A profitable transformation

Popular Herzliya beachfront restaurant Al Hamayim turns kosher

Dishes at the restaurant Al Hamayim (photo credit: ITAY POLLAK)
Dishes at the restaurant Al Hamayim
(photo credit: ITAY POLLAK)
Upscale Herzliya Pituah has more than its share of fine dining restaurants, including several right on the Mediterranean. One that can boast particular longevity is Al Hamayim, which has been in business for more than three decades. Yet just a few months ago, the restaurant took a big gamble: It became kosher – in one fell swoop, scrapping a large portion of the menu by eliminating seafood from its predominantly fish and seafood fare.
According to reports in the Hebrew media, the owner had been studying with a rabbi and was growing increasingly uncomfortable about serving non-kosher food. When he finally made the change, he discovered that many customers were grateful. They told him that now they could start entertaining more business associates there for lunch. The restaurant manager confirmed that business has indeed picked up at lunchtime.
The name Al Hamayim is an apt description of the restaurant’s location, with panoramic views of the sea and sunsets. The restaurant attracts many tourists during the summer season and holds its own the rest of the year.
The restaurant serves seven specialty cocktails, each one featuring a different spirit. The Gray Grapefruit (NIS 56) is Gray Goose vodka with lemon and grapefruit, garnished with celery and parsley, while the Ginger Grouse (NIS 51) blends bourbon with tea, honey and lemon, garnished with raw ginger. Both drinks a e served on the rocks in tumblers and are very refreshing, with the latter packing a bit of extra punch.
The food menu has two separate sections for appetizers: Openings and Starters. The former category comprises Israeli standards like salads, labaneh and tehina, while the Starters section features quite a few raw fish choices. There are eight main courses, primarily revolving around fish, with one vegetarian option in each of the main course and starter categories.
Our meal began with Al Hamayim’s bread basket (NIS 23), which was filled with a variety of sliced breads and rolls, served with herbed butter, chili-infused olive oil and whole olives. It was all quite good and was plentiful enough to accompany some of the following courses.
As a starter, our waiter recommended a dish that was formerly a main course: the Shawarma Pita (NIS 89), wherein the “shawarma” was actually morsels of grouper. Strangely, there was no mention of the fish in the name of the dish. The grouper was served on hummus, with pressed tomato salsa, amba tehina and caramelized onion. Accompanied by toasted pita stuffed with a labaneh filling, it was a very filling dish, which deserves to be improved by a greater ratio of fish to condiments.
Next was the Mexican Ceviche (NIS 84) – five pieces of raw white fish with black beans, avocado, tomatoes, chipotle and grilled corn (although the corn was not noticeable). All the ingredients were nice and fresh and added up to a pleasant whole, although the consistency and lack of cooking were hardly enough to qualify it as ceviche.
Similarly misnamed was the “Caesar Salad” (NIS 68) – lettuce, artichoke and pickled egg in a fennel aioli dressing, topped with shards of shaved Parmesan and two pieces of toast (in lieu of croutons). With its different components and no discernible anchovy, this was unlike any Caesar salad we had ever tasted. But when all was said and done, it qualified as an excellent generic salad. It just would be less confusing to call it a house salad rather than pick an inappropriate name; it might even tempt more people to order it.
The dedicated sushi chef (this is one of the few restaurants where the sushi chef is not Asian) prepared a tasting platter of salmon and white fish sashimi in ponzu and soy sauce, as well as rolls of salmon and spicy tuna. We had to make a special request to get wasabi, but the sushi was perfectly satisfactory.
Among the main courses, a porcini mushroom risotto replaced the usual Asian risotto (NIS 127). Unfortunately, the sea bass was overcooked and the sauce overpowering.
The grouper fillet (NIS 167), on the other hand, was firm but moist. We were told this dish is the Al Hamayim version of khraime, prepared with ratte potato, shushka pepper harissa, garlic cream and marocco (sic) sauce. The sauce’s mild heat enhanced the fish while still letting its natural flavor shine through.
The restaurant has a fairly extensive wine list, with a few international vintages, although relatively few wines are available by the glass. Those that are rotate every few weeks and never appear in print, so customers must rely on the waiter’s recitation.
There is no printed dessert menu, either. The waiter who enumerated and described the desserts informed us that there was a new pastry chef who has yet to finalize a menu. The mascarpone “krembo” with strawberry sorbet and raspberry jelly was light and sweet, while the beautifully presented deconstructed tiramisu – a bar of layered chocolate and coffee parfait on a base of amaretto crunch, served with vanilla ice cream, slivers of chocolate and toasted almonds – was delicious.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
Al Hamayim
Sharon Beach, Herzliya
Tel: (09) 950-1767