Tel Aviv's fine dining restaurant Pastel - new chef Koby Bachar

Chef Hillel Tavakoli has been associated with the restaurant Pastel for the last five years, and was in no small measure responsible for its popularity.

Musical chefs (photo credit: ANATOLY MICHAELO)
Musical chefs
(photo credit: ANATOLY MICHAELO)
Chef Hillel Tavakoli has been associated with the restaurant Pastel for the last five years, and was in no small measure responsible for its popularity. So it came as a surprise to learn that the kitchen of the award-winning Tel Aviv restaurant will now be the domain of someone else: chef Koby Bachar, until recently the talent behind one of Jerusalem’s leading kosher restaurants, Rooftop at the Mamilla Hotel. Tavakoli, meanwhile, is headed to the seaside brasserie Hola, whose management has parted ways with chef Victor Gloger.
Bachar has wasted no time making his mark in the big city. This month he was tapped to be one of five prominent local chefs participating in an art and culinary project called French Exhibition, during which one of his dishes was featured at a French Embassy dinner. And the menu at Pastel already bears his hallmark.
Moreover, Pastel boasts an accomplished mixologist, so it is worth starting your meal with one of the restaurant’s seven creative specialty cocktails (NIS 48-64). Both the Coriander style: gin, Midori, pineapple, coriander and sour; and El Camelot loco: rum, Martini Rosso and lime, topped off with beer – were smooth, complex and refreshing.
The bilingual food menu comprises four sections: Entrées (NIS 46-98), Pasta (NIS 86-142), Sea (NIS 142-182), and Meat (NIS 94-182). The entrées include one soup and one salad, plus a number of raw dishes. There are vegan and vegetarian options in the first two categories.
In addition, daily specials are listed on a separate, dated menu; a nice touch is that unlike in many places, the specials menu is in English as well as Hebrew. Here is where you will find, inter alia, the fish that is the catch of the day, plus premium cuts of steak priced by weight.
As we were perusing the menu, and snacking on the crusty, rustic house bread (NIS 24), Chef Bachar proposed serving us a tasting menu – an offer we couldn’t refuse, especially since we were having trouble making up our minds.
First up was gently seared red tuna, on green papaya salad. The freshness of the nearly raw fish was evident, and the slightly spicy Thai salad was an excellent complement.
Several more first courses followed in rapid succession, of which the highlights were the scallops on polenta and the foie gras. The scallops, under a light dusting of finely grated Parmesan, were melt-in-your-mouth tender, and served on a bed of hearty, coarse yellow corn polenta that was outstanding.
The foie gras was accompanied by quince marmalade, and quinoa with diced fresh fruit. The richness of the exquisite foie gras was cut by the candied fruit, while the quinoa was nicely enhanced by fresh green herbs and small cubes of fresh mango.
The pastas here are listed as a second course, like in Italian restaurants, but after our array of first courses, we elected to try a half-portion as a main course. The chef’s choice for us was the Parmesan gnocchi with asparagus, sage butter and pumpkin cream – and a fortuitous one it was.  The plump pillows of potato pasta were the lightest and fluffiest gnocchi I can ever recall having, accented with al dente baby asparagus and a sauce that was a perfect balance of herbed butter and puréed pumpkin.
Our meat main course was the short ribs with green vegetables and Jerusalem artichoke cream. The generous slab of slow-cooked beef, glazed with demi-glace, arrived on our plate literally glistening, and peeking out from under a coil of green beans. This cut is notorious for its fatty flavor, but this version – while still redolent with fat – still managed to be as appetizing as it looked.
There is a carefully curated international wine list, which includes several exclusive wines whose price tag reaches into four figures. Pastel’s resident sommelier has also designated a limited selection available by the glass.
A recently updated separate dessert menu lists five desserts (NIS 23-56), each one paired with a recommended dessert wine. It was left to us to choose from pastry chef’s Yotam Turgeman creations, and we chose two we had never seen anywhere on an Israeli menu: Basque cheesecake and chocolate crack pie.
The former resembled a sweet mini-quiche, with a creamy center topped with fresh berries. Once I got used to the unusual texture, I found it enjoyable.
The latter meanwhile was a combination of two perennial favorites: chocolate and crack pie, resulting in a chocolate extravaganza – including chocolate ice cream – that was absolutely decadent.
Not kosher
Sha’ul HaMelech Ave. 27, Tel Aviv
Phone: 03-644-7441
Open 7 days: 12 noon-12 midnight
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.