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10 Great Places to Enjoy Fish

Deca. Photo: Anatoly Michaelo

As a Mediterranean country with a long coastline, Israel is blessed with bounty from the sea all year long.

In addition, as part of its agritech prowess, the country has a well developed fish farming industry, raising bumper crops in freshwater ponds and the warm waters of the Red Sea.

Perhaps this is the reason that Israel is home to so many fine fish restaurants that never lack for the freshest ingredients which with to work.

The difference between kosher and non-kosher restaurants is much more pronounced in this category than others, because the latter feature a whole classification of foods – frequently more than half the menu – that are by definition trayf.

This feature, therefore, will list the two kinds of restaurants (in alphabetical order) separately, the four kosher ones first, and then the six that also serve seafood.

Deca

LAST year Deca celebrated its tenth anniversary, in a niche that it practically pioneered: fine dining (in Hebrew, a "chef restaurant") that is kosher-dairy. The restaurant, which specializes in "fish and complements," extends over two floors comprising a number of alcoves and rooms suitable for semi-private meals and private functions.

It also boasts its own private parking lot that is free for customers, a valuable perk in downtown Tel Aviv.

As befits an upscale restaurant, the full bar offers specialty and classic cocktails, while the wine list is truly international in scope, and even includes some rare vintages.

Regrettably, only the two Deca private label wines and the designated "wine of the month" are available by the glass.

A meal starts with complimentary house bread, while the menu continues with entrées, starters and main courses. Recommended dishes in each category include the bouillabaisse (with orange and Pernod); the red tuna sashimi; the pine nut and almond gnocchi; the tuna fillet steak; and the black paella with salmon and red drum fish.

Daily specials feature fresh catches of the day; and when a whole fish is ordered, it comes with four side dishes.

While most dishes, including the pasta ones, revolve around fish, there are pasta dishes and salads to accommodate vegetarians.

Everything in Deca is made on the premises, including the desserts, prepared by a dedicated pastry chef. There are several very good – and substantial – chocolate desserts, while lighter options include crême brulée semifreddo and crispy "cigars" filled with sweet cream.

Kosher (mehadrin) Price range: Expensive
Deca, 10 HaTa'asiya St., Tel Aviv.  Tel: 03 562 900 

Happy Fish

Jerusalem's Mamilla Hotel is one of the most stunning luxury hotels in Israel, as the international accolades the Moshe Safdie-designed project has received will attest.

The Happy Fish restaurant is a beautiful section of the hotel, linking the main building to Mamilla's pedestrian mall by means of its colorful al fresco area (which can be accessed from the shopping arcade as well),

The Happy Fish has its own bar, with one specialty cocktail that rotates daily; but in conjunction with the hotel's other two bars, any drink may be ordered. Similarly, the wine list is the most extensive of any kosher restaurant in town, since it accesses the hotel's inventory of every quality kosher wine produced in Israel.

Your meal at Happy Fish will commence with an array of six mezze, accompanied by fresh, warm focaccia. The salads and bread are included in the price of a fish main course; since unlimited refills are allowed, the value is indisputable.

There is a wide variety of fresh fish on the menu, all served whole, except for the salmon and sea bream fillets. These may be ordered grilled, fried or baked.

There are more complex fish starters and entrées as well, such as ceviche with a Mediterranean twist, black olives and sumac; Moroccan chraime; and patties on couscous. Happy Fish is also one of the only places in Israel that serves baby grouper.

Happy Fish offers two Middle Eastern and one Western dessert. In the former category, the kadaif with fruit and mascarpone cream is worth a try.

Kosher Price range: Moderate
Happy Fish @ The Mamilla Hotel,
11 Shlomo Hamelekh St., Jerusalem. Tel: 02 548 2230

Master Fish

Master Fish, the retail outlet of one of Israel's leading importers of kosher fish, is located in the new Allenby-Rothschild Market, home to a variety of casual eating places.

It combines a fishmonger and restaurant; and according to owner Alon, it is the only kosher fishmonger in Tel Aviv where you can pick your fresh fish off the ice in the display case and get it cooked to order.

