Helena celebrates Israel’s biblical bounty

Chef Amos Sion creates a unique olive oil-based tasting menu

Helena (photo credit: AFIK GABBAY)
(photo credit: AFIK GABBAY)
The gourmet restaurant Helena is located in historic Caesarea, with stunning views of the ancient port through which the Holy Land’s vaunted olive oil would pass as one of the premier commodities of Mediterranean commerce. This year, fittingly, on the holiday that recalls the pure olive oil that was used in the temple in Jerusalem, Helena’s chef, Amos Sion, inaugurated a tasting menu in which each of the courses revolved around premium olive oil produced in the rolling hills of the lower Galilee. 
Sion’s seven-course tasting menu featured six different olive oils produced by Ets HaSadeh, a family-owned company that grows all the olives it presses into oils. A number of these oils have garnered awards in the prestigious international Terra Olivo competition. A sheet describing the taste and aroma characteristics of each olive oil is available on request, although unlike the bilingual menu, these details are in Hebrew only.
The meal commences with the house focaccia straight from the stone oven, served with a dip of Arbequina olive oil, pomegranate syrup and doua, a blend of Egyptian spices. This is not your commonplace olive oil with balsamic vinegar served everywhere else. It is hard not to get carried away with the warm focaccia and sweet-and-savory olive oil mixture. 
Next was shrimp carpaccio with spicy strawberries, jalapeno pepper and pine nuts in Karoneiki olive oil and tarragon. I was astounded by the robustness of the flavor in the razor-thin slices of shrimp, enhanced by the contrasting flavors and textures of the crunchy nuts and tiny diced strawberries.
This was followed by a salad of fennel and cucumber with avocado, radish, feta cheese, purple basil, pink pomelo and Kalamata olives, dressed in a Picual olive oil vinaigrette. This refreshing combination in a delicate vinaigrette was one the best salads I have had in recent memory.
The first warm course was Jerusalem sage leaves stuffed with green wheat, lamb and raisins cooked in Syrian olive oil. As if that were not enough, the sauce contained tomatoes that had been cooked until fruity and onions until caramelized; and underneath it all was olive oil and sheep’s milk yogurt. Jerusalem sage is much milder than its more common cousin, so it did not overwhelm this dish’s masterful interplay of flavors. 
The pasta course was crab meat ravioli in a proprietary olive oil blend seasoned with hyssop. The large pockets of pasta were stuffed generously with delicious crab meat and topped with crumbled sheep’s cheese, shredded tomato and pine nuts – simply outstanding.
The main course was fillet of red drum fish in a Mediterranean cherry tomato confit prepared with Cortina olive oil and anchovy. The meaty fish steak with crispy skin, together with the savory confit, asparagus and baby zucchini on a bed of crême fraîche, constituted an impressive climax before the denouement of dessert.
There are no recommended wine pairings with the tasting menu courses, but the staff will be happy to recommend vintages from Helena’s extensive wine cellar. The wines we enjoyed progressed from a delightful rosé by Vitkin, to a crisp Sauvignon Blanc from Shvo, and finally, a full-bodied red Sangre de Toro from Spain.
Dessert was two very large scoops of homemade guava sorbet, topped with a liberal sprinkling of pink basil and chopped pistachio nuts. The final touch was a cascade of reprised Arbequina olive oil poured over the fruity sorbet at the table – a memorable finish to an unforgettable repast.
In fact, this unique tasting menu was more than a meal; it was a culinary experience. As such, it does not come cheap, but the price of NIS 420 for two is actually quite reasonable, all things considered. And as a bonus, there is a parting gift of a bar of olive oil soap from Ets HaSadeh.
The olive oil tasting menu will be served at Helena until the end of February 2019. Be sure to allow two hours for a leisurely banquet.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
Not kosher
Old Port, Caesarea
Tel. (04) 610-1018