eTested – Restaurant Reviews

by Brian on October 12, 2007

in Reviews

I’ve recently started writing restaurant reviews for the Global Traveler website’s “eTested” column. Here are two of my more recent posts:

eTested – Joy Restaurant, Jerusalem

Every city has its trendy neighborhood, and with 42 restaurants lined up in the space of just a few short blocks, Jerusalem’s Emek Refaim Street in the modern southern part of the city fits the bill. On a warm summer night, the streets are so packed it’s hard to move, let alone get a seat at a table.

Maybe that’s why for a recent visit to the Joy Grill and Beer restaurant we opted for the business lunch. This winning establishment is memorable before the food even arrives. Set in a historic Templar building with lots of Jerusalem Stone and beautiful arches, Joy is comfortable even when crowded.

But we came for the food which did not disappoint. The business lunch, as is now the norm in Israel, consists of a main course, an appetizer, bread and coffee or tea for the regular price of entrée. The bread was a surprisingly satisfying start to our meal – a large loaf of piping hot sourdough oven baked fresh on the premises. Served with excellent antipasti, it made us look forward to what was coming next.

For my appetizer, I ordered the “rustic” chicken liver pate served on toast and jam with a side of caramelized carrots. I don’t know what was “rustic” about it, but the pate was creamy and delicious, not as distinctive as goose liver pate but nevertheless quite enticing. My companion had a cold gazpacho which was a bit bland for my taste.

For the main course, I ordered a dish with chicken, noodles, carrots, onions and cabbage in an Asian sauce. It was filling and fun, but again, not quite spicy enough for my palette. My companion’s “Joy Salad” was exquisite however. It consisted of grilled chicken breast and chicken livers on a bed of lettuce and sweet onions with liberally doused with crisp sweet potato fries (a house specialty). The portions for both were huge and we had to take some home.

For dessert we shared a chocolate Mars cake which we thought at first was a store bought Mars ice cream bar served on a nice plate with raspberry jelly, but our waitress assured us it was all homemade. It was very good in either case.

Our bill for two, with a couple of soft drinks, was NIS 140 ($33), not bad for a satisfying meal in a historic building in the trendiest part of an already historic city.

24 Emek Refaim Street
Jerusalem, Israel

eTested – Maharaja Restaurant, Ramla

Ever since my wife and I spent a few weeks in India, we’ve been searching for authentic Indian food. Our quest has been made even more difficult in that we only wanted vegetarian Indian food as that’s what we ate exclusively when we were traveling in India. The Maharaja Restaurant, located off the beaten track in the small town of Ramla in central Israel, comes close.

Israel is not as surprising a location for authentic Indian food as you might think. Jews moved to India some 2,500 years ago and are considered by many to be one of the “ten lost tribes.” Most Indian Jews immigrated to Israel in the late 1940s and today the country has an Indian Jewish population of 60,000. Many live in the vicinity of Ramla. In fact, the Maharaja restaurant has an attached Indian grocery store selling items not available anywhere else in the country.

Maharaja is as unpretentious as it is authentic, a classic Indian diner down to the high backed chairs and the perfunctory service in broken English. But the ambience (or lack thereof) is made up for by the food.

We visited Maharaja as a family of five and asked the waiter to recommend the most kid friendly foods as well as a quantity that wouldn’t stuff us nor leave us pining for more.

We started with a mixed platter of appetizers which included Batata Wada (fried potato dumplings) and two kinds of Samosa dipped in a pair of coriander and tamarind sauces. They were perfectly cooked, crunchy and delicious, exactly the way we remember eating these classic Asian snacks on the streets in India.

For the main dish, we ordered the Paneer Palak, a mix of cottage cheese chunks and creamy spinach and Alu Gobi, a cauliflower and potato curry. Both were piping hot and filled with the exotic flavors we had come to love from our travels. We scooped it all up with rice and chapatti, a thin Indian bread.

When the kids finished the bread faster than the main dishes, we ordered a platter of Puni, essentially fried dough so puffed up and thin it practically dissolves to the touch.

We were all too stuffed to order the desserts which were on display in the grocery store and included Gulab Jamun, Malpua and Burfi. The sweetest part of the meal, however, was clearly the price: only $45 for a family of five!

Maharaja is not on the main tourist routes in Israel. But if you’re traveling from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, it’s a short jaunt off the main highway, near Ben Gurion Airport and well worth the trek.

100 Herzl St.
Ramle, Israel

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