Mallard and Missiles

by Brian on November 22, 2012

in Food,War in Gaza

Just like in the movie with Steve Carell and Tina Fey, my wife Jody and I try to go out for a “date night” every week or so. Groupon and its many Israeli clones have been a godsend for saving money while eating hearty. So, when Jody saw a half price coupon for Eucalyptus, one of top eateries in the capital, she snatched it up. A couple of weeks ago we marked our calendar: date night was set…for yesterday evening.

Of course we had no way of knowing that our gourmet outing would fall right in the middle of a war, or operation, or sort of maybe soon ceasefire, or whatever this is.

When the siren sounded in Jerusalem earlier in the day, for the second time during Operation Pillar of Defense, we almost canceled our plans. Unlike during the first siren, when I was still in the shower, this time I was fully dressed and received the full bomb shelter treatment, completely with awkward neighbor time and anxious dog tricks.

Leaving our building so soon after a rocket attack (which, despite the fact that it fell in an “open field,” was still only about 5 miles from our house) was worrying. Would the restaurant have a shelter? Would there be enough room? And most important: would our food still be hot when we got back to our table?

But we were comforted by the restaurant’s location: in a building just opposite the Old City. Hamas would never target East Jerusalem with its majority Arab population and proximity to some of Islam’s holiest spots.

Oh yeah, that didn’t seem to be a problem when the last two missiles aimed at Jerusalem fell right next to Palestinian villages.

We decided that we weren’t going to let Hamas stop us. Good that we did, because not a lot of other people felt similarly. The streets around the Old City were eerily empty. The nearby Mamila Mall was not its usual hopping self and, at the restaurant, there was only one other couple dining beside ourselves.

The food, however, was divine. We have frequented Eucalyptus from time to time over the years, from when it was a small establishment in the Russian Compound to its funky/luxurious setting today, with bright blue walls and tea candles lining the stairwell to the restrooms. Through it all, the food has remained uniformly excellent: the restaurant’s signature style is food dishes made with and inspired by local ingredients from Eretz Israel.

The Groupon deal includes three appetizers, two main courses and a dessert sampler. For our starters we had Eucalyptus’ famous stuffed and spiced figs; a Jerusalem artichoke soup; and a pastilla with chopped duck comfit and nuts in a crunchy sugar fried filo dough crust. We’d had the first two before and they were as delicious as we recalled; the pastilla was new and was on a par with a similar offering from the Moroccan restaurant Darna, another old favorite of ours.

For the main courses, Jody had a sea bass – very fresh with a pepper and mustard sauce – and I had mallard, which our waiter described as a cross between duck and red meat. It comes thin sliced like beef but with a smoky vaguely goose-y flavor. It wasn’t the best dish I’ve ever eaten, but on the other hand, I’ve never tasted anything like it before which is often the real point.

The desserts were all designer and slightly weird: a semolina flour and tehina cake, cooked pears, and an almond butter Jell-O concoction. High stars for creativity, though.

No missiles fell during our dinner. Our personable waiter was well compensated, although I can’t say we alone could make up for the other empty tables. And now it’s back to the Internet, checking the latest news, worrying about the next rocket, fielding the latest questions from worried family members abroad.

But for a couple of hours, we were living a normal life again. May those days return again soon.

I ducked for cover yesterday on Israelity.

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