A window to the Mediterranean

Postcard aesthetics and the best of local cuisine await diners at the new El Babor in Acre.

Al-Abbas brothers open a new El Babor in Acre  (photo credit: courtesy)
Al-Abbas brothers open a new El Babor in Acre
(photo credit: courtesy)
It was a long, justified wait. When Hussam and Nashat Al-Abbas opened their first El Babor restaurant in Wadi Ara, it soon became the darling of local foodies craving authenticity in their Arab dishes. Gone were the wedding hall salads slathered with industrial mayo, gone were the canned mushrooms immersed in garish yellow low-grade turmeric. Instead, the patrons of the new venture were introduced to country fare. Plump fatayers – Arab empanadas stuffed with hyssop leaves and pungent goat cheese – soon became a favorite as did the seasonal salads of wide cress and chicory one could not find in other restaurants.
Heavenly humous was de rigueur, and divine kebabs, followed by a sweet knafe of angel hair noodles, left the most skeptical diners happy – or at least, contemplating the advantages of peaceful coexistence with talented restaurateurs like the Al-Abbas brothers.
Then came the 2000 intifada.
Lean years followed, but the brothers never closed shop and even managed to open a second El Babor in Yokne’am, for the benefit of the local hi-tech workers who could add some real food to the fast and furious offerings nearby. And real tablecloths too, a welcome upgrade from the usual paper sheaths upon which plate after plate of mezzes are slammed unceremoniously in lesser establishments purporting to serve the same fare. It is never the same at El Babor.
And still, the brothers waited for their port of call. The name El Babor is Arabic for “the steamship”’ and stems from the French vapeur, or “vapor.” All it needed was a location worthy of its name.
It used to be a wedding hall in Acre, across from the British police building, right on the shore. Now redecorated and revamped, the second-to-none natural marine décor graces the diner with unobstructed views of gentle waves and a comfortable evening sea breeze. Inside, the sea fills the large windows with a million shades of blue-green. Outside, a spacious deck welcomes smokers, families with restless toddlers who need a short splash in between courses, and lovers of good food of all denominations. Snippets of conversations in Hebrew, English, Arabic, Portuguese and German were heard over the music of the waves, and I was glad to realize that the place has made its way into the tourists’ itinerary. If you sample Arab food for the first time, it had better be good, wrapped up in the amazing décor. It had better be here.
Efficient, courteous and not overly friendly waiters suggested a selection of salads, and my dining companion and I were happy to comply. The humous is still heavenly, the seasonal offerings tangy, mouth-watering and surprisingly delicate. Fatayers cannot be left on the plate even by the most calorie-conscious hungry soul.
Inside the piping hot crunchy dumpling, spicy shrimp, goat cheese or wild spinach will greet you with a richness and complexity of flavors you will want to summon by “Yummy. Can we have some more?” Beware of the freshly baked pitas, and set them aside while you sample the tehina eggplant salad, the local crunchy cucumber salad, the mild and piquant tomato salsa and the hot stuff reserved for the truly brave.
Time to contemplate the main offerings from the sea. Fresh from the daily catch, grilled or fried, baked with tomatoes and herbs, tehina and pine nuts, these represent the best in Arab seafood cooking. I opted for a baked version of locus in a deep dish covered with a crust of pita dough. My companion was more adventurous and ordered a casserole of beef fillet, cubed and left to simmer in a sauce combining coconut milk and fresh tomatoes, parsley and cilantro and a hint of hot Sudanese peppers.
Neither truly local nor truly foreign, this was a welcome and creative addition to a traditional menu.
If dining with a large party, do not hesitate to ask for the specials.
Curious souls and their forks will help you come up with a review of these while you sample their juicy, mouth-watering fish or lamb kebab and admire the sheer beauty of the tender baby lamb chops.
Offerings are large and even too generous, the staff is attentive to your every need and, as the sun sets on this panoramic display of postcard aesthetics, you too will take a picture.
One of the scenery, one of a table of happy diners, empty plates and the knafe, which almost no one is able to finish. It is amazingly good but should be served as a meal in itself.
Fresh fruit, a tiny baklava square and complimentary black coffee laced with cardamon are more appropriate as one leaves this ship of gastronomic pleasures. We will certainly be on board again soon.
The restaurant offers a sultan’s table meal, which includes salads and appetizers, a fish dish, meat and dessert at NIS 150 per person. Prices of seafood appetizers average NIS 45. Fish as a main dish is NIS 90 – NIS 95.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
El Babor by the SeaNot kosher 16 Hahagana Street The Promenade, Acre