Trendy in Jaffa

Beit Kandinof serves good food in a funky atmosphere.

Beit Kandinof serves good food in a funky atmosphere (photo credit: ANATOLY MICHAELO)
Beit Kandinof serves good food in a funky atmosphere
(photo credit: ANATOLY MICHAELO)
Beit Kandinof, the name of a landmark building in an alley in the shadow of Jaffa’s Kedumim Square Park, started its 21st-century existence as an art gallery. It still functions as a gallery, but nowadays people are flocking to the venue mostly because of the bar-restaurant that just opened this spring in the edifice’s corridor.
The highly regarded chef behind the food at Beit Kandinof is Yogev Yehros, in the role of culinary architect of the new restaurant. Yehros himself is to be found in the kitchen of his own Parisian-style bistro, Hôtel de Ville, which is also in its early days, in north Tel Aviv.
The food – described as Jaffa-Mediterranean cuisine – is obviously the draw, because the seats (mostly wooden folding chairs) are not designed for comfort. In the evenings, the lighting in the cavernous hallway, crowned by a high glass ceiling, is rather dim.
The bar has created six specialty cocktails (NIS 46), of which we chose the Tropicana – rum, coconut water, passion fruit and pineapple, served on the rocks and garnished with fresh coconut. This sweet and refreshing drink is indeed aptly named, as it conjures up images of relaxing on a sun-drenched island.
The El Sheikh, meanwhile, was a more puzzling name to figure out, as the liquor is Mexican: tequila, blended with passion fruit, basil, lime and chili (misspelled “chilly” throughout the menu). The waitress warned us that the drink was spicy, but we thought it had just the right amount of heat.
The menu comprises four sections: Jaffa Table (NIS 8-48), Kandinof Starters (NIS 26-54), Main Courses (NIS 50-72), and Sweets (NIS 28-38). There is an entry under the first category called Jaffa Platter offering “a bit of everything” – except we were told it is no longer available.
We could discern no rhyme or reason for the separate headings Jaffa Table and Kandinof Starters, since the dishes in both were all sized like appetizers. To add to the confusion, the dish containing the name Ajami – a neighborhood in Jaffa – is listed not under Jaffa Table but under Kandinof Starters.
We started our meal with two items from the Jaffa Table: the house focaccia and the cauliflower. The former, topped with olive oil, sesame seeds and zaatar, was piping hot and pleasantly fluffy, while the latter was gently fried florets that were enhanced wonderfully by mint, parsley, pickled shallots, tehina and yogurt.
Our two selections from Kandinof Starters were Ajami tartare and calamari skordalia. The tartare was described as “local fish ceviche, freekeh tabbouleh, sheep yogurt and tomato seeds;” in actuality, red onion and cilantro were among the prominent ingredients. This dish had none of the gustatory characteristics of ceviche, but the mélange of morsels of raw fish mixed in with the smoked green wheat salad added up to a terrific outcome.
The calamari skordalia was misleading right from the name, as the dish contained not even a hint of true skordalia; instead; the garlicky Greek paste was replaced by a butternut squash and almond cream. Nevertheless, the seared calamari seasoned with sumac and served on a bed of the creamy orange purée was absolutely outstanding.
Surprisingly, three of the five main courses seemed more like bar food: pizza, hamburger, and baked shwarma. This left us with the two most distinctive dishes: “burnt” eggplant tortellini, and a curry named Jaffa Bangkok.
The tortellini yielded hardly a trace of eggplant, burnt or otherwise, except for possibly a dark smudge on the inner lining of the pasta pockets. Nor was the aubergine detectable from tasting the dish. In spite of this dearth, the al dente pasta stuffed with Hame’iri cheese, lightly coated with a white wine and butter glaze, and tossed with roasted tomato, spinach leaves and black olives, was a winning combination.
The Jaffa Bangkok was drum fish and eggplant tempura in a coconut milk red curry sauce redolent with ginger and lemongrass. The vegetable tempura was predictably soggy from the soupy sauce, but the dish as whole was as good as you would find in a Thai restaurant, perked up with just the right amount of heat.
The three desserts on offer continued the theme of Arab-Mediterranean fusion: malabi, basbousa, and chocolate mousse flavored with cardamom.
Beirut Nights was the fanciful name given to the pale basbousa, which had a consistency somewhere in between pudding and cake. Swimming in a delicious syrup of citrus flower water, and buried under two mounds of whipped cream studded with toasted nuts and slices of fresh fruit, the calorific semolina cake was a very sweet treat indeed.
Finally, the dark chocolate mousse with cardamom, toffee caramel and almond crumble was decadently good for such a light dessert.
Unfortunately, it took forever for our mousse to arrive, capping off an evening of inattentive service. Admittedly, the popular place was quite full; but at one point, when we finally got the attention of a waitress after repeated waving, we received the Israeli hand gesture for “hold your horses” in reply.
Both desserts were washed down nicely by freshly brewed iced coffee.
Beit Kandinof will reward the adventuresome diner who likes Middle Eastern fusion cuisine, and doesn’t mind informality both in ambiance and occasionally indifferent service.
Beit Kandinof
Not kosher
Hatzorfim 14, Jaffa
Tel. (03) 650-2938
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.