Welcome Back, Rama

The popular hilltop restaurant Rama’s Kitchen rises from the ashes and reopens.

Welcome back, Rama (photo credit: Courtesy)
Welcome back, Rama
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The last time The Jerusalem Post wrote about Rama’s Kitchen was not on these pages, but rather as a news item: In November, 2016, we reported that the restaurant nestled in the hills of the Jerusalem corridor had burned to the ground in one of the periodic forest fires that ravage the region in the wake of the long dry summer. After a brief period of mourning and getting over the shock – followed by more than two years of bureaucratic hassles during the struggle to rebuild – Rama’s Kitchen re-opened this past spring, with much that is familiar, and not a little that is different.
The décor has remained the same: Natural wood abounds, with unobstructed beautiful views of the surrounding hills; on a clear day, you can see all the way to Tel Aviv. As an integral part of its rustic environment, it remains family- and dog-friendly. But what is immediately evident is the smaller area.
“We are half the size as before,” confirms owner Rama Ben-Zvi. Also gone is the one-room zimmer, which was used primarily by honeymooning couples whose wedding had taken place at the venue. “I just didn’t have the courage [to replace it],” she confesses. 
There are staff changes as well. Rama has handed over the operations of the restaurant to her daughter, Ella, although she still keeps a close eye on the kitchen. She also hired a new chef – Tal Bardugo, formerly of Jerusalem’s Mona – after the previous chef left the country during the years the restaurant was closed. 
While the restaurant’s limited hours have remained more or less the same, the menu has a different format. There are three fixed menus: dinner (NIS 286) on Thursday night; brunch (NIS 128) and lunch (NIS 176) on Friday; and lunch reprised on Saturday. The restaurant is open other days for private events only, and has plans to open Sundays to serve the diplomatic community exclusively.
Down from the previous five house cocktails, there are now three (NIS 46); and while they are different now, the new drinks – like their predecessors – rely heavily on the fresh herbs from the adjacent garden. The first cocktail explained by the waitress featured homemade herbal syrup blended with Martini Bianco and white wine, served on the rocks and garnished with a sprig of rosemary, while the gin and cilantro was poured over crushed ice and garnished with a cherry tomato. Both were flavorful and refreshing. 
The fixed lunch menu, which is the one served over the course of the most hours each week, comprises two bread-centric dishes to start, then three appetizers, and one main course selected from a choice of four. There is enough to satisfy vegetarians, although perhaps not vegans.
THE BREADS come out of a wood-fired tabun oven that runs non-stop during the service. First come the fougasse breads, made from what the menu calls “granary and ancient grains.” There are two varieties: One that looks like a fancy pretzel, and another encrusted with sesame seeds. They were served with a nice spread of interesting dips, of which we especially enjoyed the spiced yogurt with red tehina. 
Next came the “tabun pastry” – flatbread topped with zucchini cream, roasted peppers and zucchini, sweet potato, rosemary and garlic confit, and then showered with tiny flakes of grated hard yogurt cheese. It was a delicious combination; and if hadn’t known there was a lot more food to come, I would have asked for more.
The first appetizer was drumfish ceviche with cucumber, apricot and mint. It was more of a raw fish tartare and lacked the heat of an authentic ceviche, but it was a nicely proportioned among fish, vegetable and fruit, and eminently satisfying.
The Summer Salad consisted of a slice of watermelon topped with layers of feta cheese, tomato and roasted pepper, enhanced with a mellow dressing. It was absolutely delicious, and certainly our favorite among the starters.
The third appetizer was baladi zucchini, sort of zucchini carpaccio fried with za’atar leaves, and labaneh cream that was undetectable. It was perfectly tasty, albeit unremarkable.
The four main course options covered a variety of categories: fish, poultry, vegan and meat. I recalled how good the duck breast was in the first incarnation of Rama’s Kitchen, so after a hiatus of three years, I was happy to order it again; and the tender, juicy, medium-rare slices – along with gravy-drenched, broad ribboned kamut pasta – did not disappoint.
Also outstanding was the lamb shank ragout in herbs and wine, accompanied by freekeh (roasted durum wheat) and a sprinkling of pine nuts. Although not stunning visually, it represented a terrific interplay of flavors and textures. 
There is a carefully curated wine list, sourced for the most part from neighboring wineries in the Jerusalem hills. Very few wines are available by the glass. 
After the main course, a refreshing cucumber granita is served as a palate cleanser.
There is one dessert (NIS 42), explained by wait staff, and meant for two people to share. Like other dishes on the regular menu, components are liable to change according to ingredients that are seasonally fresh; but we were treated to nectarine sorbet with almond tuile, pistachio financier, chocolate truffle with cocoa tuile, panna cotta with quince and apple chips, and a cluster of grapes with pomegranate seeds, all laid out on a polished olive wood plank.
Washed down with herbal tea, once again courtesy of the prolific garden, the dessert assortment was an ideal conclusion to a memorable meal. 
Considering the diminished size of the restaurant, and the fact that Rama’s Kitchen may be closed to the general public for private events even on weekends, reservations are de rigueur.
Rama’s Kitchen
Nataf, Jerusalem corridor
Not kosher
Thursday: 7 p.m.-Midnight
Friday: 9:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
Saturday: Noon-5 p.m.
Ph: 050-370-0954
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.