Dining: It’s all in the technique

Popina turns diverse cooking skills into a dynamic dining experience.

Popina restaurant (photo credit: PR)
Popina restaurant
(photo credit: PR)
Popina is, hands down, one of my favorite dinner places in Neveh Tzedek. Chef Orel Kimchi’s food is always spectacular, the service is impeccable, and the setting is quaint and cozy.
Instead of the traditional division of courses into starters, mains and desserts, Popina has a different approach. The menu is divided by cooking technique – curing, steaming, baking, searing and slow cooking. In each category there is a cocktail, various dishes, as well as a dessert.
Diners can choose to order from the rich menu or have the tasting menu (seven dishes NIS 280) and surrender to the chef completely.
Winner of the 2011 San Pellegrino’s World’s Best Chef Under 30 award, Kimchi is one of the most humble, down-to-earth chefs I know. Throughout the evening we noticed him talking to customers about their meals and thanking them for coming.
Before the entrees appeared, we cleansed our palates with a couple of refreshing cocktails. With the help of our friendly barman Nimrod, I chose the whiskey-based Main Bazaar (NIS 46), while my dining partner tried the more fruity Rose Berry Milk (NIS 46).
Both were equally creative and delicious.
From the Cured section, we opted for the gin and tonic tartare (NIS 74), which consisted of cubes of greater amberjack fish, shallots, cucumber, green tobiko and cubes of gin and tonic jelly. It was better than any fish tartare I’ve ever tasted. This was followed by the cured root vegetable tartare (NIS 64) with chestnuts, cashew butter and carrot-mustard cream. This was where Popina’s exquisite presentation became evident. I was so mesmerized by the colors and the beauty of the dish that I almost didn’t want to spoil it by digging in. But I did! We were then served a helping of the Jerusalem artichoke soup with chestnut cream, poached egg and truffle oil (NIS 58). This wintry dish, which is part of the Specials menu, tasted okay but the consistency was all wrong. For a soup that is normally very thick and creamy, it was much too watery.
After a bit of a breather and more delightful cocktails, we were presented with the smoked lamb pizza (NIS 74) with basil dough, cashew butter, demi-glaze, bison and radish. The pizza was glorious. It was airy, not too tomatoey, and the crust was browned just enough. The lamb was moist, juicy, well seasoned and had the right amount of gaminess to round out the other flavors.
Next up was the seared duck breast (NIS 88) with cured kohlrabi, ginger and king oyster mushrooms, poached egg, parsnip mousse and crispy rice. I loved it. It wasn’t just the most tender or the most flavorful, but all ingredients worked in perfect harmony.
We ordered hot beverages and took another breather. Then came dessert. We were pleasantly surprised by the saffron creme brulee (NIS 48). Great texture, light and airy but still very sinful, which is pretty much how I like everything in life to be. We also tried the chocolate souffle (NIS 48) with caramel ganache and salted caramel ice cream, which was out of this world.
For us, Popina has the best combination of service, food quality, ambiance and location.
This is a gem of a restaurant.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
Not kosher
3 Ahad Ha’am, Neveh Tzedek, Tel Aviv
Tel: (03) 575-7477