Artistic diversity

Café Mansfeld is much more than a museum coffee shop

Café Mansfeld at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem (photo credit: WWW.MANSFELD.CO.IL)
Café Mansfeld at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem
(photo credit: WWW.MANSFELD.CO.IL)
A recent chance encounter with one of the former owners of the Village Green Restaurant led to an invitation to Café Mansfeld, the official name of the dairy restaurant at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Kobi Meltzer, the restaurant’s maitre d’, told me the chef was talented – and the food better than the café’s snack bar appearance suggests.
Mansfeld manageress Anat invited me to test that proposition.
I put the restaurant through its paces on a particularly busy night, when there was a concert in the museum’s sculpture garden. While most people placed their order at the counter and then sat down at a table to await their meals, others sat down first and waited for a server to take their order. Anat assured me that the café always offers full wait staff service.
As we waited for our onion soup, we were served fresh rolls and butter. The restaurant bakes its own rolls; only the bread bowl in which the onion soup is served is made to order from an outside bakery. The rich, dark broth arrived piping hot in the crusty round loaf, complete with its edible lid (NIS 34). It is easy to dismiss the bread bowl as an affectation, but in this case it was the ideal receptacle for the thick soup brimming with the vegetable from which it was made.
Generous shavings of accompanying Parmesan cheese melted nicely into the soup, adding even more flavor and body to an already satisfying dish. Even when the soup was finished, the experience was not over: We cut the “bowl” open and spread butter on the absorbent loaf. It was impossible to resist polishing the filling first course off, even with the knowledge that more food was on its way.
The second soup (NIS 28) was ideal for the unseasonably warm weather that day: a cold yogurt soup, garnished with sumac.
Redolent with cucumber, it tasted like a creamy – and excellent – tzatziki.
There is always a “dish of the day” and a “quiche of the day,” and frequently a fish fillet of the day as well. As we waited for our main courses, we shared one of the restaurant’s most popular salads, the Roquefort (NIS 46). The salad greens were piled high with blue cheese and studded with fresh fruit and nuts – another dish that could easily be a meal in itself.
The dish of the day (NIS 52), recommended by Anat, was new to me: stuffed Jerusalem artichoke.
Smothered with onions and served atop a bed of rice, the artichoke was filled with a delicious lentil mixture. Perfectly seasoned, the lentils with rice had us finishing yet another large portion, even as we approached satiety.
Twice a week, a “fish of the day” is also offered (NIS 56-60). Our fish course was fresh fillet of salmon. Cooked well done but not dry, the flesh was firm and flavorful. The side of green beans was nicely al dente.
Unfortunately, at this stage of the meal we could not finish them, let alone the accompanying rice, which we happily recalled from the stuffed artichoke.
We deferred dessert to another time, but it gave us an excuse to return for more of the café’s finely brewed coffee: a latte and a cafe mocha. Anat’s dessert recommendations were the cheesecake (NIS 30) and apple strudel (NIS 28). The former, Anat’s grandmother’s recipe, managed to elevate the lightness of low-fat cheese to the requisite richness; the latter was totally sugar-free, lacking even artificial sweetener, yet the taste did not suffer in the slightest. There is always a sugar-free and gluten-free dessert available.
Café Mansfeld, named after the American-born architect of the museum, is most proud of the diversity of its kitchen staff. In addition to chef Issam, a Palestinian from Shuafat, there are ultra-Orthodox, at-risk youth, and others with varying degrees of autism or mental retardation (Down’s syndrome). The restaurant is the recipient of the Mayor’s Prize for its contribution to the employment of youth with challenges.
According to Anat, the clientele is not just museum visitors.
“We have a lot of regulars,” she says. “Joggers who come in for breakfast, our neighbors from Rehavia, and many people who work at the Knesset. One advantage we enjoy is plenty of free parking.”
With its good food, large portions and reasonable prices, it is easy to see the reasons for the restaurant’s wider appeal. It is open from 7:30 daily and all hours that the museum is open.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant. Café Mansfeld Kosher (Dairy) The Israel Museum, Jerusalem Tel: (02) 670-8811