A Tale of Two Raviolis

by Brian on April 23, 2008

in Only in Israel

I’ve been eating out a lot lately. For some reason, I wound up ordering ravioli at both restaurants I visited recently. Here, then, are two reviews of landmark Jerusalem restaurants which include elegant pasta on their menus.


Jerusalem’s Caffit is the quintessential Israeli café. The oldest establishment on Jerusalem’s trendy Emek Refaim Street – now packed with close to 50 restaurants from elegant dining to “entrecote on a roll” – the vegetarian Caffit serves up fresh pasta, fish and veggie burgers in an upscale urban environment.

The glassed in city street café is hip and modern with lots of dark wood, a large plasma TV playing the latest sports, and a full bar. An outdoor patio is perfect for enjoying a warm summer evening (and a smoke, as the indoor area is, as is now the law in Israel, smoke-free). When we visited, the café was already packed (we got the last table); by the time we left around 9:00 PM, there was a long line waiting to get in.

I ordered a sweet potato ravioli which was generously dusted with pine nuts – it was delicious, the ravioli was just the right tenderness for home made pasta and the sweet potato was offset nicely by the light cream sauce.

My companion ordered the baked salmon with chopped peanuts on a bed of spinach and a cream sauce. The salmon was a little dry, but the creamy sauce and spinach worked well together and the result was mostly delightful.

The portions at Caffit are generous and we weren’t sure if we had room for dessert but when the waiter brought over the dessert tray, it was hard to resist. Various home made chocolate confections were on display; we chose to split an artistic creation called the Gaya which consisted of a layer of sponge cake, chocolate mouse and white chocolate with a dark chocolate crust. It melted in our mouths.

The wait staff at Caffit is attentive but seemed a little overwhelmed by the throng of patrons. Unlike in some restaurants where diners are often handed the check too early and pushed out the door, at Caffit you can linger as long as you want; indeed, getting our bill took a bit of aggressive hand waving.

The bill for two, including a couple of glasses of wine, came to 197 shekels ($56). If you’re looking for an authentic Israeli café with a modern décor and rich menu, you can’t go wrong at this long-standing establishment.

1868 Dairy Café

1868 is the name of one of Jerusalem’s top (and most expensive) eating establishments.  There are actually two restaurants – a meat restaurant located at 10 King David Street (opposite the David Citadel hotel), and a newer dairy restaurant at 34 Bet Lechem Road, opposite the Paz Gas Station. We ate at the latter.

At 1868, there are two seating options – an elegant chef restaurant inside which features white cloth tablecloths, fine cutlery and lovely large wine glasses, and the outside café which is much plainer but has prices about half those of the restaurant. We chose to save a few shekels and eat outside which turned out to be an excellent choice – the food is still exquisitely prepared and the imaginative placement of translucent screens shuts out the somewhat shabby surroundings and noise from the busy street and adjacent petrol station.

Before we’d even ordered, our waitress brought us a basked of home baked bread with a garlic butter and a smoked eggplant sauce. We’re big fans of bread – especially when it’s fresh and hot – and we ultimately had to ask for a second basket – it was that yummy.

We started with an appetizer of baked Camembert with caramelized endive. The Camembert was a whole wedge, not just a few slices. The sweet endive nicely contrasted with the soft salty cheese, all of which was eaten on a triangle of crusty toast (yes, more bread!)

For our main courses, my companion ordered a drum fish in a mustard sauce with pureed potatoes. She was in heaven. It was even better than the fish we ate at Dag al Ha Dan (see my mention here during our recent trip to the North).

As I mentioned before, I went with my favorite pasta – ravioli. At 1868, the dish was stuffed with pesto and enveloped by a butternut squash sauce. My first reaction was that it wasn’t as flavorful than the (less expensive) ravioli I had at Caffit, nor was it cooked quite as al dente, but it slowly grew on me, turning spicier with each bite. A dollop of sour cream on the top added to the variety of tastes.

Unlike Caffit, the portions at 1868 are much smaller and this time we didn’t have to fight back the urge to order dessert. We were rewarded with two hot brownies with a peanut butter mousse and homemade vanilla ice cream. It was the elegant restaurant version of a Reese’s peanut butter cup, albeit with a swirl of raspberry sauce on the side. Now we were satisfied.

The bill came to NIS 220 ($63), slightly more than at Caffit which also included two glasses of wine. Was it worth the extra amount? The pasta was equivalent, but the fish excelled. Next time, maybe I’ll opt for something other than ravioli!

1868, by the way, gets its name from the building where the meat restaurant is located – it was built in 1868.

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