A Rendevous with meat

Carmen, a new kosher restaurant in Tel Aviv, serves up excellent food with exotic ethnic influences.

Carmen, a new kosher restaurant in Tel Aviv, serves up excellent food with exotic ethnic influences (photo credit: JONATHAN BEN HAIM)
Carmen, a new kosher restaurant in Tel Aviv, serves up excellent food with exotic ethnic influences
(photo credit: JONATHAN BEN HAIM)
After the success of Rendevous, a dairy restaurant opened by three French doctors who made aliya several years ago, the same owners are now launching a kosher meat eatery a little further along Lilienblum Street.
They chose the name Carmen on the strength of the faintly Spanish flavor of the menu, but diners of French and North African lineage would also feel at home with the dishes on offer. The owners hail from Toulouse in Southern France, and the chef, Maurice Avitan, is Moroccan-born, so the food reflects these somewhat exotic ethnic influences.
Stepping into the attractive, well-lit restaurant, which opened only a month ago, one leaves behind the never-ending buzz of a central Tel Aviv thoroughfare for the quiet and unobtrusive background music and warm welcome of Carmen.
The menu was in English and French (probably in Hebrew, too, but we didn’t ask), and while we studied it, a basket of bread and dips appeared (NIS 16). The bread was sliced from crusty French loaves and classic baguettes.
The dips included baked green chili pepper, haricot beans in oil, salmon ceviche with chili, and one choice that was so good we asked for seconds – a sweet potato puree loaded with spices and garlic.
For starters we chose two dishes that sounded modest enough to leave room for another two courses: grilled asparagus, Romesco style, served with slices of dried duck breast, and a trio of mushrooms grilled a la plancha with truffle oil.
The fresh asparagus were very crunchy and the Romesco sauce, a Catalonian concoction of roasted red pepper with almonds, did not overwhelm the delicate taste of the vegetable. The dried duck breast was, as far as I was concerned, totally irrelevant. Once you had removed the large layer of fat attached to each small slice, the tiny piece of meat remaining did nothing for the asparagus.
The mushrooms came in a castiron dish in which they were cooked and had a very good flavor, probably thanks to the truffle oil.
The menu offers various steaks cooked in a Josper oven, a combination oven and grill, and several dishes based on innards such as spleen and intestines which our Western palates have never wanted to even try. We played safe and chose more conventional dishes.
My companion’s asado, a large chunk of stewing beef, cooked apparently for 72 hours in a slow vacuum cooker, reminded him of cholent and was pronounced superb. The accompanying sweet potato was purple, not orange, but the taste was similar. French fries were hand-cut, large, crispy and not taken from a bag in the freezer.
My hamburger in a sweet mushroom sauce was excellent – pure meat without any fillers and a generous helping of several different kinds of mushrooms on the side. It also came with a green salad which consisted of leaves, cucumbers, green beans, lots of black pepper and a sweet lemon dressing.
For dessert my companion chose his standard favorite – chocolate mousse, a large dollop of the stuff, which the kitchen had tried to pretty up with blobs of caramel sauce and parve cream. It was light, fluffy and not overly sweet.
I chose the fruit salad – mango, passion fruit and kiwi cut up small and laced with orange juice – very refreshing and not guilt-inducing.
We ended our meal with our now preferred nightcap – lemon water sweetened with sweetener– and stepped out into the sultry Tel Aviv night with full stomachs and warm hearts.
Lilienblum 24, Tel Aviv
Tel. (03) 933-8381
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.