Sunday, April 10, 2011

Family Affairs – Etzel Pini BaHatzer Great Location But Not Great Food

Etzel Pini BaHatzer - 6 Nachum Goldman. St

The question the brunette, and to a lesser degree I, are most often asked in Israel, is ‘are you married yet?’ followed closely by ‘how many kids do you have?’ This incessant questioning is rather novel, annoying and new as we were rarely asked before arriving here. The reality is that Israeli society loves children, expects children and prays that you will be blessed with a large family. Unfortunately we are at a disadvantage – ‘social abnormalities’, as we are neither married nor have a kid, which, at our age, raises bemusement, concern and even polite disgust among the people we meet.

Why this infatuation with children? One reason (out of many) is that Israel is a young and proud nation and until the 1970’s its existence was significantly under threat. As such, population growth was important and alongside immigration, a governmental policy, within the welfare state, was acted to encourage large families. The policy was especially aimed at European Zionists who were less inclined to get married. Luckily the population was supplemented by more traditional Jewish groups that were very much in favour of marriage and kids.

Friday night meals are a very big event in Israel, when most families large and small, depending on your ethnic group, congregate to break bread and get involved in intense discussion (Israelis love to argue and have multiple opinions on any single topic). Further, it is not uncommon for children to leave the roost well into their twenties and even early thirties (I knew several!).

Community and family is no bad thing as Israel is a safe country (outside of the rarity of war and terrorism), and perfect for raising children. Large families and community helps create safer streets as strangers are uncommon. For example, in Tel Aviv children and young adults wander the streets freely at all times of day and night unconcerned of danger, such as I have often experienced outside of the country. This can be a fun part of living in Israel – community and socialising!

Of course there are some disadvantages when you don’t have kids (outside of the annoying remarks and smothering) as societies which have an affinity to large families tend to be more traditional and insular. Traditionalism permeates all levels of the country such as through high street fashion (as Trinny and Susannah discovered), restaurants (the small number of really top quality dining) and worse of all government and businesses where family and friends appointments can lead to favouritism and corruption. At least on the fashion and dining side a modern revolution is taking place, unfortunately picking up the paper it appears not to be happening in government or business.

This is also another aspect of the Tel Aviv ‘bubble’. Here the bubble is one of anti-traditionalism that exists in the country. Tel Aviv is considered hedonist with young people partying, large gay communities and freedom. However, Tel Aviv is only a reflection of the country that it exists in and is far less edgy than say London or New York.

Etzel Pini BaHatzer

I must admit these observations have little connection with the restaurant I went with my parents a little while ago. It was one of the last storms of the winter when we drove towards our destination of the evening – Etzel  Pini Ba Hatzer. Lighting was illuminating the night sky when we arrived at the restaurant which nestled on the border of Jaffa – Tel Aviv, overlooking the stormy sea. The location of the restaurant is top notch!

It was a spur of the moment choice on a night where we weren’t sure what to eat – suggestions of the typical Arab restaurant was raised but I didn’t feel like the bog standard salads accompanied by a fish or meat dish. It is particularly hard finding a restaurant as a disgruntled diner as I can be very fussy. Luckily I had heard from some friends that this place was tasty, especially for breakfast – so we decided to take a chance on dinner.

Arriving at the restaurant on a Thursday evening around 9pm it was surprisingly quiet but this may have been attributed to the weather. As usual we took a couple of moments to decide which table to pick and the waitress was patient with us.

Specials that evening included shrimp and octopus. I asked the waitress if the octopus was local or flown in and came no surprise to discover that she didn’t know. I am starting to pick up a theme in Israeli dining that wait staff don’t know where the food comes from, but do preach that all the dishes are excellent (especially the specials).

Ironically the best part of the meal was the bread – a very good a kind of warm ciabatta. Irony as in a previous review of Hatzela Hashminit it was the bread which was the worst part of the meal.

We decided to share one starter from the special - the shrimp salad, which arrived with 4 pieces of plump shrimp on crunchy green vegetables and a rather nice vinaigrette style dressing. However, the shrimp themselves were cold, obviously it was a cold salad (dah!), but the shrimp felt colder and were very firm on the verge of rubbery (cooked a long time before?). Maybe I am being harsh as the other diners enjoyed this portion.

The main courses we ordered included Sea Bass and Sea Bream.

The Bream came stuffed with onion confit – the fish was a little overcooked for my liking, which made the flesh slightly hard/rubbery. I also wasn’t keen on the combination of the onion confit with the fish; it didn’t work for me as the confit didn’t taste nice, it was like eating stewed onions with weak and unenhanced flavours.

The sea bass, on the other hand, was cooked nicely with the meat moist and a gentle flavour. It was served with burgul and what initially I thought were small nuts, but then discovered was dried fruit. Here again I wasn’t keen on the accompaniment, it didn’t work for me and even made me feel slightly nauseas after eating the large quantity served.

Service started off pleasantly but by 10 we were almost the last table and the wait staff had congregated at the bar chatting and laughing with frequent stares in our direction. Maybe they were only checking to see if we needed something? To me it felt as if they wanted us to leave and close shop – it wasn’t a pleasant feeling and we didn’t order or were encouraged to go for a dessert.

It is possible I was having an off night but I didn’t enjoy the inventiveness of the kitchen here or the pressure to complete the meal. It didn’t suit my palate apart from the bread which was hot from the oven and very tasty. But if this is what I was looking for I would have just walked up the street and bought bread at the famous Abulafya bakery.

However, the other diners enjoyed their food and as such will take their thoughts into account.

Overall great location but not for me - maybe for others or for breakfast?

2.5 stars out of 5

The Disgruntled Diner.

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