Big changes at Seatara fine dining restaurant

The seaside restaurant welcomes a new team to helm the kitchen.

The seaside fine-dining restaurant  welcomes a new team to helm the kitchen (photo credit: JONATHAN BEN HAIM)
The seaside fine-dining restaurant welcomes a new team to helm the kitchen
(photo credit: JONATHAN BEN HAIM)
Seatara has been a popular fixture in the upscale Sea & Sun complex for many years (its Jerusalem Post reviews extend all the way back to 2007). So when the announcement came that wholesale changes were being made to the winning formula, it was hard not to take notice.
The new chef, Oren Morad, certainly has the proper credentials: formerly executive chef at the luxury Setai hotel chain, more recently he worked at leading restaurants in France. He is being joined by a new pastry chef, Tal Mamalya, previously with the prestigious Tel Aviv restaurant Toto.
Seatara takes on a slightly different look in the winter. The elegant main dining room is unchanged, but the section that ordinarily affords an expansive view of the sea has all its windows blacked out by dark curtains. Stranger yet, strings of Christmas lights were strung in front of the windows, which were no longer transparent. And only this part of the restaurant had white tablecloths.
We were handed English and Hebrew menus, and an iPad. Only after we wasted some moments perusing the electronic menu were we told that it is all outdated, except for the sushi section.
In spite of the recent staff changes, the cocktail menu remains unchanged. Among the seven specially cocktails (NIS 46-58), we sampled the spicy passion. Based on two kinds of rum, this drink begins with a sweet start, which then tapers off to a spicy finish.
We eagerly turned to the food menu, after having read in the press release that chef Morad was introducing special dishes and stews from France and Spain through the end of March. Alas, we were doubly disappointed to get bad news on two fronts: first, the chef was not in the kitchen that evening; and second, there was not a hint of the much anticipated mouthwatering dishes anywhere on the menu, not even among the daily specials.
Determined to make the best of it, we asked the waiter which dishes on the menu were new, and learned that they were concentrated among the starters and the specials. Despite the bilingual main menus, the list of daily specials appears in Hebrew only.
The menu comprises six sections: Starters (NIS 54-78), Salads (NIS 54-69), Homemade Pasta (NIS 85-120), Pizza (NIS 72-85), Fresh from the Sea (NIS 115-145) and Meat (NIS 78-199, plus special cuts by weight). Interestingly, seafood appears in the first three sections only, and (unlike in the previous menu), not at all among the main courses.
Similarly, vegetarian/vegan options are also confined to the first two categories – there is none even among the pastas. There is no pork anywhere; where bacon exists, it is made from lamb.
As we waited for our appetizers, we snacked on the warm focaccia, a particularly long and skinny version. It came with three ordinary dips and olives. Granted, Seatara is not an inexpensive restaurant, but NIS 39 for a finger of focaccia still seemed excessive.
Our first starter was the polenta with mushrooms, asparagus, lamb bacon and porcini oil. This was comfort food kicked up a notch: the creamy corn base, meaty mushrooms, al dente asparagus and smoky lamb bacon added up to an excellent dish.
Next was the grouper crudo – hefty morsels of raw fish in a brilliant emerald green soup of citrus gazpacho, winter-root salad and gremolata. The extreme freshness of the fish was evident even through the rather pungent sauce – which, frankly, did more to detract from the grouper than enhance it.  
It was a little bewildering to see two categories of quintessentially Italian food in a restaurant that is not defined as Italian. But there are only three dishes in each category, and some of the pastas and pizzas did seem different from the usual Italian fare.
In particular, the tartufo gnocchi sounded promising: pillows of potato pasta in a sauce of chestnut cream, mushrooms, nuts and white truffle paste. Sadly, the texture of the gnocchi was dense and sludgy, and the sauce uninspired and unremarkable.
Turning to the main courses, the fish category contained some intriguing sounding dishes, while the meat category seemed rather pedestrian – heavy on options like kabab and pullet, staples of simple neighborhood fast-food joints. But the daily specials included an irresistible cut of beef: prime rib from Nebraska.
The 800-gram steak, meant for sharing, was duly impressive, covering the wooden platter from end to end. Unfortunately, the prime rib was overcooked, making the beef drier than it should have been; this actually made us a bit angry – that the kitchen would be so careless with this beautiful steak. Still, the superb quality of the meat managed to shine through a bit, and it was no problem polishing it off.  
By this time, the non-upholstered chairs were taking their toll, forcing us to stand frequently to relieve the pressure of having to sit on hard, uncompromising wood.
The international wine list is more than adequate, with a reasonable selection available by the glass. The restaurant’s private collection is a real eye-opener, with vintages ranging in price from NIS 517 to a whopping NIS 3,456.
The entirely new dessert menu presented us with difficult choices (NIS 52-56). La chocolate was a chocolate extravaganza consisting of chocolate cake topped with chocolate cream, alongside caramelized bananas, mascarpone cream and tuile de cigarette, while the speculaas cake was actually a mousse of cheese and white chocolate atop a thin cookie, with almond crumble, red pear, caramel sauce and blondie ganache. There was a lot going on in each dessert, but once again, I thought they were a feast more for the eyes than the palate.
Unfortunately, we will never know for sure whether the meal that fell short of expectations was the fault of the absence of the chef or not.
Not kosher
Sea and Sun, 8 Herzl Rosenblum St., Tel Aviv
Tel. (03) 699-6633
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.