dishes like chili, stews and soups (fun for aficionados of dipping).
Last but not least, the Hush Puppy is exactly what the title advertises: delicious nuggets of gently fried cornmeal fritters studded with onion, kernels of corn, spinach and cheese. It is amazing how many different flavorful ingredients are packed into these tasty little morsels.
Finally, there are two desserts: crack pie, with a side of sour cream, and mini-brownies/blondies, appropriate sweet finishing bites for the red, white and blue theme.

Yo Mama
Not kosher
19 Arnon St., Ramat Gan.
Phone: (052) 438-0323.
Menu (not interactive): facebook.com/yomamafood. Additional information:
en.chefmayabloom.com.