Friends with benefits

Finding a world class gourmet meal… with a view of Jerusalem’s Old City.The expression ‘friends with benefits’ usually has less than PG-rated connotations. But this week, my wife Jody and I felt we were true recipients of the benefits of …

Finding a world class gourmet meal… with a view of Jerusalem’s Old City.The expression ‘friends with benefits’ usually has less than PG-rated connotations. But this week, my wife Jody and I felt we were true recipients of the benefits of having the right friends when we were invited to a gourmet dinner party held in honor of Mallory and Eli’s upcoming wedding.

The venue was a private restaurant in Jerusalem’s historic Yemin Moshe neighborhood. The establishment, called Spoons, is open only by private booking and is situated in the living room of chef Hila Solomon, an Australian immigrant who realized her passion for cooking and turned it into both a business and an art. Dining there is like having your own personal chef.

Hila and Mallory have been friends for many years; the dinner party was Hila’s very personal wedding gift.

Hila specializes in high end clientèle – diplomats, heads of state, high tech executives. A framed letter of appreciation from the mayor of Chicago rests on one wall. Hila has hosted clients from the ADL, AIPAC, AJC, US Senators and members of Congress, trade missions, bishops, journalists and even the Cardinal of Mexico.

The space itself is part of the experience. An elegantly set candle-lit table awaits guests upon their arrival; the living room upstairs has a million dollar view of the Old City lit up at night (the expression here is clearly not just a figure of speech). The house with its domed ceilings dates back 120 years from when Yemin Moshe was established as one of the first settlements in Jerusalem outside the Old City walls.

Hila and her staff got us in the mood for celebrating Mallory and Eli’s upcoming nuptials with a pre-dinner cocktail of grapefruit juice, vodka and ginger. After some amiable banter we descended to dinner.

Hila varies her style depending on the event and her mood; tonight’s meal was decidedly French… but this being Israel, our host couldn’t resist a few Middle Eastern touches. We started with freshly baked bread to be dipped in olive oil, zatar, and home-made tehina. There was also a bowl of black olives that had been pickled in house.

This was followed by a choice of appetizers: a fillet of yellow tail served sushi raw with wasabi-lemon dressing, capers and pickled ginger, or cooked figs stuffed with minced chicken and poached in a tamarind sauce. Jody and I split the two dishes; they were both sublime.

The appetizer was followed by an amuse gueule – in this case basil and lemon sorbet served with a pure Polish vodka chaser. I wouldn’t have imagined that sorbet could be made from basil, but I was delighted to be proved wrong.

Next we were served two soups – a small demitasse of hot pear soup (a Spoons signature dish), and a full bowl of bouillabaisse. The pear concoction had a taste of coconut and was out of this world. The bouillabaisse was rich with wonton-shaped fish and a slice of bread to soak up the flavors.

By this time we were already stuffed, but the main course was still to come – a subtle duck in a fresh pomegranate sauce served with a side of Jerusalem artichoke.

The entire meal was accompanied by a Petit Castel 2004 red wine which Hila told us is the only wine whose grapes are grown entirely in the greater Jerusalem area – from the Ramat Raziel farm just outside the city near Kibbutz Tzova. It was heavenly.

Jody and I are both serious chocoholics and we were not disappointed by dessert, a massive hot chocolate soufflé which Jody described as the best she’s ever eaten, accompanied by strawberry slices dipped in homemade orange liqueur and slices of coconut sorbet. Just when we thought there couldn’t be anything else to eat, out came a slab of fresh halva, imported from Turkey, and a tea composed of sage, geranium, lemon balm and mint from the garden.

The food at Spoons is Glatt Kosher (by Rabbi Katzin of the Sephardic Center) and can be either dairy or meat, according to one’s preference. Hila Solomon also offers visiting dignitaries culinary tours of the city – taking them to check out the produce at the Mahane Yehuda shuk or to visit the goat cheese farms and wineries in the Jerusalem hills.

Prices for a meal at Spoons usually cost from $60 per person for lunch, and $85 and up for dinners. Brunch is served the first Friday of the month for NIS 100 a person ($24). Take-away meals (for Shabbat or holidays) are available. The restaurant can accommodate from 4 to 25 people (there is also a romantic candlelit dinner option in good weather on the upstairs porch).

Mallory and Eli, however, only invited three couples to this intimate evening; they told us during the meal they wanted us to be there not only because we’re close friends but because they know we appreciate quality food. They were right on that count!

It’s good indeed to have ‘friends with benefits.’

About Brian Blum

Brian has been a journalist and high-tech entrepreneur for over 20 years. He combines this expertise for ISRAEL21c and Israelity as he writes about hot new local startups, pharmaceutical advances, scientific discoveries, culture, the arts and daily life in Israel. He loves hiking the country with his family (and blogging about it). Originally from California, he lives in Jerusalem with his wife and three children.