Striking the right balance

Rafi Keinan serves eclectic fare at Eldad Vezehoo and serves Mexican across the road.

eldad vezehoo 88 (photo credit: )
eldad vezehoo 88
(photo credit: )
If you pause by the building at 31 Rehov Jaffa, there is a plaque that reads: "Typical Jewish courtyard building with three wings erected 1895 by Solomon Feingold." In 1908 the building housed the city's first movie theater. During the Mandate period it was the office of the Doar Hayom newspaper and the Histadrut Federation offices. Today, signs indicate a number of restaurants down the alleyway facing the large courtyard. Among them are Eldad Vezehoo (Eldad and That's It) and Roza, both owned by 36-year-old Jerusalemite Rafi Keinan and his family. Keinan, an 11th-generation Jerusalemite on his father's side and sixth-generation Jerusalemite on his mother's side, grew up in Jerusalem."I always loved to cook," he says. After the army, he opened a bakery in Mevaseret Zion, and then "My love for cooking exploded," he says. He left in 1997 to work at Mitbach L'chaim to learn about cutting meats. After a while, he opened an espresso bar called Sebastian on Derech Hebron. Then in 2001 he went to work at a restaurant on Rehov Nevi'im (the predecessor of Vaqueiro) to work with the chef. "I learned everything, from fusion cuisine to all the systems," he says. At about the same time he married Gali, who was managing the French, non-kosher Eldad Vezehoo restaurant owned by her father in Feingold Courtyard, and Keinan went to work in the kitchen. "I started to read a lot," he says, "to see restaurants, to see systems and different kinds of cooking. Eldad Vezehoo was home to secular Israelis," he says. In 2006, they made the decision to go kosher. "It was challenging after working with butter and sour cream, for example; but today everything is okay, and anyone can eat here." Where did Gali's father get the name for the restaurant? When they opened the restaurant in 1983, her father had a partner whose name was Eldad - and that was it. When he opened the restaurant, Keinan explains, "in the 1970s and 1980s, this was Jerusalem. There was no Emek Refaim, no Talpiot, no Mamilla. This was the center of town." The ads for Eldad Vezehoo show photographs of a woman - Gali's grandmother - in brown sepia tones, giving a sense of times gone by, perhaps before the state. Walking into Eldad Vezehoo is, as Keinan describes it, "like a museum of all the things my mother-in-law collected over the years." And what a collection! Shelves on all the whitewashed or stone walls hold old sewing machines, kitchen utensils, radios, copper, brass and much more. Keinan says that in the time of the Turks there were offices overhead, and the basement was a stable for horses. The restaurant, which seats 80, is advertised as French but is really very eclectic. To attract more people, a new menu was recently created "to offer something fresh." One can start with a choice of 14 appetizers, such as chicken wings in chili and coriander, vegetable eggroll and salmon skewers at NIS 10 each. For NIS 20, there are six dishes such as baby green salad, artichoke saucers stuffed with beef or fish. There are 15 entrees at NIS 25 or 30, such as chicken livers and pasta, chicken breast Stroganoff, beef Stroganoff, kebab or chicken livers. And there are nine entrees at NIS 45 or NIS 55, such as fish and chips, chicken drumstick fillet, entrecote steak and salmon filet. The desserts are NIS 20 or NIS 25. The restaurant is very much a family affair. Keinan's wife and his father-in-law manage the restaurant; his brother-in-law, Yossi, is an assistant manager, and his mother-in-law helps out at night. Keinan starts his day at around 9 a.m., when he opens the kitchen. Sometimes he goes to the market to see what new produce there is. "It opens my mind to do new things," he says. "I read about food. I like to experiment." Then he goes back and forth between Eldad Vezehoo and his other restaurant across the path, Roza. "In 2007, my friend Shmueli and I decided to open a fish restaurant. We chose to open it across from Eldad - Dagim B'chatzer (Fish in the Yard). We closed it down after two months. The situation with the light rail, the city - it was a good idea with good food, but the timing was wrong," he explains. Keinan then decided to change it into a bar and restaurant. He chose the name Roza because it seemed to suit the menu, which was good simple food like salads, foccacia, pasta, fish and Mexican fare. Roza, also housed in a century-old building, seats 60 inside and out, in addition to bar stools and a large TV screen on one wall. On the personal side, Keinan and his wife have three young children. Who cooks at home? Keinan says he does. It's easy to see how much he enjoys what he is doing "because I don't know how to do anything else," he says. Keinan smiles and reflects, "I have two loves - my family and the kitchen." The hours for Eldad Vezehoo and Roza are the same: Sunday through Thursday from 12 noon to midnight; Friday, noon until one hour before Shabbat; Saturday evening, one hour after Shabbat until the last customer leaves.