Sunday, May 1, 2011

Sea and Sun (The Beaches of Tel Aviv) – Eating Well at Sebastian in Herzliya

Sebastian – Maskit 33, Herzliya

Summer is rapidly approaching with temperatures nudging higher and the sun shining ever harder. Unfortunately, Tel Aviv in summer, is an unpleasant experience. The mixture of high temperatures and humidity makes it a sticky mess, especially at night when one is let down from the hopes of cool evenings.

Luckily Tel Aviv is on the coast and as an avid beach goer I thought I would share some of my tips of the better beaches along the city coastline.

Tel Aviv has a long coastline from Tel Baruch in the North to the Western Beach, next to Jaffa, in the South. In the past few years investment has been made in renovating the boardwalk which now extends from almost Bat Yam to Tel Baruch. The whole beach promenade is pretty (bar the dolphinarium which will be demolished soon) and one can choose any of the many beaches. The beaches in Tel Aviv have fine sand and one can rent chairs or sun loungers on almost any beach, with the chairs costing 6nis.

The best time to visit and swim in Tel Aviv is from March to June and September to November. In July and August the water temperature can reach over 30c, is usually dirty and can be crowded, which only adds to the unpleasantness of the summer heat. I have been visiting the beaches of this area since the 1970’s and was quite shocked to discover, last year, how dirty the water is during the summer months.

Another Israeli phenomenon is the invasion of French tourists in July and August. At this time of year most of Tel Aviv from Ben Yehuda Street to the beach is primarily French speaking; including cafes, hairdressers and galleries. It is quite an interesting experience.

I am sure that among the young and hip in Tel Aviv there are specific beaches to be seen at but as I am neither hip nor young, I will recommend the beaches I enjoy visiting.

Hilton Beach

The area of Hilton hotel and north all the way to the port is one of the nicest stretches in Tel Aviv itself. Am not sure how hip it is but there are sheltered by sea breaks there are several areas where the water is gentle and good for swimming. For surfers it is also recommended as one part is not sheltered.

Western Beach (Manta Ray South)

Good for surfing and for a more relaxed attitude I recommend this stretch from the Manta Ray restaurant all the way to Jaffa. If one is feeling peckish they can eat a reasonable, if expensive, lunch in the restaurant. The southern part of the beach is also used by the residents of Jaffa.

Reading Power plant to Tel Baruch

A new stretch recently opened and accessible by bike or foot only – it runs behind the Sde Dov airport with little coves and is recommended for the more adventurous or for those looking to escape the crowds.

I have left out some well-known beaches like Gordon, Frishman and Bogroashov but these are overcrowded and noisy. Apart from the beaches in Tel Aviv I recommend going to beaches further afield during the summer as they will be less crowded and cleaner. From South to North; Palmachim Beach, Herzliya, Shfayim Beach, Michmoret Beach & Hof Dor.

The bad news is that most of the dining options along the seafront are overpriced and sub-standard. The restaurant below is not.

Sebastian Restaurant

Some things happen by chance and our visit to Sebastian was a spur of the moment decision. I had been to this restaurant several years before but it did not stick in my mind as being particularly good. This time it was, maybe I have been too long in Israel and my taste buds are dulling, but I left very content from our meal there.

The restaurant can be found in the Herzaliya Hi-Tech area adjacent to Herzaliya Pituach. The restaurant is classed as a brassiere and has a not to dissimilar feel to the one on Ibn Gvirol. Having not made any bookings we were sat in the quieter, if less decorated patio area.

The menu comes both in English and Hebrew and has a variety of dishes including a list of daily special dishes such as on our night; cauliflower soup, shrimp risotto and salmon fillet.

On this evening we ordered beef carpacio, salad and bread to start followed by mushroom risotto and the salmon filet special for main course.

Service was attentive and the wine list include 16 excellent Israeli red wines – There was such a good choice I wasn’t sure what to order but was happy to discover that they had Galil Yiron 2007 for 152 nis, several of the wines were around this price.

In an earlier review of HaBasta, I mentioned that the waitress poured the wine without us tasting or even letting us look at the bottle. At Sebastian the waiter followed the abc of wine serving. First he showed and read out the bottle to the taster for approval; next he opened and allowed the taster to inspect the cork by placing it in on the table in front of the taster. At all times the wine bottle was held with a white table napkin and any residues cleaned throughout the process. Next he filled the glass with around one oz of wine to be tasted, which was tested and approved. Finally he poured the wine clockwise first to the women than to the men with the taster last. There is stopped in reality it should have continued with the waiter topping up the wine but I was happy just with this.  Maybe this sounds a bit of overkill but I like the professionalism of acting on the small things, as it points to taking the job serious and makes me dislike the lazy attitude of HaBasta even more.

The bread was fresh and came with oil, garlic and chopped tomato dipping sauce. The beef carpacio was peppery and tasty and the tomato salad with cheese was good but not as good as Herbert Samuel. Overall the diners were satisfied, if a little surprised, as I keep on banging how the restaurants in Israel are below par.

The main course of Mushroom risotto and salmon followed and I was happily surprised to find the risotto delicious. The rice was cooked al-dente and was very rich with mushroom, truffle oil, butter and parmesan. For some reason I found the flavours intense and gratifying. To be honest I tasted flavours that exceeded my expectations. Yes there was no fresh shaved truffles like you get in Italy in season, but the whole table was very complementary.

The salmon was also tasty, if slightly overdone for my liking (the diner had requested it that way). The accompanying sauce was tasty and the potatoes and green leaves were cooked correctly.

I was happily surprised and certainly not disgruntled! The question is do we go for a dessert and potentially ruin the experience?

We decided to carry on and ordered Alex Chocolate Cake and sorbet (grapefruit/coconut/apricot).

Unfortunately the desserts were average and not in the same league as the earlier courses. I did like the grapefruit sorbet but the others desserts were far more standard.

Overall, all the diners agreed that Sebastian had exceeded our expectations and concurrently told me off for being so negative about Israeli restaurants.

Worth a visit.

4 stars out of 5

The Disgruntled Diner.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a fun visit. I like your reviews about Sebastian Restaurant. I think I would love to eat there and try out the food there myself.