Master Fish, where the motto is "always fresh, never frozen," serves "street food, but not fast food," he says. In fact, the chef at Master Fish was formerly the head chef of Liliyot, one of Tel Aviv's leading kosher restaurants.

The restaurant has a very limited alcohol selection: two Israeli beers on tap, and two Israeli wines. There are plenty of gluten-free, low carb, vegetarians and vegan food options.

The lunch and dinner menus are itemized separately, but the "catch of the day" - which can be prepared any of three ways - is featured all day. Lunch revolves around sandwiches and small/medium plates, while dinner comprises the usual starter and main course categories.

Thanks to the extreme freshness of the fish, both raw fish dishes – carpaccio and ceviche – are excellent. Also recommended are the cigars and the expertly seasoned fish kebabs.

Yet the real creativity of Master Fish shines in the realm of the side dishes, such as the Indian-style sweet potatoes, the bulgur and lentils majadara, the quinoa salad and the potato tostitos. New additions to this part of the menu are always being added.

Outstanding desserts are available from other vendors in the market, especially the bakery at the southern entrance.

Kosher (mehadrin) Price range: Inexpensive

Master Fish, 36 Rothschild Blvd,

Tel Aviv. Tel: 03 905 1030 

Yakimono

While Yakimono might correctly be described first and foremost as a Japanese restaurant, its classification as a fish restaurant is no less deserved. Virtually every item on the menu revolves around fish; indeed, only a handful do not.

Yakimono at the Hilton, the sister restaurant of Yakimono at 19 Rothschild Street, Tel Aviv, was founded 18 years ago as the first and oldest kosher Japanese restaurant in Israel. It is defined as kosher dairy, although no dairy is served, not even milk with coffee, as the owner insists it should not be consumed at the same meal as raw fish.

There are a few specialty cocktails based on Japanese spirits, as well as premium sakes. Naturally, Japanese beer and green tea are also available. The restaurant also serves the Hilton's house wines, from Barkan.

Highly recommended is Yakimono's special tasting menu, designed as an introduction to Japanese fish dishes beyond sushi. Even if you do not order it, ask owner/manager Alex Cohen for his guidance. At the very least, try the maguro pepper, a house original; the Hourenson makimushi, a version of dim sum; the fish wasabi; the Goma sushi mori; the Gonkan salmon; and the Incomparable tempura.

Yakimono adheres to the Japanese tradition of not offering desserts, although guests may select from the Western desserts on display in the Hilton lobby. Remember to get your parking validated for a significant discount.

Kosher Price range: Expensive
Yakimono, Hilton Hotel,

205 HaYarkon St., Tel Aviv. Tel: 03 520 2222 

Cancun

Cancun is unlike any other I have seen in Israel: situated in the midst of an opulent showroom, displaying magnificent fish and seafood arrayed alluringly on beds of glittering ice. This bounty from the sea – along with premium lamb and beef – ­ is imported from 25 countries around the world, such that the catches are always in season and fresh.

Cancun's combined headquarters, main showroom and sole restaurant is located in a strip mall in Ashdod, before entering the city. Not only is there easy access from Route 4, there is plenty of free parking right at the restaurant's doorstep – a pleasant change from the parking congestion and hassles of the center of the country.

Cancun has an unusual approach to cocktails: they are all "mix your own," after you order your choice of alcohol and assorted mixers. There is a rather limited wine list, although virtually every wine is available also by the glass, and there is a private label house wine. On the other hand, there is a larger than average selection of imported and domestic beers on tap and in bottles; in fact, there are almost as many choices of beer as wine.

I can honestly say I did not have a single dish here that was not above average. Among the dishes I can definitely recommend are the ceviche and the carpaccio, each made with the fresh catch of the day; the seafood mix in curry sauce; the shrimp in garlic, butter and white wine sauce; and the pistachio-encrusted sea bass fillet.

Cancun is also one of the few places where you can choose your own lobster from the aquarium.

