Market shuk-down

If you don't like the shuk you're square. Thisshould come as no surprise, but I'm referring specifically to TelAviv's Carmel Market. Still, years behind the polished, Mahane Yehudamarket in Jerusalem, the Carmel Market still offers offensive odors,offensive vendors and a plethora of options that go the route ofinternational variety more so than ghetto-fabulous.

Andwhile Jerusalem's market offers a wide selection of well-tailored cafesand copious cuisines on offer, at the Carmel Market one can still findelderly types selling hand-rolled Iraqi kube, which costs just NIS 5and makes for a delicious treat if you don't care about health codeviolations or the chance that the meat you're eating might not comefrom an animal that you usually eat.

But progress, they say, is unavoidable and the Carmel Marketspins on the same planet as the rest of everything. Luckily, therecently opened Hashuka works hard to be a part of the market, ratherthan attempt to change its character for the worse.

I recently was invited to check out the place for breakfast.But when we arrived, we were encouraged to try the afternoon andevening dishes. Walking into the place feels more like you're enteringa whole other layer to the shuk, as opposed to leaving it. The hugewindow that lets in the colors and lights of the shuk is about the mostinviting aspect, with the energy and life of what's beyond the glassallowed to seep inside. Overall, it has an atmosphere that isreminiscent of a shore-style, casual eatery - so what could be betterfor a Tel Aviv establishment? Nothing. Even the plates and dishesthemselves are so cute, they give shabby-chic a whole new vitality.And, the small deck located on the side by the entrance is a great spotto sit with a morning coffee and/or afternoon cocktail.

We started with the stuffed vine leaves (NIS 18)which were served in the style of little burritos: as tasty as theywere impressive. We then had the chopped liver (NIS 20), served ontoast points with garlic confit and sprinkled with chives. And, we hadthe distinct pleasure of sampling a special dish of calamari stuffedwith polenta. Hashuka places special emphasis on their daily specials,creating them from what is available fresh that day. This was by farthe tastiest dish we ate that visit and is up there with some of thetastiest dishes I've had the pleasure to sample in this country.

Main courses were a vegetarian couscous (NIS 28) with astandard mix of veggies (zucchini, pumpkin, carrot, onion, chickpeasetc.) - the flavor was full and satisfying. It is also available withchicken or beef (NIS 34). And, the beets stuffed with lamb and rice ina wonderful sauce of tehina and pine nuts (NIS 36) was so veryimpressive with a great fusion of sweet flavors, with none overwhelmingthe other. Even my dining partner, who is decidedly anti-beet, found itimpossible to abstain.

Dessert was a white chocolate malabi withcherries (NIS 14). While it was served in probably the most chic dishthey had, neither of us were too into that authentic industrial flavor.The chocolate and cheese brownies (NIS 11) on the other hand were sogood, with added bonus points for conjuring up childhood memories ofthis treat.

So impressed I was, that I returned not long after to check outthe breakfast, taking the green shakshuka (NIS 29). Aside from abreakfast menu offered all day, this dish was super tasty, a mix ofspinach and feta cheese served alongside a great yogurt sauce, extratasty salad ('cause of the sunflower seeds), olives and bread. Bothtimes I had a hafuch. While not a true fan of Saquella coffee, the milkwas so very well steamed and the price (NIS 8) makes it more thandoable. And enjoyably so.

Worthy of mention, though I did not try them myself, are thesummer frozen cocktails of arak and watermelon, arak and lemon-nana andvodka and apple for NIS 18/glass.

Hashuka - 42 Rehov Rabbi Meir and the corner of RehovHacarmel; (074) 701-6895 - is open Sun.-Wed. From 10 a.m. to, at least,10 p.m. Thurs. from 10 a.m. to the last customer and Fri. from 8 6 p.m.; not kosher. The writer was a guest of the restaurant on hisfirst visit.