Freshness is its forte

Cafe Forte is a garden of serenity in hectic downtown Jerusalem.

Cafe Forte Food (photo credit: Courtesy)
Cafe Forte Food
(photo credit: Courtesy)

One of the things I really like about a restaurant is when there is a feeling of space.

Crowded places with tables cramped together may feel cozy to some but are claustrophobic for me. So when I had the opportunity to try out the newly opened Cafe Forte in Jerusalem¹s Clal Building, I was very pleasantly surprised. Not only is the new kosher dairy restaurant spacious and airy, but it has the entire lower floor of the complex to itself, so there is no passing traffic, so to speak, vehicular, pedestrian or otherwise.
And the fact that the food was really good checked off all the boxes in my book.
Although the Clal Building may not be one of the city¹s most dynamic venues, the owners of Cafe Forte have fashioned the indoor restaurant into a veritable haven or, as manager Stanley Lipschitz calls it, a ³little oasis² and a ³secret garden.² Surrounded by large potted plants, the outer court of the restaurant has wooden tables, rattan chairs and leatherette banquettes spaced comfortably apart, while the smaller interior section has a few tables as well, sharing space with the sleek modern display counter and the food preparation area.
Eager to sample some of our favorite types of dairy dishes from the ample menu, my dining companion and I put in a wide-ranging order.
One of the unique features of the restaurant is that the order is keyed into an iPad, which is relayed directly to the kitchen. Another special feature is that every dish is made fresh on the spot a la minute, as they say in the trade. What¹s more, 29-year-old chef Dikla Hajian says she makes as much as she can from scratch, from the pita, croutons and muesli to the olives and sun-dried tomatoes, not to mention the ice cream and baked desserts.
We started off with some heartwarming soup, which was accompanied by whole wheat bread and butter. French onion soup is a constant on the menu, while a new soup of the day is offered as well. To save the customer the difficult decision of which one to choose, Cafe Forte offers a soup duo: half a portion of each (NIS 29). As luck would have it, the soup of that day was mushroom and barley one of my favorites. It was rich and flavorful and laden with several types of mushrooms. The onion soup was very tasty as well, although instead of the baked cheese on top that I am accustomed to, it had a baked pastry topping.
My dining companion is a big fan of shakshouka, so he gave it a whirl and was very happy with the result. In the meantime, I asked to sample the Caesar salad. Many restaurants in this country have it on their menu, but it is rarely what is on the plate, if you get my drift. I am pleased to report that the Caesar salad at Cafe Forte can legitimately call itself that.
For the main dish, we shared the fish & chips (NIS 42) and the grilled salmon (NIS 54). The salmon was moist and flavorful, slow cooked using the gourmet sous-vide technique. It was accompanied by roasted vegetables, including sweet potatoes, and a green salad with a honey-mustard dressing.
The fish & chips was a standout dish. The battercoated cod fillets were so light, that they didn¹t even feel fried, which is quite a feat. The generous dish included a green salad, large chunky fries and two dipping sauces. Just great.
Another standout, which my dining companion had on his own, was the penne Alfredo with salmon and mushrooms, which he devoured with gusto.
For me, no meal is complete without dessert, so I had two of my favorite things: homemade ice cream (a scoop each of vanilla and mango) and a gorgeous, freshly baked blueberry muffin.
Still working on their dessert menu, Cafe Forte will offer such delights as chocolate mousse, creme brulee and assorted cakes, cookies and pies.
Sweet liquid treats on the menu include spritzers (15), milkshakes (20) and slushies (17), as well as sachlab, iced coffee, cider, hot chocolate and loose leaf tea served in a glass pot (14).
Open Sunday through Thursday for breakfast and lunch, Cafe Forte covers all the bases when it comes to dairy dishes. There is an array of breakfast platters that range from NIS 21 to NIS 46.
Appetizers range from NIS 12 to NIS 26. Salads run from NIS 34 to NIS 47, while pizza, sandwiches, toasts, quiches and pasta dishes span between NIS 28 and NIS 42.
Located so close to Mahaneh Yehuda, Cafe Forte offers a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of shuk shopping. It¹s easy to see why, as Lipschitz reports, Cafe Forte has already garnered an increasing number of regular customers who have made it ³their² place. For anyone who is downtown and wants to enjoy a light or substantial meal at a very reasonable price in a serene and inviting space, Cafe Forte is the spot.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
Cafe Forte Kosher dairy Clal Building 98 Jaffa Road, P1, Jerusalem Tel: (02) 622-3877 Open Sunday to Thursday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays to 8 p.m