Timna TLV opens after winning critical acclaim

Nir Mesika grew up in Israel, relocated to the US and won accolades for his Mediterranean restaurant Timna in Manhattan.

 An individual kubana serving at Timna TLV (photo credit: ASAF KARELA)
An individual kubana serving at Timna TLV
(photo credit: ASAF KARELA)

There is by now a significant cadre of Israeli chefs who have made names for themselves abroad.

Some, like Moshik Roth and Assaf Granit, forged their reputations here and then became known for their restaurants in Europe.

Others went to train overseas and remained there to open restaurants and write cookbooks.

And then there is Nir Mesika, who grew up in Israel, relocated to the US and won accolades for his Mediterranean restaurant Timna in Manhattan – and recently returned to his homeland to open a sister restaurant to his successful East Village venture (which has since closed, a victim of the pandemic).

Mesika gave us a sneak peek of his talent a couple of years ago, when he made a guest appearance at L28 that was covered in this column (see the review of 12.5.2019).

Interestingly, his local reincarnation of Timna is now located just a few doors down on Lilienblum Street, in the premises once occupied by the late, lamented excellent restaurant Carmen.

The redesigned premises of Timna TLV combines the intimacy of a wine cellar with the amiability of an open kitchen. There is also a rear courtyard with greenery and alfresco seating for most of the year; it is enclosed in the winter. There are two seating areas – at the bar and at tables – in both the indoor and outdoor sections: the bar in the former affords a close-up view of the open kitchen, while the marble-topped bar in the latter is quite elegant.

Your experience at Timna begins before you even arrive at the restaurant: a representative will phone to ask whether anyone in your party has any special requests or dietary restrictions that the chefs may be able to accommodate. We were impressed that our waiter was aware of our requirements without our having to explain or reiterate anything.

The alcohol menu lists five cocktails, but none are really house specialties. Besides, we were happy to defer our alcohol consumption until embarking on the wine pairing that is an integral part of the Timna experience.

There are no food menus, as the concept here is a fixed tasting menu whose eight courses (NIS 350) vary from evening to evening. Moreover, the staff speak very good English and explain each dish in detail as it is served.

They also suggest wines, itemized on a [Hebrew-only] list, that have been specially curated to pair with the food courses. There are two pairing formats: three whole glasses or six half-glasses. (Chef Mesika recommended the former option.)

Our first glass of sparkling Chardonnay was poured just before our meal commenced with a diminutive cylinder of buche cheese wrapped in beetroot carpaccio, served alongside a dollop of Maggi tartare and a razor-thin potato tuile.

The smoked goat cheese in thin vegetable skin was complemented perfectly by the airy tomato salsa and delicate cracker.

The only problem with this delectable appetizer was that no sooner have you begun to savor the dish than it is gone.

Next was a tiny morsel of roasted grouper with glass noodles in dashi stock. What stole the show in this dish was the slightly spicy Japanese consommé, which we would have gladly drunk from a glass.

The next course heralded a succession of portions more substantial in size, commencing with amberjack sashimi alongside freekeh tabouleh studded with Persian raisins.

The extremely fresh raw white fish was interspersed with crunchy tapioca tuiles and thin slices of radish and cucumber, and elevated to new heights by a novel and intriguing tzatziki vinegar dressing.

This unusual Iranian-Japanese dish was as delicious as it was elegantly plated.

This course was served with the boutique Amit Toledo Sauvignon Blanc, a praiseworthy, relatively unknown white, which we were to enjoy until it was time to switch to red.

The wine was poured just after glasses, dishes, cutlery and napkins were changed, as they were after every course, no matter how small.

What followed was nothing at all like one might expect: individual loaves of kubana, served with labaneh spiced with salsa and s’hug.

As strange as it is to be served a mini-loaf of house bread as a course in its own right in the middle of a meal, one bite of this heavenly Yemenite brioche and you will know why it is arguably Mesika’s highlighted, signature offering.

Two seafood courses succeeded the kubana: first was a dainty skewer of shrimps and scallops on an Indian curry sauce, with a stuffed zucchini flower atop Japanese squash. The outstanding sauce cried out for na’an to mop it up, but I unabashedly ate what remained with a soup spoon.

A skewer of shrimps and scallops on an Indian curry sauce, with a stuffed zucchini flower atop Japanese squash at Timna TLV. (credit: ASAF KARELA)A skewer of shrimps and scallops on an Indian curry sauce, with a stuffed zucchini flower atop Japanese squash at Timna TLV. (credit: ASAF KARELA)

Second was grilled octopus with red cabbage, lamb pancetta (interestingly, no pork is served, despite the plethora of other treif) and yuzu kosho aioli. I am not generally a fan of octopus, but this version was superb.

Next was the evening’s sole meat course: filet mignon pounded with koji fermented rice (for tenderness), white pepper foam, black garlic sauce and demi-glace, served with shimeji and oyster mushrooms.

The meat was tender and succulent, and complemented nicely by the fancy condiments and vegetables.

The red wine chosen by the chef for this course was Montepulciano from Abruzzo, an Italian vintage that is less than full-bodied but robust enough for our steak.

Dessert came in two stages: ginger lemongrass tea served as a soup with [green] apple-cinnamon noodles – a hot palate-cleanser that hit the spot. And finally: Poached pear spiced with cardamom, creme patissiere seasoned with tonka, sweet black couscous and Indian halva.

The exotic spices helped create the ideal light and delightful finale for a memorable meal – which you can revisit with the help of an iconographic menu given as a dated souvenir upon your departure.

TimnaNot kosher24 Lilienblum Street, Tel AvivTel. (077) 997-9777The writer was a guest of the restaurant.