Recently, a ranking of the 50 best restaurants in the Middle East and North Africa was published, in which up to 6 places were occupied by Israeli restaurants. This is not surprising, as the cult of food in Israel is an integral part of the country’s world order. The landscape of the restaurant here is varied and multi-layered. From street restaurants where there is a queue for the most delicious falafel, to trendy restaurants headed by world-renowned chefs.
The question “Where is a good place to eat?” – one of the most popular and simple in everything related to Mediterranean cuisine, Israeli, European, Japanese and even Indian. When it comes to authentic Russian or Eastern European cuisine, there are far fewer answers. Because there are few high quality Russian restaurants left in Israel.
– When you arrived, how were you and what was the restaurant business like?
– We came to Israel 31 years ago, still from the Soviet Union. I was a young musician, very far from the restaurant, playing the flute. He arrived and immediately began to study. School, Tel Aviv Academy, Jerusalem Academy, work in the orchestra, not only as a musician, but also in the chamber, in the management. Then a second degree in business from the University of Jerusalem, an MBA and a job in a major travel company, in the sales department of organized tours as a department manager. And only with the opening of Baba Yaga in 2008 did I enter the restaurant area. Before that, I had nothing to do with him.
– Do you remember your first impressions of restaurants in Israel? What did the landscape of the local restaurant look like then?
– There were hospitable cafes in Jerusalem. For example, there was one such symbolic place where all the bohemian academics sat, called “Yan’s”. There were soups where we went with the Israelis, with whom we met actively, because then we were only 3-4 years in Israel. We went to eat soup in one place, something else in the other. There was a very good restaurant “Trout” in Tel Aviv, I liked to invite partners there. We went to restaurants a lot. This is a great culture in Israel, and if you do not eat in a restaurant or cafe once a day, the day is lost.
– As a person who speaks different languages and often visits Europe, America and Russia, I was bothered by some inner simplicity of Israeli restaurants. Here a good restaurant may have shabby furniture but amazing food. Even if you sit down to eat in the simplest place, you can get delicious, beautiful, original food, but the environment will be suitable. I have a personal expression – “to sit under the bus”. You sit on the street, eat and the buses pass in front of you. That is, you are really sitting, like under a bus. That’s not what I wanted. On the other hand, there is beauty in simplicity. For example, the garden of our restaurant is a large comfortable garden, a perfect rarity for Tel Aviv. There used to be tables with tablecloths, now they are gone. We decided that casual style is more suitable for an outdoor patio. At the same time, we left tablecloths in the halls. In general, anyone looking for an interior in Israel will not find it. You do not need to look for it. You have to lookfood.
– Why Eastern European cuisine and why Mediterranean? Why such a mixture?
– We have seen that, paradoxically, in the whole rather rich gastronomic landscape of Israel there is absolutely no representation of Russian and good Eastern European cuisine, except for two instances. The first is absolutely awesome Russian restaurants with dancing, such a belly of the 80’s, and the second is very simple, like a work canteen with Eastern European cuisine, where you can quickly eat snacks. The cult, modern Eastern European cuisine was not. And we have made it fashionable through the Russian, whose dishes we serve as modern as possible. The starting points for Russian, Italian and French cuisine are completely different, and for this reason, being a very large restaurant, we can not be a purely Russian establishment. Therefore, we have a sure combination of Eastern European and Mediterranean-European cuisine.
– In Israel they drink a lot of wine, they know it well. So you decided to make a restaurant tasting?
– The tastings are just a continuation of the concept of the restaurant. This is not a Russian restaurant in space or a Russian restaurant in Moscow. This is a restaurant serving European and Russian cuisine in Tel Aviv.
Without wine, I do not see a regular restaurant. Any restaurant in Tel Aviv is wine. The Mediterranean is wine. Wine and food are Israelis’ favorite hobbies. Our wine list, which we recently updated, is a work of art. It is truly unique and made by true professionals. And because we have a large garden and have excellent connections to various local wineries, which have developed over the years, we started inviting them to us. That is, you do not go to the winery, but it comes to the center of Tel Aviv, to our Wine Garden, which looks like a winery garden.
So, over a year ago, we started making “The Sense of Wine” wine nights. Now this idea has been turned into tastings of excellent world wines, which we make together with one of the best wine and gastronomy boutiques in Israel and which are made by the most experienced experts and sommelier. Every Tuesday has its own theme, its own wine set and its own wine expert. Well, live music, of course. Such evenings enrich, give opportunity for another hobby.
– Wine is still Mediterranean, Russian cuisine is not about wine at all, but strong drinks. Borscht, fish soup, mushroom soup – all these dishes are not combined with wine. Vodka, tinctures, liqueurs. Have the most delicious pasta in Tel Aviv and around…
– In the Middle East, Russian cuisine, despite its apparent simplicity, requires great professionalism.
– Of course, we do not only have wines and not only vodka. We have a whole range of drinks that we make ourselves. Peppercorns, horseradish, mead are all part of Russian cuisine. We make all the specialties ourselves. These drinks are not sold anywhere, we do not sell them to get them, we can only drink them in our restaurant. Therefore, people come here specifically to drink them because they are unique.
– What drinks does Baba Yaga suggest to accompany her signature dishes?
– For example, we always serve fish soup with peppercorns. Bors with horseradish. If entrecote, then red wine – we have a wide variety of wines from around the world, including Israeli. The fish goes well with white wine and we recommend special wines for different types of fish, especially because we have a lot to choose from thanks to our friendship with wineries. The problem with Israeli winemaking is that small wineries have little marketing and production capacity and it is very difficult for them to compete in the European market. But there are masterpieces here, and if you know them, you can enjoy tremendous enjoyment of the local wine.
– How does a modern restaurant live?
– What is the usual mistake of restaurants? In everyday life, we always want variety. Today he went to the sea, tomorrow to the theater, the day after to the cinema, then somewhere with the children. We can not want the same entertainment every day. Likewise, a restaurant should offer variety. It brings a new audience to the restaurant, it gives a different atmosphere, a different energy.
And jazz is often heard here for a reason and it has my roots, Russian-American, springing from the love for jazz of another part of my family living in America. But this is a completely different story, which I call Apollo-Soyuz.
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