A taste of culture

Veteran restaurant Tmol Shilshom has become a local favorite for foodies and literature lovers

tmol shilshom (photo credit: Sarah Levin)
tmol shilshom
(photo credit: Sarah Levin)
David Ehrlich has carved a special niche for himself on the Jerusalem scene. Born and raised in Ramat Gan, he served as an artillery officer in the army, did a degree in English linguistics at Hebrew University, and then worked as a journalist for Israeli press and radio. At the age of 30, he decided to do "some wandering around in the world" as he puts it. That included teaching Hebrew at Dartmouth, Berkeley and Emory universities in the US, where he learned about "the phenomenon of the bookstore cafe." When he returned to Israel in 1993, he felt very optimistic; it was the beginning of prosperity. "I felt I was ready to start something new," says the 49-year-old entrepreneur. Ehrlich considered a few locations between Nahlaot and the city center for his bookstore cafe, but then he wandered behind Kikar Tzion on Rehov Yoel Solomon, into the world that used to exist in Nahalat Shiva. Near No. 5, he turned into Yehoshua Yellin Alley, then went left to the end and up the cobblestone steps. In June 1994, this became the home of the horseshoe-shaped Tmol Shilshom, two halls with an entrance in between, retaining the rustic look of the original 140-year-old house, which had been home to some tailors and to several families before that. Tmol shilshom is a biblical term. Literally translated, it means "yesterday and the day before yesterday," but colloquially it means "the way things used to be." It is also the title of an S.Y. Agnon book, translated into English as Only Yesterday. For the 49-year-old Ehrlich, the title is very apt. The dark wood furniture of the store/cafe is enhanced by the brick walls and tile floors, lending itself to a romantic place for blind dates, other dates and even marriage proposals. Ehrlich consulted with people who knew food and, as he explains, "the menu has evolved over the course of the years. My vision was to have a counter, not a full kitchen; but people I hired for the kitchen were particularly talented and brought in this vision." Tmol Shilshom's first chef, Amanda Fisher, now living in Ann Arbor, Michigan, created the first menu and has a cooking column on the restaurant's Web site in Hebrew and in English. Although Ehrlich is not a chef himself, he tastes everything on the menus and is involved with all the details of the items. He also likes "the international touch" that is reflected in the menus. "The extra is the atmosphere, the different experience," he says. "You walk in and you feel you are at home." Yaron Vinkler, a chef consultant, created the current menu; but Mazen Shwieki, a third-generation Arab resident of Jerusalem, has been the chef for 11 years. Shwieki, who is a self-taught chef who then took courses in Tel Aviv, says he sometimes adds Arab spices or introduces Arab dishes to the menu, such as the Egyptian kushari - majadera (rice with lentils) with noodles, chick peas and fried onions served with a yogurt sauce. "He has golden hands," says Ehrlich; "a gift of natural ability to cook tasty food." In early December, Shwieki and Vinkler collaborated on a special gourmet Chef's Meal one evening at NIS 135 per person. The extensive menu included such delights as Jerusalem artichoke pancakes with sour cream; chickpea soup with wine and cheese fritters; steamed salmon with couscous; banana baklava vanilla mille crepe; and eggplant confiture and cherries in a kadaif. Ehrlich may continue the program on a monthly basis. Ehrlich's interest in the literary scene is evident in the lunch and dinner menus, which take the form of book covers, in Hebrew and English. The "preface" are appetizers, salads and starters; the "plot" are pastry, pasta and couscous; the "plot thickens" includes fish; "drafts" are beverages; and the "epilogue" are desserts. Quality books in various languages are for sale, mostly English and Hebrew, and during the day one will invariably see people sitting with a cup of coffee, reading a book. Ehrlich says that the late Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai was a dear friend of his and of Tmol Shilshom, often sitting in one of the comfortable armchairs. "He loved the place and frequented it very often," says Ehrlich. Amichai was the first person to participate in the programs of lectures and readings that Ehrlich developed. Many well-known writers such as A.B. Yehoshua and David Grossman have been on the roster at the restaurant. "Now we have more requests to perform than we can host," says Ehrlich. Once or twice a week, there are Hebrew programs plus at least once a month in English. "Like chamber music, we have authors perform their art, read their works and meet the audience. Reading by the author is intimate and a way of getting to know the text and meeting the author," says Ehrlich. The lectures and readings are free, but the people who attend generally order something to drink or eat. Tmol Shilshom is open Sunday through Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to after midnight. It is open Friday until Shabbat and reopens Saturday evening after Shabbat.