Haba nagila

The new evening menu is a welcome addition to the fare at Jerusalem’s Trattoria Haba.

Trattoria Haba cafe' in Jerusalem  (photo credit: PR)
Trattoria Haba cafe' in Jerusalem
(photo credit: PR)
Nothing typifies the culinary revolution Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda has gone through in recent years more than Trattoria Haba. The corner café/ restaurant is situated at the 80-year-old site of a shuk landmark – the Haba bakery, which opened in the 1950s and provided pastries, pita, burekas and halla for hungry Jerusalemites for decades.
Last year, the family transformed the rundown storefront into a bustling trattoria, catering less to the working class clientele of the shuk and more to trendy, upscale taste.
The Mediterranean dairy menu by chef Michael Katz – full of inventive salads, pizza, quiches and fish featuring fresh ingredients bought around the corner – quickly proved to be a magnet, attracting patrons who didn’t necessarily live close by or shopped at the market.
The atmosphere in the trattoria, like the shuk itself, can be a little frantic, with many tables crammed into relatively small space (there is also upstairs seating and, weather permitting, outdoor patio seating in the Georgian Market Square), a slightly elevated noise level and lots and lots of great-looking salads, baked goods and quiches on display in glass cases.
But the combination worked like magic and, during the day, it’s often difficult to nab a table for a meal or a quick snack. Now with a newly inaugurated evening menu effective at 7 p.m. nightly, chef Katz is hoping to make Trattoria Haba a nocturnal magnet as well.
The menu is not as extensive as the daytime offerings, but according to Katz, “If somebody wants a pizza, then we’re going to make him a pizza.” Featuring rotating specials of the day and soup of the day, the fare is divided into starters and main courses.
For starters, Katz served foaccia sahar cheese, dates and carmelized onions (NIS 38). It looked like a pizza, and the combination of sweet and salty was delicious.
Next up was the home-cured sardines with spicy harissa sauce (NIS 38), which was also tasty and provided a kick. But I just can’t imagine going to a restaurant and ordering sardines, no matter how yummy. More unique and worthwhile was the home-cured trout tartare, served with a crispy poached egg, wasabi sauce, raw kohlrabi and beetroot salad. The chunks of trout blended nicely with the wasabi and egg.
Other starters include market antipasti (NIS 35), white shakshuka Saluf (NIS 42) and mixed leaf salad with seeds, nuts, pears and goat cheese (NIS 44).
For the main course, we tried the potato gnocchi in a mild amba and tomato sauce, herbs and cheese (NIS 58). Using the amba was another unique move by Katz on a standard dish, and the tanginess made it special.
The gray mullet fillet in a warm orangy tahini sauce, smoked paprika and mixed leaves (NIS 84) was also an inventive combination of local Mediterranean and classic cuisine and was equally successful.
Other offerings include fish kebab with fire-roasted onions and tomatoes (NIS 68), leek and potato patties in sheep’s milk yogurt (NIS 54) and torn pasta with tomatoes, Moroccan olives and hyssop butter (NIS 64).
Many of the starters and main courses can be modified for nonfish eating vegetarians and for vegans and are duly noted on the menu.
With the desserts in the display counter staring us in the face throughout the meal, we felt compelled to sample the specialties of the house. The chocolate torte (NIS 32) and caramel éclair (NIS 23) were both worth the extra calories.
So next time you’re in the shuk for evening shopping or just looking for a place to eat there that isn’t the usual hummus/ kubbeh fare, Trattoria Haba is a new bona fide option.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
Trattoria Haba
Kosher dairy
119 Jaffa Road, Jerusalem
Tel: (02) 623-3379
Sunday to Thursday, 7 a.m. to 11:45 p.m.
Friday 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.