New flavors in ancient surroundings

Caesarea’s Helena unveils a new tasting menu

Caesarea’s Helena restaurant (photo credit: PR)
Caesarea’s Helena restaurant
(photo credit: PR)
The gourmet restaurant Helena, in the ancient port of Caesarea, has a lot to recommend it: attractive decor in a historic setting; impeccable service; breathtaking views over the Mediterranean, especially at sunset. And, of course, the food, prepared by chef Amos Sion, who trained in a three-star Michelin restaurant and presides over Helena in partnership with renowned restaurateur Uri Jeremias of the famed Uri Buri restaurant in Acre.
Now there is yet another reason to pay the restaurant a visit. Not content to rest on its laurels, Helena recently introduced a new degustation menu, meant to be shared by two. The sixcourse tasting menu, which varies seasonally to take advantage of the freshest ingredients, is offered for NIS 380.
The creativity that permeates the menu begins with the full bar’s specialty cocktails. Our knowledgeable waiter recommended the Green Gin (NIS 44): Tanqueray gin and soda flavored with a medley of aromatic herbs, including sage, mint and a large sprig of rosemary as a garnish. It was a bracing and refreshing cocktail, almost like drinking a salad.
The actual meal began with warm focaccia, straight from Helena’s taboon. The fresh, doughy masterpiece, drizzled with olive oil and a sprinkling of herbs, was accompanied by a dip of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Four of the five non-dessert course featured two products from the sea: crab and drum fish. First was blue crab carpaccio, with fried shrimp. This bisque, topped with a thin layer of frothed milk and served in an espresso cup, packed a lot of seafood flavor for such a delicate broth and was gone all too quickly. The lone piece of crispy fried shrimp that came with each cup was the perfect cracker stand-in for this unusual soup.
Next was drum fish cured with beet and arak, on a salad of green herbs, almonds and seasonal fruit – grapes, on the evening we were there – all resting on smears of parsley oil and smoked eggplant cream. The freshness of fish shone through the exotic curing process, while the dish as a whole added up to a wonderful interplay of flavors and textures The pasta course consisted of crab ravioli with crushed tomato, olive oil, hyssop, white cheese and pine nuts.
The al dente pasta could have used more of the delicious filling of the crab meat with green herbs; but once again, the combination of herbed seafood, salty cheese and crunchy pine nuts was inspired.
The final fish course was described in English as a “cauldron of drum fillet in porcini cream sauce with mushrooms and rizzo.” This was one of a number of curious translations, as the dish resembled more of a casserole, and the “rizzo” turned out to be rice pasta.
Regardless, this was the second superb dish starring drum fish – this time, moist fillet in a rich sauce under a huge leaf of grilled kale, whose mild bitterness was a great foil for the richness of the sauce, while its brilliant color added luster to the presentation.
The penultimate course was puff pastry with veal sweetbreads and grilled portobello mushrooms. A thick demi-glace sauce and runny egg yolk in the center of the flat, crusty phyllo pastry enhanced the tender sweetbreads and meaty mushrooms without overwhelming them.
The tasting menu recommends only one wine for pairing with its six courses – an Italian full-bodied red (NIS 45) – but the sommelier recommended a particularly fruity Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand as the most suitable choice for a warm summer evening.
Dessert was apple crumble a la mode. The proportion of chunks of piping hot sweet fruit, which had been stewed in aged balsamic, to buttery crumble was ideal, while a too-small scoop of melting premium vanilla ice cream rounded out this eminently satisfying dessert. The delicious crumble went nicely with a cup of café-quality cappuccino.
Tip: One must take a parking ticket in order to access the ancient harbor parking lot. Helena will validate so you are not charged, but you must ask for it; and since even the restaurant cannot be sure of the exact hours when the parking is supposedly free, it is advisable to insist on the validation.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
Helena Not kosher Old Port, Caesarea Tel: (04) 610-1018