Unlike the main menu, the dessert menu – like the alcohol menu and wine list – is in Hebrew only. But it is not very long: only two entries, and both are Belgian waffles, with different – and multiple – toppings.

Not Kosher Price range: Moderate

Cancun, 19 Ha'Orgim St., Ashdod.

Tel: 08 667 7699 

Jacko

The name Jacko has been associated with fresh fish and seafood for decades, since its inception as a fishmonger in the Haifa shuk, and its first restaurant in that city. Over the years, the chain has expanded to Netanya and Ramat Hasharon.

The restaurant's blue-and-white color scheme makes the décor unmistakably Greek, and there is live music from that country on Wednesdays. There are no specialty cocktails, but there is a limited wine list, and three brands of beer.

There was an English menu on my first visit, which was mysteriously absent on my second one; I was told it was being updated, so hopefully it is ready by now. Menu categories are First Courses, Pasta/Rice, Specials, Fish, Seafood and Meat (which includes chicken). There is also a small children's menu.

A meal here starts with an impressive spread of no fewer than 11 small plates of mezze, along with the house bread (fresh baguette) and a large vegetable salad. All of this bounty - plus refills - is included in the price of a main course or special.

In addition to the fried calamari, the dishes I can wholeheartedly recommend are Nissim's Ghalieh, a seafood medley in a choice of three superlative sauces; and the pink trout, when available.

For dessert, there are both Levantine and Western options; the kanafeh is terrific, and the tiramisu is worthy of an Italian restaurant. While there is always good value here, there is a wide range of business lunches between 12.00 and 17.00 on weekdays, offering a main course, all the mezze and a soft drink for prices starting at NIS 49.

Not Kosher Price range: Moderate
Jacko, 8 HaHarash St, Ramat Hasharon.

Tel: 053 937 9159 

HaShaked

With a history dating back to 1964, the family-owned HaShaked has become an institution in the tradition of serving fish and mezze. It has always been located on HaHashmonaim Street, where it recently moved across the road, to join other restaurants whose rear al fresco areas are on a large square that is home to a flea market on Fridays. The restaurant takes great pride in being wheelchair accessible.

HaShaked's cocktail menu, in Hebrew only, lists just a few cocktails, but there is a more than adequate selection of wines by the glass and bottle from Israel and Europe. For a special occasion, ask about the wines in Haim's cellar.

The meal commences with a dozen or so mezze: all you can eat for NIS 19 per person when ordering main courses. You start with a selection of cold salads, and the waiter then brings out the warm falafel balls and grilled eggplant.

The menu categories are Starters (raw fish or vegetarian), Fish Stews, Soups, Seafood, and Classics of the Sea, fished in Israel's waters or imported. Fish may be ordered baked, fried, or grilled over coals; specify whether you want it whole or filleted, and keep an eye out for catches that are not always available, like Dover sole.

An exclusive specialty here is fish that is "hot smoked" on the premises. Not all varieties are suitable for smoking, but the trout is as good as it gets. The seafood mix in a spicy coriander sauce is also recommended. Main courses come with buttery, small baked potatoes and Asian-style fried rice.

Families can keep in mind that HaShaked also offers Eastern European cuisine, with meat and chicken available for non-fish eaters, and schnitzel for kids.

The dessert menu is in Hebrew only; it features homemade specialties such as Grandma Esther's Bavaria, while strudel is served free to everyone on Fridays.

Not Kosher Price range: Moderate

HaShaked, 99 HaHashmonaim St, Tel Aviv

Tel: 03 561 0546 

Manta Ray

Manta Ray is consistently ranked not only among the best fish and seafood restaurants in Tel Aviv, but also as one of the city's finest restaurants, period.

It is the flagship restaurant of dynamic restaurateur Ofra Ganor, formerly of Lilith and currently the owner of the Iceberg ice cream shop chain as well as Shish, a kosher sushi eatery on Ibn Gvirol Street.

Manta Ray also enjoys one of best beach locations in town, on the edge of Charles Clore Park between Tel Aviv and Jaffa. Enjoying a drink at sunset and watching the lights illuminate Old Jaffa is one of the relaxing pleasures of the big city.

