Singing the praises of Oratorio

The gourmet restaurant in Zichron Ya’acov is a true classic.

Dish at Oratorio (photo credit: ANATOLY MICHAELO)
Dish at Oratorio
(photo credit: ANATOLY MICHAELO)
The Elma Arts Complex in Zichron Ya’acov and its restaurant Oratorio hold a special place in my heart. Before the structure was turned into a concert hall with a gourmet restaurant, it was a Kupat Holim vacation home. We spent several summer breaks there with two small girls, enjoying the brisk sea air and walks along the sandy beach.
Forty years on, and the place has been transformed by the vision of local resident Lily Elstein. When she heard that the iconic building, designed by Yaakov Rechter, was going to be torn down, she decided to renovate it instead. Today, audiences enjoy classical music concerts in the auditorium, as well as the imaginative creations of chef Gil Aviram and sous-chef Peleg Ezra. A meal at Oratorio is an experience not to be missed.
We settled down at a table for two, and the attentive staff could not have been more helpful. It was explained to us that the first course comes in the form of tapas, many different kinds laid out on an adjacent bar, and it was self-service. Later we would order a main course, which our waitress would bring to the table.
The tapas bar offered a very wide selection of tastes, many vegetarian but also some ceviche and meat choices. Among the dishes that stood out were a fresh whole mushroom salad marinated in a sweet chili sauce with a touch of pepperiness which was very welcome on a cold evening; a wild rice salad garnished with pomegranate seeds and herbs; and chunks of baked aubergine soaked in date syrup. The carpaccio – thinly sliced salted beef – was swimming in a sea of olive oil, which I found offputting. The ceviche of salmon also did not have eye appeal. More slices of fried eggplant found their way onto delicious homemade bruschetta. In sum, the vegetarian options were the best bet as far as the appetizers were concerned.
There was also a thick vegetarian soup at the buffet. It was described as vichyssoise, which is made with potatoes and leeks and is usually served cold. This one was nicely hot and satisfying, although the potatoes seemed to overpower the leeks.
For the main course, my companion chose the lamb shank.
The tender crispy lamb was perfectly cooked, falling away from the bone but still pleasantly chewy. The accompanying bok choy was oily, and the carrot puree tasted as though someone in the kitchen had tipped a whole packet of cumin into the mix. I like cumin, but it is a very powerful spice and must be used with a gentle touch.
My main course was goose rillettes with red cabbage, served on a homemade brioche. This consisted of shredded roast goose in a rich brown sauce. The brioche was perfect for absorbing the delicious gravy. The side dish was a brilliant concoction, both visually and gastronomically. It consisted of five vegetable purees laid out on a plate – a real work of art. There were beet puree (a rich purple); parsley (vivid green); corn (bright yellow); sweet potato (orange); and Jerusalem artichoke (greige).
The hearty red wine to accompany this feast was Bat Shlomo, 2014 Red Blend (NIS 190 or NIS 45 a glass). You can also take the house wine at NIS 32 a glass.
There were several dessert choices, but we plumped for our usual favorites – lemon for me, chocolate for my companion. The lemon curd with crumble and Swiss meringue was as good as expected. The chocolate dish, called Only Chocolate, had the sweet brown stuff appear in five different incarnations – jelly, cream, cake, ganache and crumble. The waiter also insisted we try the dessert called The Pink. This was a pretty plate of pink goodies – macaroon, marshmallow, Turkish delight and creamed berries. It looked beautiful, and the taste did not disappoint.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
Oratorio Kosher 1 Rehov Yair Street, Zichron Ya’acov Open for dinner Sunday to Friday, 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Tel: (04) 630-0110 (Anatoly Michaelo) (Anatoly Michaelo)