Pastel a work of art

Chef Hillel Tavakoli serves creative Israeli cuisine at the Tel Aviv Museum.

Chef Hillel Tavakoli serves creative Israeli cuisine at the Tel Aviv Museum (photo credit: OHAD BECK)
Chef Hillel Tavakoli serves creative Israeli cuisine at the Tel Aviv Museum
(photo credit: OHAD BECK)
The Pastel Brasserie & Bar, located in the Herta and Paul Amir Building at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, adjacent to the lovely sculpture garden, is the place to go when you want very good food in an elegant place that offers warm hospitality and fantastic, modern Israeli cuisine. 
Pastel is a modern, stylish restaurant led by owner Itzik Hengal and Chef Hillel Tavakoli.
Winner of the 2014 International Space Design Award–Idea Tops for the world’s best-designed restaurant, the interiors continue the design of the new museum wing, including beautiful video art, yet not forgoing the elegance, including white tablecloths, beautiful silver cutlery and amazing flower arrangements. 
With exceptional attention to details in both service and surroundings, Chef Tavakoli creates Mediterranean dishes with modern interpretation that complete the cultural experience of the location, and can be described as works of art in their own right. The menu is precise, leading guests on a culinary journey.
Pastel has three seating areas, each catering to a different experience: the central dining room; a terrace overlooking the museum’s sculpture garden; and a bar, perfect for a late-night drink or socializing with friends after dinner, or for private parties. 
Menus in both English and Hebrew are available, and the day’s specials are detailed by the attentive staff.
Chef Tavakoli has gained his culinary education across the globe, both academically and working in Europe and Israel’s most important restaurants. He began his culinary path in Paris, and continued to London for his diploma studies, after which he began his career in Michelin star restaurants La Gavroche and Locanda Locatelli in London. His culinary journey continued in Italy and Spain, from where he returned to Israel and shined in a number of leading restaurants.
“But in the end,” he confesses, “I find myself returning to influences of my mother’s cooking,” which in Tavakoli’s case means Jewish Persian cuisine, and that can be noticed in his use of herbs and seasoning. In Pastel, Tavakoli created an exquisite New-Israeli menu that features his interpretations of local food as well as classic dishes from around the world.
Tavakoli has been dishing out his creations at Pastel for the past three years or so, changing the menu according to the changing seasons. It was cold outside on the day we arrived, and the chef said he likes to serve more filling and comforting food on days like that. We took his advice and opened the meal with a bowl of pumpkin soup, served with shrimp, yuzu cream, apples, sage, brown butter, and a thin grissini breadstick. Pretty black bowls arrive at the table with all the garnishes inside, however, the soup is poured at the table. 
THE WHOLE ceremony works well to enhance the experience and whet the appetite. The soup (NIS 58) itself was complex but not too much, with a spot-on balance of flavors – fresh yet comforting – the perfect opening to a meal, which turned out to be one of the best we had in Tel Aviv recently.
Next came to the table-roasted pickled carrots, with smoked labaneh, terre brûlée and pickled shimeji mushrooms (NIS 62). Serving a dish in which the main ingredient is carrot, in a restaurant that is not cheap, is gutsy. But the flavors were so delicious and preparation so perfect that we could only be sorry that our vegan daughter did not join us. She would have appreciated that the dish that was centered on carrots and mushroom, but was every bit as haute cuisine, with amazing attention to each and every ingredient on the plate, as were the fish and meat dishes.
Chef Tavakoli, we soon learned, mixes different cuisines and comes up with his very own combinations. The menu presents influences from Thai, French classical, Mediterranean cuisines and ingredients, as well as from molecular cooking. These mixtures were noticeable throughout the dinner.
The next warm dish on the menu was the Bonfire potato ravioli (NIS 92), fresh pasta filled with potatoes and Mascarpone cheese, fresh hyssop, “Cacho ah Pepe” sauce, with roasted eggplant and Pecorino cheese. I would eat it every day of the winter if I could.
The chef insisted so we shared the fish tartar bruschetta (NIS 46) – a grilled bruschetta topped with tuna and yellow tail tartar, chili, tomatoes, chives and aioli. 
For the main dishes we had the seared drum fish and lentils ragu (NIS 146), with salsa verde and Turkish spinach, topped with delicious Jerusalem artichoke chips. The fish was made to perfection and the ragu was rich and full of flavors. 
It was way beyond enough, but again, Tavakoli insisted that we taste one of the meat dishes, and again influenced by the cold weather, we opted for the Palron (NIS 148), slow-cooked beef shoulder with demi-glace sauce, grilled green onions and mashed potatoes. A very satisfying dish, rich and extremely well prepared. 
The dessert menu made us wish we could return just to try every item on it. Unable to choose, we let our lovely waitress choose for us. And she chose well. We got the dish called Earl Grey Poppy Seed (NIS 54) that consisted of pears poached in Earl Grey tea, served with lemon crème anglaise, Earl grey ice cream and poppy seed tuile. Exquisite looking, not too sweet, with subtle, gentle aromas, it was one of the best ice creams ever, and a sublime finish to a wonderful meal.
The service was efficient, warm, helpful and very friendly, yet professional and not intruding, as service sometimes is in Tel Aviv restaurants. We chatted with our server and understood why the service here was so good. She said that unlike most local restaurants these days, where the staff mostly consists of students who are in between jobs, here the staff stay for years – which explains how they all seemed to know what they were doing, and were so knowledgeable about the dishes, the flavors, influences and wines. We will certainly return here, hopefully very soon.
Not kosher
Sha’ul HaMelech Ave. 27, Tel Aviv
Sun-Sat: Noon-midnight
Ph: 03-644-7441
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.