A Balkan bistro

Samuel serves up comfort food from the European region closest to the Levant.

Samuel restaurant (photo credit: PR)
Samuel restaurant
(photo credit: PR)
The newest Balkan restaurant in town is actually an old dream of chef-owner Samuel Ben-Bassat, whose cozy eatery Samuel on a corner in Levinsky Market has the feel of a neighborhood bar or coffee shop, along with an atmosphere of nostalgia conjured up by black-andwhite photos of old Tel Aviv. The food, meanwhile, which has its roots in the chef’s Bulgarian background, evokes home-style cooking at its most satisfying.
Samuel offers four specialty cocktails, three of which are ouzobased.
The one that isn’t is called Greek Gin – gin with dill and cucumber in a brandy snifter containing enough green to make the exceptionally refreshing drink resemble a liquid salad.
The restaurant’s food menu comprises four categories: Levinsky Market Tapas; Mezze; Intermediate Dishes; and Main Courses.
A good way for two, or even three, to sample what the neighborhood has to offer is the Market Plate (NIS 72), an assortment of delicacies assembled from leading Levinsky Market vendors. The antipasti were chosen with care: sujuk sausage, matjes herring, mixed black olives and two kinds of cheese sprinkled with paprika, along with Samuel’s homemade pickled vegetables. All are excellent examples of local wares, although they do not show off the kitchen’s talents. So unless you have a particular weakness for the composite ingredients, it pays to move on to the first courses, which can emerge with equal alacrity from the kitchen.
There are six mezze, one of which carries on a tradition of the restaurant that was supplanted by Samuel. The chopped liver “Shteitel-style” (NIS 26) was a generous portion (especially for the price) of rich, creamy chopped chicken liver, garnished with green onion and served with slices of toasted baguette and pita.
The kyropolou (NIS 24) was red and yellow peppers marinated in olive oil and topped with grated tulum cheese and oregano.
Although the menu said the peppers were charred, the ones we had were at most seared and were served at room temperature. The goat’s milk cheese was a nice foil for the vegetables, which also went well with the liver.
Our choice for an intermediate course was pepprichas con casu (NIS 28), a sweet red pepper stuffed with feta cheese then breaded and fried and served on a bed of hearty tomato sauce. The pepper’s perfect golden brown exterior lent the dish a welcome bit of crunch, while the surprisingly unsalty cheese oozed into a sauce that had just the right amount of zest.
As a main course, our waitress recommended the pljeskavica (NIS 64), a Serbian hamburger stuffed with kashkaval topped with a sunny side up egg and served on a homemade sesame bun with tomato and red onion. The highly seasoned beef and sharp cheese practically exploded with flavor, alongside a basket overflowing with kartoffi, Samuel’s proprietary potato chips, served with horseradish aioli sprinkled with the ubiquitous paprika.
Next were the mutton spareribs (NIS 76), which were flamboyantly flambéed at the table in Turkish arak. The succulent meat was fallof- the-bone tender, while its juices enhanced the accompanying bed of gvetch, a Balkan ratatouille. For those not counting carbs, the fatty ribs may be ordered with spinach risotto instead.
There is a limited wine list, but most of the entrées are best washed down with beer, anyway.
Accordingly, Samuel offers a nice selection of Israeli craft beers, both on tap and in bottles.
There were three desserts (NIS 36), which included a Bavarian cream atop crispy kadaif threads with chocolate ganache and chopped pistachio nuts. Rarely is such a decadently rich dessert so light and easy to finish after a substantial meal. A slightly more substantial dessert was the Florentine cake with Catalan cream, yet the chiffon fluffiness of the exotic cream studded with slivered almonds still resulted in a light and sweet finale.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
Not kosher
64 Yedidya Frankel Street, Tel Aviv
Tel: (03) 901-2630