Come eat with me

The annual Round Tables event offers a chance to taste food cooked by world renowned chefs.

The annual Round Tables event offers a chance to taste food cooked by world renowned chefs (photo credit: Courtesy)
The annual Round Tables event offers a chance to taste food cooked by world renowned chefs
(photo credit: Courtesy)
For the fourth year running, the Round Tables Culinary Festival is taking place in Israel. The event runs from November 9 to 23, and diners will have the chance to eat food prepared by some of the world’s top chefs.
As usual, kosher eaters are limited to one hosting restaurant, the same one as at last year’s festival, Hayarkon 99 in the Dan Tel Aviv Hotel. And, like last year, we were again invited to sample what diners will be enjoying once the festival gets under way.
The restaurant is small and intimate, set in a corner of the hotel lobby. We sat down at a table laid with starched white linen cloth and napkins, a candle casting a romantic glow, and a promising array of cutlery.
The chef, Ovad Alfia, who has been at the Dan for 22 years, came over to say hello and told us how he had traveled to Italy to meet his guest chef, Isa Mazzochi, who runs an acclaimed restaurant, La Palta, in Piacenza, northern Italy. With a smile he pointed out that #MeToo has influenced even Round Tables, as all the guest chefs are women.
For once kosher eaters are definitely not second-class citizens. Mazzochi was awarded a Michelin star in 201a2, was named Italy’s best chef in 2011, and in 2016 gained the title of Grande Dame Veuve Cliquot. So it was with eager anticipation that we waited to taste her food, knives and forks at the ready.
Several tiny amuse-bouches arrived at our table to allay the hunger pangs until the real food arrived. There was a small round of chopped roasted red pepper, a tiny square of tuna and pepper salad, some trout marinated in sea salt served with rice grains which had been boiled, dried then fried and tasted like a breakfast cereal. All were tantalizingly delicious and left one hungering for more.
Next up was a cold tomato soup – not gazpacho, I was assured – flavored with aioli of basil. Since tomato and basil have such a great affinity, the soup was another perfect taste.
There were more – some crispy fried ravioli filled with way-out stuffings like chestnut and pumpkin puree, a beautiful zucchini flower served with a vivid green omelet made from sautéed and ground parsley and spinach.
Finally we arrived at the actual meal, and for a first course I chose leek soup (NIS 45) while my companion virtuously picked a green leaf salad in citrus vinaigrette (NIS 45).
I was expecting my leek soup to be creamy and off-white, like vichyssoise, but it was thick and brown and full of mushrooms and chopped fried leek and onion. Very comforting and a great start to the meal. My companion’s salad included sliced fennel, dates, orange segments, lettuce hearts and hazelnuts; the dressing was lemony and quite sweet. No complaints were heard emanating from the other side of the table.
For his main course my companion plumped for osso buco with root vegetables (NIS 145). It arrived with the central bone pointing heavenward and a great deal of soft stewed beef falling off the bone, surrounded by a rich gravy. There was very little fat on the meat, and we were told it had arrived fresh that day from somewhere in the North.
I chose chicken breast roasted in a vacuum, with mushrooms and potato rosti (NIS 89). It was full of flavor and not at all dry, as breast can be. “Rosti” seems to be a fancy name for a latke (potato pancake), but more coarsely grated. We liked the fried julienned onion that topped both our dishes.
After all this savory food, a dessert seemed a good idea. My companion chose coconut terra cotta with raspberry sorbet (NIS 46), and I picked orange marmalade and vanilla cream (NIS 45).
I was struck by the beautiful colors in both desserts. My companion’s was a picture in pink and white with the coconut doing a creditable impersonation of real panna cotta. Mine was rich brown cake set in a yellow sea of vanilla soup, better known as custard, with blobs of orange cream. They were both culinary and artistic triumphs.
We ended our meal with mint tea, which, like the coda of a great symphony, brought this memorable meal to a happy end.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
The special Round Tables menu will be served from November 11 to 15.
Hayarkon 99
Dan Tel Aviv Hotel
Tel: (03) 520-2525