Walk through the Old City of Acre (Akko) and it’s not unlikely that you’ll run into Uri Jeremias, the chef and restauranteur of the famed Uri Buri restaurant.
Jeremias is always around, typically in the marketplace or the Knights Hall where trendy casual restaurants sit, greeting chefs and vegetable vendors. At 75 years old, the father of six resembles an Israeli Santa Claus. With a big white beard and jolly demeaner, he’s hard to miss.
But that was all before Covid-19 shut down the world as we once knew it.
Old Akko is a community of fishermen, market stall workers, tourists and restaurants. It’s an ancient port city, and the site of one of Napoleon’s few failures. There, along the waterfront promenade, Jeremias’ restaurant and his charming boutique hotel, The Efendi, both built-in restored Ottoman buildings, enjoy international acclaim.
The restaurant alone has been here for the better part of three decades and is a consistent favorite with Israelis and tourists. In 2019, Uri Buri was voted one of the best 25 restaurants in the world by TripAdvisor.
ISRAEL21c caught up with Jeremias to ask how he and his staff have been coping during a time of lockdowns and uncertainty, when getting shut down could happen again at any moment, despite having been given the green light to reopen.
“We are very lucky, because we have many loyal customers who were just waiting, restless, to come as soon as we reopened. So, the first days of reopening were crazy,” Jeremias tellsISRAEL21c.
He is cautious to mention that they’ve been careful to adhere to government guidelines, turning away some customers to keep the house less than full.
A new kind of takeout
During lockdown, when Tel Aviv’s restaurant culture survived on take-out and delivery, Jeremias’ staff stayed home with minimal pay.
However, in a desperate bid to keep it all afloat, Jeremias eventually got creative, crafting a new kind of takeout concept.
“I studied all the defects of the regular way to deliver and found that the delivery itself, as well as the cost of the delivery, are very important. The other thing is that food should be eaten warm, not cold.”
Delivering for lunchtime and dinnertime all along the northern coast from Rosh Hanikra down to Haifa, keeping things warm was a definite issue that needed to be resolved.
The solution? Dishes are cooked three quarters of the way, cooled, and delivered chilled, to be heated by the recipient in an oven or on the stovetop according to Jeremias’ instructions.
For an additional fee, diners can even employ one of the restaurant’s chefs and a waiter to come recreate the entire restaurant dining experience at home.
This service is set to continue through the near future, even while the restaurant is open. Perhaps it’s the dining trend of the future.
Catch of the day
What should you expect at Uri Buri? There are always “catch of the day” specials, and if Jeremias gets his hands on something special in the morning, you can bet it will appear on the menu in the evening.
However, Jeremias adds, “We have some things on the menu that have stayed with us for the last 32 years. We have some dishes that we can’t stop making because people come especially for these nostalgic dishes.”
These dishes include trout in cream sauce with peppercorns and spring onions; sea bass served searing hot in a cast-iron caldron with coconut milk, pickled chilis and fresh apples, plated dramatically at tableside on a bed of yellow-hued jasmine rice; and salmon sashimi served with soy sauce and topped with a delicate mound of wasabi sorbet.
Then there’s the seafood dishes utilizing non-kosher seafood such as shrimp, mussels and octopus, as well as Jeremias’ decadent tasting menu for two, which represents the deceptively simple down-to-earth gourmet cooking that Uri Buri pulls off so well.
And for fans from abroad whose Israel trips have been cancelled due to an unprecedented global pandemic, you can enjoy this simple recipe from Jeremias himself, at home.
Barramundi in lemon butter
1kg (2 lbs.) of barramundi fillets
80 grams (about 5½ tablespoons) of whipped butter
400grams (about ½ pound) of cauliflower
Lemon sage butter
100gr (1/2 cup) butter
5 sage leaves
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp.crushed multi-colored peppercorns
1 tsp. preserved lemon paste
1tsp. lemon juice
1kg (2lbs.) head of cauliflower
1/2 liter (2 cups) milk
1/2 liter (2 cups) of water
1 tablespoon of salt
50grams (3 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon) of butter
1. To make the cauliflower cream: Cook the cauliflower in the water and the milk until it is softened. Grind it in a food processor and season with salt and butter.
- To make the lemon sage butter, whip the butter until the volume is doubled in volume, then fold in the rest of the ingredients.
3. To make the fish: Sear fillet of barramundi fish on a hot skillet or grill skin down until skin it is crispy. Season with a pinch of kosher salt.
- Turn over and let the fish sear on the second side for 10 seconds, then remove from skillet or grill.
- Top with lemon sage butter (above) and place under a broiler until browned.
- Serve fish over cauliflower puree.