Creating a Stir: The Shmil appeal

Just two years old, Shmil Bama'abada is already a Jerusalem favorite.

His real name is Shmuel Holland but his nickname, Shmil, came from his Polish bubby and is the name of the restaurant he opened in January 2007 on Derech Hebron. Shmil had been in the catering business for a number of years and decided he wanted to open his own place. The word got out and Erel Margalit, founder of Jerusalem Venture Partners, called and asked him if he wanted to open a restaurant together at The Lab. Shmil had a very specific idea for his restaurant. "For me, the real Israeli cuisine is a mixture of nostalgia, a mixture of our memories of Israeli food. The food here is very simple - it is based on very fresh ingredients, very pedantic in details." Located near the Jerusalem railroad yards, the restaurant building itself was a storage room for wheat and the terrace was the unloading dock. The train tracks can still be seen below the terrace. One wall inside is the original brick; a fireplace is in the middle. "We left it as it was architecturally," he explains. For example, on one wall hangs an enlarged photograph of the dining car from the first train to Jerusalem after the War of Independence, in 1950. As Shmil began to develop the menu, the idea was to make people feel it was a local Jerusalem restaurant. He also reasoned that since he had dairy equipment from his catering business, it would make sense to make it a dairy restaurant. "When you think about Eastern European food, you think of cholent, liver, not dairy, but there are a lot of dairy dishes that were popular," he says. What are some of the highlights of the menu? "A chopped Israeli salad, cut on the spot with the exact amount of fresh lemon juice and olive oil. It is very precise, everything is cut in squares," Shmil responds. That comes with a very basic tahini paste. Another highlight is kreplach based on his grandmother's recipe with a slight modification. "We make it with pecorino cheese and serve it with fried green onions and sour cream." Another dish is herring with apple and sour cream - "a thing my grandmother made, but I make it in pieces." One very popular dish is cheese dumplings as a dessert, which was prevalent in all Austrian-Hungarian districts. "It is made with farmer's cheese with semolina and cooked with sugar, so it is semi-sweet. In the dough, I use bread crumbs," he explains. The restaurant also uses a lot of traditional pavadil, made from black plums with no sugar, cooked in its own juices. "I cook it for 48 hours; it becomes like jam without sugar. It becomes black and thick like asphalt." The jam is then used as a stuffing for kreplach. The restaurant has different menus for breakfast, lunch and dinner and is open from 5 to 7 p.m. just for coffee and cake. "That is when we make fresh dinner every day. Every day things on the menu change," says Shmil. The morning menu includes breakfast specialties like shakshuka or matjes herring with apples, cream and pickled red onion. Lunch offerings are sandwiches with salad at moderate prices (NIS 28 to NIS 36) and a business lunch with pasta, salad, fish and a baked dish, which range from NIS 51 to NIS 75. Evening meals can be light such as soup, salad, herring or crepes ranging from NIS 30 to NIS 37. Medium dinner offers pickled salmon, salad or kreplach (NIS 38 - NIS 59). And a hearty dinner has appetizers, tarts, pasta or fish (NIS 51 to NIS 87). Tomer, a small bakery in Talpiot, bakes sourdough breads, which are a mixture of whole wheat and white wheat, especially for Shmil, bringing fresh breads in the morning and in the evening. Shmil says some vendors bring him foodstuffs from Mahaneh Yehuda, but he also has vendors who bring him things you cannot find anywhere else, "that farmers grow on small farms." Shmil was born in 1957 in Beit Dagan to Polish-born parents who met in Palestine. The family left Beit Dagan when he was six and settled in Ramat Gan, where he grew up. He went to high school and the army, then went to a yeshiva in Gush Etzion. Afterward, he studied history and Yiddish at the Hebrew University, and then became an educational tour guide in Jerusalem at Yad Ben-Zvi. But his hobby was cooking. "I loved to cook and left my work for my hobby and opened a catering business in 1992," he says. "All my knowledge is self-taught." Shmil felt the cooking schools of the time were based on big places like the army. "I learned with a lot of chefs like Chaim Cohen [television star]; I am also friends with Shelly Ansky [cookbook author]." Shmil is married and has four daughters, ages 17,15, 13 and 10. His wife cooks during the week, and he cooks for Shabbat. WILD RICE At a recent lunch at Shmil, this tasty side dish was served with salmon. The recipe makes 10 servings because, says Shmil, "I can't make a recipe for less than that." 2 cups wild rice 1⁄2 cup pearl barley 2 onions, chopped 250 gr. mushrooms, chopped finely 50 gr. butter 1 cup vegetable stock Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste Saute the onions in 20 grams of butter until golden. Add the mushrooms and saute with the onions for a minute or two. Add salt and pepper. Cook the rice in 8 cups of water for 1 hour or until the rice opens (with no seasoning). Cook the barley in 1 cup of vegetable stock for 30 minutes or until soft. Drain any remaining water from the rice, and add the barley, onions, mushrooms and the rest of the butter. Adjust seasoning. Cover and let stand for 10 minutes. Shmil Bama'abada, located at 28 Derech Hebron, is open Sunday from 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Friday, it is open from 8:30 a.m. until one hour before Shabbat; Saturday evenings it opens one hour after Shabbat ends.