Sunday, April 3, 2011

Israel in Bloom – ‘Patagonia’ Failing to Recreate the Argentinian Carnivore Experience

Patagonia – Kibbutz Or Haner (north of Sderot)

It was the first warm and sunny day of the year, being Israel this means February, and the brunette and I decided to go on a day trip. Luckily Tel Aviv is in the middle of a small country so almost everywhere is less than a couple hours’ drive away.

Spring being in the air we wanted to experience one of Israel’s many natural beauty spots so decided to visit the ‘Red Desert’ bloom. The red desert signifies the thousands of poppy flowers which carpet the northern Negev landscape before it reverts to a barren brown desert from May/June. Geographically the ‘red bloom’ area surrounds the Gaza strip with most of the kibbutzim and moshavim celebrating it in some manner.

During our short time here we have noticed that Israeli’s love trampling around their backyard and visiting the parks in there thousands. And why not, Israel is blessed with many natural areas from waterfalls, mountains to deserts - there is a lot to explore.

Unfortunately, being such a small country, the weekends are usually jam packed with Israeli families looking for that perfect spot to relax and light up a BBQ or just have a picnic. This coupled with the number of children Israeli’s have leads to a crowded experience. In Europe two children is the average but in Israel it is three – this means that parents are constantly looking for things to do with their kids and preferably in a cost efficient manner. For those that don’t know Israel is an expensive country, especially when compared to the average local salary. Luckily a lot of the nature is free.

Earlier that week the press was praising and promoting the blooming of the desert and we were really looking forward to seeing the red fields. On arrival at Kama Junction (between Tel Aviv and Beer Sheva) we stopped by an information booth to ask where the best location was, only to be told that the flowers were late in blooming this season?!? I asked why the false advertising which was met with surprise as obviously I was not a local for not being able to interpret the truth. This is not the first time I have fallen for press / people exaggeration and can be an annoying aspect of Israeli society / culture (‘the best’ anyone?). Sensing we were upset, the helpful lady pointed us to a ‘secret’ field near Sdereot and kibbutz Or Haner which was in bloom. On hearing this we jumped in the car and set off with several hundred others to find this ‘secret’ field.

Travelling the small roads near the Gaza border we were determined not to give up, undeterred by potential rocket attacks and shouting out every single flower spotted, we finally found the isolated field and were amazed. The whole field was covered in red with hundreds of sightseer’s trampling all over the flowers.  The brunette is a true city person but even she enjoyed see the fields in red (before they were pummelled back into the ground).

Amazingly (for the Disgruntled Diner anyway), the best red field of that day was next to an Argentinian kibbutz. A kibbutz created and settled purely by South American Jews. At the field a couple of enterprising teenagers had set up a small grill with chorizos. Now I am a true lover of Argentinian meat having been lucky enough to eat at La Cabrera in Palermo, Buenos Aires (my personal favourite restaurant) where one feels he has died and gone to meat heaven. So I asked the young entrepreneurs if the kibbutz had a restaurant which they replied in the affirmative, and not just any restaurant but a real Argentinian Assado called ‘Patagonia’. Wow I thought we have to go and eat there – Buenos Aires here we come!


The restaurant is located near the communal dining room at the centre of the kibbutz and has several large grills near the front door. On this day the grills were brimming with different cuts of meaty goodness and I was truly salivating. At this point I must say that in the back of the mind I was still saying to myself to tread carefully as meat is not tasty in this country, but the grills had turned me into a Homer Simpson blindly following the sweet aroma.

We had arrived as one of the first guests and the dining room had a country feel about it. The menu for that day was set (do to the festival) and only offered a mixed grill which included, entrecote, chorizo, assado, chicken and kebab as well as a starter of some salads and a small dessert.

The table had paper plate settings which gave information about Argentinian meat and promised that the best meats from Argentina had been imported to be enjoyed by the fortunate diners. We were both getting excited.

The salads were fine if nothing special with some eggplant that was a little sweet but we didn’t care all we wanted was the carnivore feast awaiting us.

The Meat

The meat arrived on a sizzling platter and was placed on the middle of the table. With immense expectation I cut a piece of the entrecote while the brunette went for the lamb kebab. We each took our first bite, eyes closed dreaming we were in Buenos Aires, when the reality hit us hard on the taste buds – this was awful!!

The kebab tasted like a cheap and overly powerful bit of mutton, the entrecote was edible but an ocean away from the flavour of its Argentinean brother. The chorizo had a sickening and closer to a sausage flavour (where pork is not an option I would recommend Merguez) while the chicken was boring and bland. Maybe it was the false anticipation of re-living our Argentinian memories? But this was terrible – what a disappointment. To add insult to injury the chimichuri was a pale and tepid interpretation, weak in its spice and vinegar. The only positive aspect of this whole meal was the friendly service and surrounding.

As mentioned in previous blog entries’ I am an eternal optimist but even this meal would have turned the most devout saint into the devil. Thankfully dessert of sorbet (which came in a little paper tub straight from some factory or other) started to cleanse the taste from this misadventure. On the topic of ice cream this restaurant should be ashamed of itself as Argentina, which includes a sizable Italian group, has delicious ice cream / sorbet such as can be found in the chain Alfreddo.

Overall – come see the flowers but run for your life when the Assado clouds drift towards you.

1.5 stars out of 5  

The Disgruntled Diner

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