Dennis Cieri, a New York writer, filmmaker and founder of Cieri Media, recently traveled to Tel Aviv where he discovered that the modern day Promised Land is a lot more fun than one may expect — with incredible culinary offerings.
Some people travel to Israel to see family, others to visit religious sites. Some come to explore the ancient walks of Jerusalem, others to relax at the Dead Sea or Eylat resorts. Yet, its capital, Tel Aviv, often seems to be off the tourists’ path. When the planes land on the hot concrete runways of the Ben Gurion Airport, most visitors hop on a bus or rent a car and rush to their final destinations, never setting foot in this global urban metropolis with a modern art scene and a bustling nightlife.
But that is starting to change.
Lonely Planet named Tel Aviv the number three city to visit in 2011, dubbing it “a modern Sin City on the sea,” and a “San Francisco in the Middle East.” Want it kosher? No problem. In Tel Aviv, there is something for everyone, especially in Neve Tzedek, a trendy neighborhood where bars and restaurants face designer shops.
If you want action, choose David Tel Aviv, the Intercontinental hotel where I stayed. Smack in between the chic Neve Tzedek downtown and the hazy blue shoreline, it offers a breathtaking city view from your room and a white-sand beach out the door. From here, Jaffa, with its seaside promenade, and even more restaurants, is only a short ride away.
When coming to Tel Aviv, bring your appetite. In this urban international city you can discover menu fusions you won’t find anywhere else. Tel Aviv is perhaps the only place in the world where North African stews can rub shoulders with Polish pickles and Tunisian spices make acquaintance with Russian dairy. Food possibilities are endless. Jaffa Court at David Intercontinental will satisfy every one of your morning cravings, from coffee to eggs to waffles while keeping you kosher.
For posh choices head to Benedict. No matter what time of day it is – it serves its impressive variety of poached eggs as well Texas style steaks and organic breakfast 24/7. Another dish to try in this Mediterranean capital is shakshuka eggs poached with tomatoes and onions, although Tazza D’Oro in Neve Tzedek has a different twist on the sauce: spinach and Swiss shard.
For lunch try Heder Ochel with its long wooden tables setting inspired by the kibbutz communal-style dining. Yet its food is anything but. Here Chef Miller invents his Nuevo Israeli creations: beef Carpaccio and Jerusalem artichokes, kreplach (dumplings) stuffed with pulled veal neck with sour cream and veal kubbeh with a tabbouleh and pomegranate salad.
The local saying is: “Jerusalem prays and Tel Aviv plays,” so when the night descends, the nightlife blossoms. Time Out Tel Aviv says a city visit is not complete “without making it to at least one sunrise.” Pubs, wine bars and beer houses are aplenty and if you are staying in Neve Tzedek, they are a short walk away. Tel Aviv is also home to a large gay community; the city’s annual pride parade is known to get rowdy. (This year it’s June 8th.)
Dinner choices are copious too. Walk to Dalal from David Intercontinental for shrimp risotto and seafood bouillabaisse. After that take a short stroll along Kol Israel Haverim to the Dalal Bakery. Or visit Herbert Samuel, for Asian-Mediterranean fusion such as calamari with warm tahini sauce and amber-colored truffle soup with beans and crunchy chestnuts.
Hungry for more eccentric culture blends? Head over to Vicky Cristina where España meets Eretz Israel with tapas such as tender calamari sautéed in spiced olive oil and eggplant with garlic and onions on a pita, served with wine to Latin music.
But if this is your last night in town and you feel like staying local don’t miss the David Intercontinental’s signature Aubergine where Chef Louise Noiman takes kosher gastronomy to new heights. Since meats in cream sauces are strictly prohibited, she creates dishes with alternative ingredients that will leave you wondering why you ever needed the combination. Add to this a fine selection of local kosher wines and you have just found the best place for a Passover vacation. Chag Pesach Sameach!
Comped but never compromised: Dennis was on a press trip to Tel Aviv sponsored by the David Intercontinental, but he is free to write whatever he wants.