Ever gone out for a night on the town, found yourself at the local techno nightclub and wished that there was some good vegetarian food to top off the evening? Well, wish no more.Pergamon Restaurant, in Jerusalem’s city center, offers a diverse vegetarian menu that showcases fresh produce and delicate flavors. Pergamon Restaurant is the new eatery section of the Pergamon Club, which offers techno and house music, including international DJs, concerts and party nights. The restaurant opened five months ago and is run by business partners Kirill Reznitsky, who serves as the bartender, and Omer Ido, the head chef. Owned by Hagai Sternheim, who also owns the nearby Casetta Bar and Video Pub, Pergamon offers something different from the typical city center bar; a fine vegetarian dining experience.“It all started about a year and a half ago,” Ido recalls.
“The club was selling pitot for those with nighttime munchies and I thought maybe I would do a pop-up restaurant. I did and it was a really big success. So I thought opening up a restaurant was the next step.”Pergamon’s menu is strictly vegetarian, with an emphasis on local, seasonal ingredients. Ido relies on what is growing in Pergamon’s patio, as well as regular trips to the market next to Damascus Gate.“There are special things there that you can’t get anywhere else; not in the Mahaneh Yehuda market or any supermarket in west Jerusalem,” Ido adds. He especially loves buying Kashk, otherwise known as Beduin Parmesan, a type of cheese made from dried goat yogurt that is very salty. He also buys most of his herbs from a woman there who sells items from her garden, such as spinach, parsley and mint. Ido enthusiastically says they are the best that he has ever tasted.Pergamon’s menu was inspired by food from Ido’s parents and grandparents; the food he grew up eating and loving. His grandmother’s chickpea stew actually made it onto the menu unchanged. Ido’s mother is from Morocco and his father hails from Kurdistan; both cuisines have a major impact on his cooking style.He says repeatedly that he is still learning and looks to more experienced chefs for guidance.Ido has been cooking for four years now. Being the head chef of a new restaurant after such a short amount of time is an amazing achievement, and it’s clear after talking with him that Ido does not take it for granted. Prominent Israeli chef Michael Katz took Ido under his wing and helped him plan Pergamon’s menu. Ido also has a personal connection to the acclaimed London-based Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi, who is the uncle of his girlfriend, Shira Florentine.After studying his cookbooks with a fervor, he was able to spend a few days in London, learning from Ottolenghi, before opening Pergamon.“It was extremely amazing what I could learn in just a few days,” Ido adds. “He is making high quality, Israeli and Mediterranean food in London and is incredibly successful at it.”Pinpointing the exact moment four years when Ido decided that he wanted to be a chef; when the journey really began, he says he was cooking in Florentine’s kitchen in the German Colony.“She has a really nice apartment on Emek Refaim with a big, beautiful kitchen,” Ido says. “We invited some friends over for dinner and I was cooking for them. Suddenly I understood that this is what I wanted to do and that I’m good at it. Shira also really encouraged me that this is what I have to do.”IDO SPENT some time working as the manager of Jerusalem’s Cafe 7, helping the manager expand the menu.He saw how much Israelis love vegetarian food. For Ido, there was really no other option, given that he has been a committed vegetarian for the past five years, he wouldn’t be able taste the food at a meat restaurant, and also firmly doesn’t believe in eating meat.“I can’t cook meat even for friends because I think it’s wrong,” he adds. “We don’t need to eat animals.There is a big vegan and vegetarian population in Jerusalem that feels the same way. I wanted to offer something for them.”In the future, Ido plans to add tapas to Pergamon’s menu. He relishes the idea of people ordering many dishes and sharing them, in classic Moroccan fashion, and tapas will further increase the menu’s variety. Ido shares that his parents have come to eat at Pergamon and that they thoroughly enjoyed the experience – the only caveat being that they are religious and Pergamon does not have a kosher certificate and is open on Shabbat.Ido’s mother expressed her opinion on the non-kosher aspect, but is ultimately glad that her son is pursuing his dreams authentically.“I wanted to have a place that is open seven days a week in Jerusalem because I think it’s important to have more of that; it’s unique,” Ido states. “I think it’s important for Jerusalem to have places like that. Our menu and our cocktail bar are completely unique in the city.”Pergamon’s cocktail menu offers 12 different varieties of gin and a myriad of gin and tonic options, with special additions like coriander, grapefruit, star anise, chili or ginger. In terms of cocktail and food pairings, Ido recommends ordering the polenta chips with the rum and hibiscus syrup cocktail. Many of Pergamon’s cocktails are named after famous techno DJ’s either who have played at the club, or who they hope will play in the future.“I always want to learn. Four years is not so long, but I have a lot of passion. I think it’s a really good start. It’s amazing to be the head chef of a restaurant after this amount of time. We haven’t been open that long, and it’s a lot of hard work. Not everybody knows we exist yet. I’m really hoping to spread the word more. We are kind of an underground restaurant, but we really want to change that.”Pergamon is unique as far as the Jerusalem restaurant landscape is concerned: being attached to a nightclub and offering a fine dining vegetarian menu and being located in the city center, while many of the new and hip restaurants are in Mahaneh Yehuda. For Ido, Mahaneh Yehuda has lost its authenticity and he is glad to be a part of the revival of the city center, as well as a unique addition to the city he loves.“Pergamon’s menu is not the kind of vegetarian cuisine that is trying to be the same flavor as meat, with veggie burgers, seitan and stuff like that,” Ido explains. It’s based on the vegetables themselves and the best techniques to cook them. People come and eat before the shows and drink some cocktails. The feedback we have gotten so far is amazing.“Right now, it’s mostly an Israeli crowd that also draws from the other bars in the area, but we welcome everyone to come and give us a try.”
1 Yohanan Horkanos Streetwww.facebook.com/pergamonrest/
1 Yohanan Horkanos Streetwww.facebook.com/pergamonrest/