The restaurant has a well-stocked bar offering classic and specialty cocktails, imported and domestic beer, and an international wine list with a more than adequate selection by the carafe and the glass. Non-alcoholic drinks include fresh squeezed juices.

A meal at Manta Ray starts with a waiter bearing a platter of 12 tantalizing mezze (priced à la carte), many of which rotate seasonally. There are not only vegetarian and vegan options, but even a complete separate menu of vegetarian and vegan main courses.

While there is a limited selection of meat and poultry entrées, Manta Ray is best known for its fish and seafood, with separate categories on the menu for each.

Recommended dishes include the fillet of tuna in carrot and ginger sauce; sea bass fillet with gnocchi; and the signature seafood dish made for sharing: mussels, shrimp and crab with sweet potato and grilled pineapple in an Asian coconut milk sauce.

It is worth saving room for dessert, especially the crême brûlée in phyllo pastry, and the two chocolate choices – one of which actually has the word "decadent" in its name.

Not Kosher Price range: Expensive
Manta Ray, 703 Kaufman St, Tel Aviv

Tel: 03 517 4773 

Yam 7

Tucked under the Dan Accadia Hotel is Yam 7, a restaurant perched over the beach with a stunning view of the Mediterranean, which may be enjoyed through the picture windows of the indoor seating area, or from the al fresco tables on the deck.

Yam 7 has a fully stocked bar, with talented bartenders who mix specialty cocktails, in addition to the classics. There are imported and Israeli beers on tap and in bottles, and a wine list that covers a wide spectrum of Israeli wines, up to exclusive vintages that can cost four figures for a bottle.

Yam 7 emphasizes fish and seafood throughout its menu: among the starters is Thai seafood salad, a house specialty; there is a fresh "Catch of the Day"; a primary category of main courses is labeled "From the Sea"; and two of the restaurant's three pasta dishes revolve around fish or seafood.

In addition, the tapas menu contains a majority of fish selections, including seafood arancini (in an unusual green curry sauce), a Yerushalmi Jerusalem fish mix, and a rich ikra spread. Moreover, fish and seafood take center stage, with Yam 7's Shuk Dagim (Fish Market) menu every Wednesday evening during the winter months.

Desserts should not be overlooked, in particular the Paris-Brest – choux pastry with mascarpone cream and berries – and the homemade strudel; the latter takes an extra 15 minutes, but it is worth the wait.

Finally, there are deals to be had day and night, from the discounted business lunches to a light dinner of four tapas with bread at a special price.

Not Kosher Price range: Moderate

Yam 7, 122 Ramat Yam St.,

Herzliya Pituah. Tel: 09 956 6950 

206 Dagim

The Tzahala duo of 206 restaurants – 206 Meat and 206 Fish – has been catering to a loyal following of regular customers for two decades. In addition to the restaurant's expertise in preparing fish and seafood, the attraction includes the pleasant ambience created by the light classic rock music and the friendly and attentive service.

There are no special house cocktails; in fact, there are very few cocktails at all. There are a few domestic beers, in bottles only, and a reasonable wine list – 100% Israeli – with a limited number of wines available by the glass and carafe.

A meal at 206 Dagim starts with a complimentary basket of the house whole grain bread, served with soft butter and a plate of large green olives and pickles. There are a few vegetarian and meat options on the menu.

The wait staff will explain the fresh catches of the day. Among the recommended starters are one of the restaurant's signature dishes, zucchini flower stuffed with seafood and pine nuts; fried battered calamari rings; and grouper carpaccio.

For main courses, there are worthy dishes in both the fish and seafood categories: steamed salmon with red miso and crunch drum fish fillet in white sauce among the former, and chili shrimp and seafood risotto among the latter.

Three of the desserts here are chocolate-centric, and may definitely be classified decadent. Still, the baked almond "cream" – actually almond cake à la mode stuffed with a pear that has been poached in spices – may even be better.

Not Kosher Price range: Moderate
206 Dagim, 54 Moshe Sneh St, Tel Aviv

Tel: 03 648 3030 

 

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