A Mediterranean feast

Avi Biton’s Dizengoff Street ‘Café Popular’ launches new and different brunch.

Café Popular (photo credit: Courtesy)
Café Popular
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Café Popular, Chef Avi Biton’s new hot spot in Tel Aviv, has launched a new brunch, and that was a good enough reason for us to revisit the place on a Friday morning.
Brunch is my favorite meal of the week. For me it means spending leisurely time with friends with a drink and something really scrumptious to eat, an opportunity to catch up, relax and begin (or end) the weekend. Or as the Australian food editor Jill Dupleix wrote in her 1994 cookbook, New Food, “When breakfast is too early and lunch is too late, brunch is the only civilized thing to do.”
I was first introduced to the concept of brunch when I lived in New York in the early 1980s. Since then, for me, brunch should always include a simple cocktail such as Bloody Mary or Mimosa (or the more current versions of them), a rich egg dish, lots of fantastic baked goods, and of course, coffee and preferably some fresh juice. Everything else – such as salads, cured fish and cheeses – are welcome and can go different ways. But the brunch in ‘Café Popular’ proved to me that Chef Biton feels differently about the concept of brunch.
The brunch includes many mezze dishes and a bread basket. Not included in the set price of NIS 98 per person are the innovative cocktails, coffee, tea and yummy desserts.
But as I mentioned before, brunch has to open with a drink. So from the intriguing cocktail list we chose one Blood Orange Margarita (NIS 38), made with tequila, Aperol, triple sec and blood-orange juice. The drink was very refreshing, although unlike its namesake, it was served over ice cubes and not crushed ice. The second drink was the Virgin Green Ice Tea, with lime, lemon verbena and mint (NIS 16).
The list of 14 dishes on the brunch menu indicate that here brunch leans more toward a menu of an early lunch than a breakfast, and more towards the Mediterranean cuisine than the American one.
The dishes are divided into warm and cold. This allows the kitchen to quickly give diners something to chew on while they prepare the warm dishes. First to land on our table was a dish pf roast beef with tahina and za’atar (a good dish that we only tasted after eating other dishes since it felt too early in the meal to start with); a salad of black lentils with feta broule and tzatziki, broccoli with Parmesan cheese; a spicy tomato dip with bits of Dotan cheese (I guess the dairy farm is called Dotan); cherry tomato salad with what the waiter called du’ah, or dukkah, an Egyptian condiment consisting of a mixture of herbs and nuts; green herb salad with roasted almonds; bruschetta with tuna fish and pickled lemon; ceviche and cut fresh vegetables.
Next came the warm dishes – which included pastia, a filled filo dough burekas with spinach, feta and yogurt; scrambled eggs on a bed of mushroom ragout; vegetable patties with potatoes, yogurt and mint; mesabeha made with white beans and topped with a lamb ragout; and sofrito eggplant served with fried eggs. Some of the dishes were excellent, others less so, but all in all the food was tasty and eating it slowly was a pleasure.
The bread basket served with the meal was Instagram-perfect, but alas, seemed to have waited too long before it was served to us. As a result, the toasted brioche that looked so appetizing had lost its crunchiness, and the other breads were a little dry. We didn’t return it because, as it was, there was too much food on the table.
As mentioned, coffee and desserts are not included in the deal, but don’t miss out on them. The two desserts we had were perfect. The first was Strawberry and Broule with lots of fresh strawberries, vanilla sauce and pistachio streusel (NIS 42), and the rich chocolate dessert with brownie, chocolate mousse and crème anglaise (NIS 44).
The service was exceptionally warm, attentive, quick and knowledgeable.
There is no English menu as yet – they did promise to print one soon – but the waiters will explain every dish, and the restaurant is happy to replace dishes in the list if one or more of you do not eat any of the ingredients.
Café Popular
Not kosher
Dizengoff Street 197, Tel Aviv
Phone: 03-555-2020 Cafepopular.co.il
Sun-Sat: 6 p.m.-midnight
Brunch: Fridays and Saturdays, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Bar: Daily 7 p.m. until last guest leaves
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.