Rethinking mall cuisine

Ramat Aviv’s Café Albert recruits Chef Roy Soffer to up its game.

Ramat Aviv’s Café Albert (photo credit: AMIR MENACHEM)
Ramat Aviv’s Café Albert
(photo credit: AMIR MENACHEM)
Café Albert, a sprawling brasserie and pâtisserie on the main floor of the upscale Ramat Aviv Mall, has become an institution in this northern Tel Aviv neighborhood since its founding six years ago. Launched and operated for a year by the legendary R2M Group (owners of the iconic Tel Aviv restaurants Brasserie M&R and Coffee Bar, among others), it has earned a solid reputation for serving excellent French food – not exactly the kind of fare associated with shopping malls.
Now, that is about to change, albeit not drastically. Acclaimed consultant-chef Roy Soffer has been brought in to oversee a transformation of the menu, away from classical French dishes heavy on butter and cream and toward lighter, more healthful dishes inspired by Mediterranean and Asian cuisines.
While the oyster bar and brunch sections of the old menu are being discarded, loyal customers will not have to give up their favorite Café Albert foods. “Our most popular dishes will remain on the menu,” says Shlomi, who has been the manager from the beginning, “although some may be served only as daily specials, two to three times a week.”
The revamped lunch/dinner menu’s seven sections still leaves one with a plethora of choices: soups (NIS 44-49), entrées (NIS 48-72), salads (NIS 48-66), pastas (NIS 63-114), main courses (NIS 62-156), side dishes (although most main courses include one side dish) (NIS 18-24), and Asian (served from 4 p.m.) (NIS 28-49). There are also rotating daily specials, and vegan options in most categories. 
The restaurant’s five specialty cocktails (NIS 46) are listed on a separate menu, which you may have to request. We enjoyed the fruity and refreshing Bleeding Cosmo, and the Pink Meadow, a sweet drink with a tart finish. 
As we perused the food menu, we were served a basket of fresh white and brown bread (NIS 18) together with soft European butter. Naturally, this delicious combination will survive any menu revisions. 
We were fortunate to visit the restaurant during its transition from the old to the new menu, and thus able to sample dishes from both. We started with the liver pâté juxtaposed with a whole pear poached in a syrup of spiced white wine. We were surprised – and saddened – to learn that this outstanding pairing was soon to be replaced. But if its successor – chopped liver with onion jam – is anything like its antecedent, it is sure to be a winner.
Next was a dish from the new Asian section: Chiang Mai salad – a cold salad of glass noodles, ground chicken, julienned carrot and lots of herbs. This version was as good as you would find in any local Thai restaurant, with just the right amount of heat.
Our first main course was the shrimps à la romana – plump, juicy shrimp and artichokes in a sauce of butter, garlic and white wine. We were glad we got to taste this sumptuous version before it gives way to crystal shrimp in a Provençal sauce – minus the butter, of course – and we were assured that this dish would be reprised as an occasional daily special. 
One main course that is going to remain on the revised permanent menu is the filet mignon with bone marrow. It is easy to see why. The thick medallion of prime steak was sublime, and the large bone was full of rich marrow. A generous portion of buttery mashed potatoes was a nice bonus.
A separate dessert menu (NIS 32-46) lists many of the usual suspects common to Israeli restaurants, except for the “cookielida” – an outrageously decadent ice cream sandwich made with wafers of crunchy kadaif, drizzled with salted caramel and sprinkled with toasted pistachio nuts. 
Even better, however, was the apple strudel – warm, baked cinnamon apple enveloped in a delicate, flaky crust. It takes an extra 12 minutes after ordering, but it’s well worth the wait.  
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.